‘Dickinson’ Season 3 Review: Queer Women Love Story and Mermaids as Poetry

Dickinson Season 3

Spoilers Below

Dickinson Season 3, created by Alena Smith, ends the origin story of the iconic Queer poet Emily Dickinson (Hailee Steinfeld) in a surreal imaginative way. This season’s arc for the romantic relationship between Emily and her sister-in-law Sue Gilbert Dickinson (Ella Hunt) is beautiful and haunting. Emily wrestles with balancing her relationship with Sue and discovering her identity as a poet. Sue completely embraces her love for Emily and redefines womanhood for herself for the first time.

The other Dickinson siblings Lavinia “Vinnie” (Anna Baryshnikov) and Austin (Adrian Blake Enscoe), both accept finding new ways to exist in the world. Their mother, Emily Norcross Dickinson (Jane Krakowski), grieves her sister and shrinks from her domestic duties for the first time. The family patriarch Edward Dickson’s (Toby Huss) traditional views of gender and societal norms leads him to struggle to keep his beloved family together.

Smith executes a perfecting ending to her three-season genre-defying historical dramedy that leaves Emily open to all poems she will write.

Out of Place

Dickinson is one of my favorite television series of 2020 and 2021. But I had one tiny issue with the last season. There have always been recurring three-dimensional characters of color throughout the series, like married couple Henry (Chinaza Uche) and Betty (Amanda Warren).

Season 2 did an excellent job of having a couple of episodes that featured Henry as an activist reporter who publishes an anonymous abolitionist paper called The Constellation funded partly by Austin, where all the other writers are African American Amherst-based residents. In addition, Smith expertly explores institutional racism and slavery in all the seasons.

The writing in Dickinson is economical fitting lots of storylines into ten proximately thirty-minute episodes every season. In the third season, Henry and Betty become series regulars, which I have a problem with.

As the title states, the television show is about the 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson. Therefore, all the episodes should focus mainly on her. Instead, however, in season three, Emily must sometimes share half the episodes with Henry or Betty, whose storylines are primarily outside of her world.

These storylines involve Henry teaching an all-Black military unit how to read and Betty losing faith in her husband. Don’t get me wrong, their sequences are engaging, but they dominate a lot of space in most episodes. I would be all in for the dominant sequences if the dramedy were about America during the Civil War.

But Dickinson centers around Emily, so that it would have made more sense to of kept Henry and Betty as recurring characters.

EmiSue (Ship name for Emily and Sue’s love story)

Smith ends Emily and Sue’s love story beautifully, full of possibilities. The season begins with Sue pregnant with Austin’s baby and Emily, unsure how this new family member will change their dynamic. Sue desperately wants to spend quality time with Emily. She dreams of running off with her baby Ned and Emily to create their own family. Emily writes poetry for Sue and attempts to bring hope to her family while struggling to figure out how she fits in.

There were times when I was worried that EmiSue would not get a happy ending. For example, in “Sang From the Heart, Sire,” when Sue discovers that Emily sent poetry to editor and writer Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Gabriel Ebert), she feels outraged. The poems symbolize their love because the women barely spend time together. For Sue, Emily sharing these personal writings with Higginson, it’s like an emotional affair.

The series ends with the two women no longer needing to rely on poetry as a vehicle for their love. Instead, Emily and Sue build an unconventional family unit with Austin and Ned. The same-same sex couple finally understands what the other needs and delivers.

In “Grief is a Mouse,” Sue publishes one of Emily’s poems to allow the whole world to hear it. And the couple shares a beautiful poetic sex scene where Emily declares that their love means more than any poem.

Surreal Imagination

Emily spends a lot of time in her head while writing in her bedroom. In Dickinson, her fantasies are played out on screen. She has several imaginative adventures in season three, from traveling to 1950’s Amherst with Vinnie to climbing down a staircase into hell. The most potent daydream is in the finale “This was a Poet.”

The poet wears her loose-fitting white dress, a.k.a. her writing uniform. Emily has broken free of the traditional corset, representing how she lives outside gender norms. She runs around the beach with her giant dog Carlo symbolizing how she can be herself. Emily having Carlo shows that she continues to have companionship after the show ends though it’s too bad that Sue could not have been part of this sequence.

Emily spots mermaids waving at her from a rock in the ocean that Smith says represents all the poems she has yet to write. Traditionally mermaids symbolize life and growth, revealing that the poet continues to grow and live fully in the future. Emily tells the mermaids that she is coming and rows up in a small boat.

She rows toward all the poetry she will write and her life with Sue along with the rest of the Dickinson clan. The genuine Emily continues to live through her poetry, and the imagination sparked in women who read her work.

Last Thoughts

Alena Smith created a true masterpiece about Emily Dickinson’s early years as a poet in this three-season arc that sparked all of our imaginations. She deserves a nice rest.

Let us know what you think of Dickinson Season 3 in the comments below. 

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  1. As an author, poet, and queer person, I desperately want to want to watch this show.
    But the English major in me just won’t let me. Emily Dickinson had so much social anxiety that she had a divider specially installed in her home so that she could hide behind it if visitors came to speak to her. She could only handle talking to people outside of her immediate family if she didn’t have to look them in the eye. I don’t know if a show like this is a celebration of her or is an insult to her memory as it changes her so drastically, removing her undiagnosed anxiety and agoraphobia.
    I sometimes wish I could just turn it off an enjoy shows as they are!

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