Hailee Steinfeld breaks down Dickinson season 2 finale, relationships with Sam and Sue
Emily Dickinson has made her bed, and she'll lie in it. With Sue.
On Apple TV+ series Dickinson's season 2 finale, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) came to a crossroads on a host of issues plaguing her this season, including whether or not to allow Sam Bowles (Finn Jones) to continue to publish her poems and how to repair her relationship with Sue (Ella Hunt) after a slew of betrayals.
After confronting Sam and securing her poems with the help of loyal maid Maggie (Darlene Hunt), Emily recommitted herself to writing only for her own joy. Then, she reconnected with Sue, coming together in her bedroom, her bathtub, and her greenhouse after confronting the scars and trauma of the past few months.
Sue admitted that the only time she feels alive is when she's with Emily, and Emily confessed that she writes for Sue. And her alone.
We called up the woman behind Emily's quill, Steinfeld, to talk about what it was like facing up to the toxicity of fame through her season-long arc, whether Emily's love for Sam was true or mere infatuation, and what getting Sue back could mean long-term.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Throughout season 2, the line for Emily between reality and imagination got increasingly blurry. How did you make sense of that, and how complicated was that to portray?
A lot more complicated than I thought. There was a blurry line between myself personally and Emily in this season that I definitely found challenging. Fame, in and of itself, is not something I have spent a lot of time thinking about. It's never been something that has made me feel strongly one way or the other about who I am or what I do, thankfully. I found I was looking for the same answers or looking for answers to the same questions that Emily was asking herself. So it was definitely challenging, but it made me think.
Episode 8, "I'm Nobody," is perhaps the most surreal. Emily explores the impact of fame and is able to observe others' responses to her poem. There's a lot to unpack there, but what would you say that Emily learns?
The first scene I shot in that episode was where Emily comes down into the kitchen ready to be celebrated and showered with compliments, etc. and she finds that she's not getting any of that. I think the message behind that episode is at what point does it become about the work and the work itself? We tend to get so wrapped up and consumed by what people think and what people have to say about us and who we are and how we dress and in this case, her words specifically. It sends her on a downward spiral of getting wrapped up and consumed by people's opinions. And realizing that she doesn't have to have a world of people understanding or misunderstanding her to feel like she is the great writer that she is and knows she is.
The mystery of who "Nobody" is runs through the season. Did Alena keep it secret from you until you got to episode 8?
No. That was in there. I was so in love with the idea of creating this figure, this subject, this word that reoccurs in so many of her poems as an actual character that speaks to her. With Death being a character in season 1, it was exciting to have this concept of Nobody be someone that is constantly popping up in Emily's world as this ghostlike figure. Whether it's real or her imagination, she's trying to figure out.
There were a lot of scenes where you can see someone no one else can see or no one can see you. What was that like from a technical standpoint? Were there mishaps?
That's always so bizarre. Especially if there's a mark on the matte box or the camera and the actor's right behind it. I'm like, "He's talking to me, have him go behind something, he's right there, I don't want to look at his eyes." In episode 8 where I am talking to my family members that are at the table and I'm invisible to them, finding the timing of those scenes was so difficult. Because they have to have their own conversation with me interjecting the entire time, but as far as sound goes, that can't happen, so it was just these really weird, awkward pauses of trying to make it like I wasn't being seen by them. It was very confusing for a minute, but we figured it out and hopefully, you would never even know what we went through to make it happen.
Emily's true love is Sue, but she also falls for Sam Bowles this season. Do you think that love is true or more an infatuation with what he represents?
I would say an infatuation, whether Emily knows it or not. I think she is in love with human connection, and in this series, attention. She wants attention and when she's given it by someone she feels wanted and seen. Sam Bowles has this halo above his head and he's this glowing figure of mystery and intrigue and she wants to know more. He shows just enough interest in her personally and professionally. It's very complicated between the two of them. But I think she is definitely in love with the idea of Sam and what he has to offer, more than he himself.
As you mentioned, you've also had to reckon with fame and the private vs. public of your life. Did you come to the same place as Emily in terms of your thoughts on fame? What were your takeaways from the season?
It was what I believe it always has been. I guess I just have a better idea of it. Or at least know how to talk about it more so than I did before. For me, it has always been about the work and the art. Emily figures out it feels good to be noticed and recognized and praised and celebrated. It feels amazing. Nothing really compares to it when you're at the height of it, but you come down from that — you put another poem out, I put another movie out that people don't like, people disagree with the character I'm playing, or have opinions on it that aren't necessarily what I want to hear. But what matters to me at that point is I played that specific role because it was something I felt I needed in my life. Maybe it was something as simple as it was something I wanted to do. That was a dress I wanted to wear. Whatever it is, it was a decision I made myself confidently and it doesn't matter what all these outside voices have to say. It's so easy to get wrapped up in all of that. But Emily comes to that same conclusion that maybe it is just me in my room and my paper and my pencil and the few people that I know and love as my audience. She's perfectly content with that.
Emily finally gets Sue back. What does that mean for her? Do you think that's good or bad for her writing?
I guess we'll see. It could be one or the other. It could definitely be both. I want to think that it's good. Emily and Sue have a very complicated relationship and in season 2, they're both in very different yet similar places in that they're searching to be seen and understood in a way that only they can see and understand each other. They can't seem to find that with anyone or anything else. They are who they're meant to be as individuals when they're together. We'll see what happens because a lot went down between Sue and Austin so that's going to have to pan out somehow, but I do think that Emily having Sue in her life is so important to her. She feels like she can take on the world when she has Sue by her side. Maybe it's a matter of just having her in her life and not necessarily by her side, but just having her there, that will help her with her writing. Or hurt her. We will find out.
Season 3 has already been picked up, but we've seen Emily make a choice to keep her writing for herself (and Sue). So what might lie ahead for her?
I just love the idea that this show and this character and her poetry can take us to so many different places. I have no doubts it's going to be wild, as that is our show in one word. It will always have that Dickinson timing and comedy to it, but I'm excited for new subjects that this show has the ability to tackle head-on, whatever those may be.