Do we have another affair on our hands?
Things certainly seem to be progressing in that direction for Emily and Sam, especially after Dickinson Season 2 Episode 5.
Their chemistry has been growing steadily since the start of the season, and if the final scenes were an indication, their sexual tension is a tinderbox waiting for the lone strike of the match to explode.
However, this potential pairing makes me uneasy. It has nothing to do with Sam's oft-mentioned but never seen wife Mary or the possibility that the editor of the Springfield Republican is a bit of lothario.
What's unnerving is the power Sam already has over Emily.
Sam: Look, here we are.
Emily: Charles Dickens?
Sam: Mm-hmm, and Diderot. Look, this is where you will go. Right here. Emily Dickinson.
Sam: Your books between the modern master and the Enlightenment. How does that sound?
Emily: I don’t know.
Sam: Oh no, you’re right. There’s not enough room. You’re gonna need your own shelf. Imagine that.
Emily: I can imagine a lot of things, but… something about all this feels, uh, almost forbidden.
Sam: Mm. Forbidden fruit has an interesting flavor, doesn’t it?
Her first poem hasn't even been published, and yet, Emily seems to live or die by Sam's words.
The merest scent of praise is euphoric, while any rebuff from Sam leads Emily to inward consternation.
In such a short period of time, Sam has become one of the most important people in her life, but not in a good way.
Sam holds the fate of Emily's literary career in his hands, and he has such fun watching her chomp at the bit from time to time.
He can tell how badly Emily wants to be published, and he uses that eagerness to his advantage.
And as we watch this game of cat and mouse unfold, it's heartbreaking to see because Emily has no idea that she's just another plaything to Sam.
Our favorite Dickinson has developed what she believes are real feelings for Sam. Still, to him, she's just another female writer, one whose literary career he has the pleasure of controlling.
With so few men publishing female poets, Sam has the power to make or break Emily's literary career, and something as trivial as his mood on a particular day could be the deciding factor.
Sam: Do me a favor.
Sam: Write something. Tonight.
Emily: I’ll try.
Sam: And know that I’ll be right here, unable to sleep, because I am so close to your incredible talent.
Sam is a master manipulator and knows how the game is played, but this is all new to Emily.
For so long, she's kept her poems to herself, only sharing them and that part of herself with Sue.
And while Emily does believe Sue when her former lover tells her that her poems are good, having Sam, an outsider, shower her with praise is even better.
With Sam's kind words, Emily realizes she does have talent, that her words transcend the paper with which they were written on and have the power to reach inside and touch our souls.
Compounding that is the many years for which Emily had to listen to Edward lecturing her about poetry not being a proper profession for a woman.
So when a man as influential and prominent as Sam Bowles tells Emily her poems are not only great, but she can make a career out of writing, well, the middle Dickinson never truly stood a chance.
Though, Emily isn't alone in being enthralled with Sam, as Sue also finds herself craving his approval, albeit in a different way.
As we've seen throughout Dickinson Season 2, the Sue we see on screen is very different from the orphaned woman we met the season prior.
Emily: People keep telling me Sam Bowles cheats on his wife.
Sue: OK, well, that’s not true.
Emily: Are you sure? Because the minute they heard he was publishing me, they just started to assume that we were intimate.
Sue: That’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever heard. He’s publishing you because you are a genius.
Emily: I know that’s what you might think.
Sue: Emily, it’s what I know.
Emily: I came here tonight to be seen, and so far, it’s been a pretty unpleasant experience.
Sue: Well that just makes me angry. You deserve to be seen, Emily. You deserve to be published. And it’s just not fair what happens to women. The minute we get a little bit of fame or show the slightest amount of ambition, we get slapped with the nastiest comments. We get these targets on our backs. Well, I say to hell with all of that. You go out there, and you own this. You worked for this, and Sam Bowles believes in you as a writer. And that’s that.
This Sue has done everything imaginable to leave her old life behind, going to painstaking lengths to carve out a new station for herself in 19th century Amherst, part of which includes being the modern-day equivalent of an influencer.
So enter Sam, who, like with Emily, has the power to vault Sue into new heights with his articles on her salons.
This, in part, explains why Sue has been so eager to create a partnership between Emily and Sam, for along with getting Emily published, the introduction reflects well on Sue.
Yes, Sue is very much on her way to being the talk of Amherst, a bonafide tastemaker.
If not for the small glimpses of the old Sue we got this episode, it'd seem that her transformation from peasant to the pinnacle of a refined housewife was complete.
For no matter how much Sue wishes to rid herself of who she used to be, small cracks of that person snuck through, most clearly when Sue talked about Emily deserving to be published.
Back, though only for a minute, was Emily's biggest cheerleader and supporter, and it was so easy to remember why we 'ship Emisue, for in those fleeting seconds, we got a glimpse of the kind-hearted and loving Sue.
The Sue who loved Emily with all her heart, the one who kissed her in the apple orchard and danced with her in her wedding dress.
Austin: Sue, you can’t talk to them like that.
Sue: That’s how I have to talk to them if they misbehave.
Austin: You know I would think that you would feel sorry for them. You were orphaned and you had no one to take care of you.
Sue: And I don’t want to be reminded of that, Austin. When I was in their situation, I did the work I was told to do. I didn’t antagonize the people who were kind enough to let me in.
Austin: You think this is kind?
Sue: You know not everyone grows up as spoiled as the Dickinsons. Unlike those girls, I didn’t even have an inheritance to fall back on.
Austin: Their inheritance is paying for this house. They’re not here to be our servants. It’s thanks to their money that we even have a roof over our heads.
Sue: Well, if that’s the case, then you’re the one taking advantage.
However, the moment was short-lived, and just like that, the Sue we first knew was gone.
It's a shame we only get to see that Sue for brief intervals, but those instances still give us hope that the old Sue is there, somewhere. That maybe, just maybe, she's not gone forever.
Elsewhere, Lavinia and Ship took a major step forward in their relationship.
This, of course, has nothing to do with their engagement, but instead Ship's acceptance of the Lavinia he intends to marry.
Since returning to Amherst, Ship has had this idea of who he thought Lavinia was: This prim, proper, and obedient housewife.
However, Lavinia has not been that person for a while now, and it seems that maybe Ship finally realized that during their roleplaying.
As previously discussed, Ship isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, but after Lavinia repeatedly said she's not going to be a docile homemaker should they get married, Ship seems to have finally caught on.
It took him long enough, but Ship's recognition of who his fiancee truly is is an encouraging step forward.
Ship: Do you not believed that you have sinned?
Lavinia: I believe that I have sinned in your eyes. But who is to know if God shares your views?
Ship: Silence, woman. Now, wear this letter upon your bow-dice.
Ship: You say it your way. I say it mine.
Lavinia: Yes, minister. My bodice is all yours.
Ship: Um, don’t you think you should be a little more chaste?
Lavinia: Just, no, no breaking character.
Ship: Right. Sorry.
Lavinia: ‘Tis not a symbol of my shame, but your own.
Ship: You’re different than how I remember you, Lavinia Dickinson.
Ship: Hester. You’re crazy, and I like it.
There's a lot more to Lavinia Dickinson than the boy-crazed girl, obsessed with getting married; she's smart, artistic, sensual, loving.
Lavinia deserves to be with a man who not only knows who she is but accepts her -- all of her -- completely.
And while historically, Lavinia never married such a man, Ship may end up being that person for her in the interim.
Some stray thoughts:
Austin and Sue's marriage continues to feel the strain of their distance. They may sleep in the same bed, but they could not be further apart. Neither of them is happy anymore, but with divorce not being an option, we may soon see one or both involved in an extramarital affair.
Does the name Mabel Loomis Todd ring a bell to any history buffs? Should we be expecting her on our screens soon?
While I know the show is about Emily Dickinson, is anyone else curious to see more on the secret African-American newspaper being put together out of Austin's barn? Maybe it's because I'm a reporter, but I'd love to see more scenes on the matter.
It's such a fascinating look behind the curtain and helps ground the series in the pre-Civil War era.
Ever wonder what roleplay looked like in 1859? Well, now you don't have to wonder. The Scarlet Letter roleplay between Lavinia and Ship was everything. Absolutely magnificent.
So what did you think, Dickinson Fanatics?
What are Sam's intentions with Emily?
Why are women so drawn to Sam?
Has Ship finally accepted Lavinia for the woman she is?
Hit the comments below to let me know your thoughts.
Jessica Lerner was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She retired in October 2021.