[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Dickinson, Season 3, Episode 7, “The Future never spoke.”]
Well into its third and final season, Dickinson has become synonymous with surreal scenes, but the latest installment, “The Future never spoke,” is taking things to a whole new level as Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) and Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) travel to the future via gazebo.
Plopping down 100 years into the future, the girls find their home surrounded by young women who also happen to be college students, among which is Sylvia Plath (guest star Chloe Fineman). Ushering the sisters into their own home, which is now the Emily Dickinson Museum, Emily learns that her poetry has become famous and even a topic of debate among literary scholars.
“I remember reading through this season and having that particular episode stand out to me for multiple reasons,” Steinfeld tells TV Insider. “The main one being that, this was such a turning point in Emily and Lavinia’s relationship. We’ve seen some really lovely, sisterly moments with them throughout the previous seasons, but there’s something that happens in this particular episode between the two of them.”
What Steinfeld alludes to is the topic of Emily’s sexuality. During their conversation with Sylvia, Emily and Lavinia are informed that the version scholars have come to know, believe Emily had an unrequited love affair with a man, or that she was a lesbian.
Emily tries to pretend like this fact about herself hasn’t been brought up and shifts the conversation to the reality of the 1950s, but Lavinia soon follows up with her sister about the possible revelation. Ultimately, Emily admits that she’s only ever been in love with Sue (Ella Hunt) and no one else.
“She’s always felt a connection with Lavinia,” Steinfeld shares. “She’s always felt a deep amount of love for her, but she feels seen by Lavinia in this very pure and real moment where she admits to being in love with Sue or having been in love with Sue.”
“That’s not something she’s really ever said out loud,” Steinfeld acknowledges. “The fact that on the other end of it Lavinia is so supportive of her at that moment, there’s no shock, there’s no shame. It’s a really beautiful moment between the two of them.”
Baryshnikov echoes her costar’s sentiments, also pointing out that Lavinia did play an integral role in preserving Emily’s poetic legacy following her death. “Lavinia and Emily are grappling with Emily’s legacy together because we know that later in Lavinia’s life, she really becomes the reason that Emily’s poetry gets out in the world,” says Baryshnikov.
“But I love the dissonance between the Dickinson that Sylvia Plath describes, and the one that a lot of us know, this woman in White who was depressed and had no love in her life in contrast to the character that we created in the sister that Lavinia knows,” Baryshnikov adds. “And so that episode is defining our version of Emily Dickinson. And it was very fun to play with that legacy together.”
The decision to have Emily and Lavinia meet Sylvia Plath was one that was greatly considered by series creator, showrunner, and episode co-writer Alena Smith (Ziwe Fumudoh who plays Sojourner Truth in the series also co-wrote). “I loved the idea of Emily meeting Sylvia Plath and being confronted with perhaps America’s greatest 20th century, female poet,” Smith says. “I also like to joke that it’s sort of like the world’s most disappointing trip to the future because she goes to the future, but she only gets to 1955 and she finds out that it pretty much sucks there.”
The realization allows Emily to see the things she does have in her own time though, particularly with Sue. A detail in the poet’s life that is still being unpacked by readers of Emily Dickinson today. “We’re still unpacking and dismantling some pretty serious myths about who Emily was,” Smith notes.
“And so, it’s funny, it’s bleak, and it’s also a testament to all the great work that’s been done by Dickinson scholars and the Dickinson Museum to challenge the received notions of Emily and to bring Emily and Sue’s relationship into the light and give Emily back her power,” Smith confirms.
See what other ways the show continues to bring that aspect of Emily’s life into the light as Season 3 continues on Apple TV+.
Dickinson, Season 3, New Episodes, Fridays, Apple TV+