AppleTV+’s Dickinson has come to an end after just 30 episodes, and, contrary to what Emily expresses in the series finale, proved that Emily’s existence did change the world, and continues to do so.
Though the series feels short-lived, with two of its three seasons dropping in a single year, the impact Dickinson has had on so many will live on for years to come, that much is certain. In this wonderfully weird series about Emily’s life, so many episodes stand out, but I took it upon myself to list what I believe to be the best-of-the-best.
This was unbelievably difficult and honestly felt like picking a favorite child. There are so many more incredible episodes of this series and so many more moments I wish I could have included but these are my six personal favorites:
6. 1×09 “‘Faith’ is a fine invention”
This episode, which is the precursor for the season finale of the first season, features a lot of changes within the series. Ben struggles with Tuberculosis, Emily grapples with faith and religion, and Lavinia deals with being violated by Joseph. It was a struggle to pick between this episode and the season 1 finale, but I particularly enjoyed Hailee Steinfeld’s performance in this episode as Emily is confronted with the reality of death.
This episode shows the romantic vision she had of both death and dying, falling apart at the seams. Her desperation to save Ben from his fate is heart-wrenching, and watching as she’s suddenly forced to believe in God and faith to save him is similarly upsetting. This episode, while primarily about the death of Ben himself, also featured the death of any hope Emily had of living a “normal,” life, one that would allow her the freedom to leave her father’s house, and live beyond the barriers put upon her by society and Edward’s stern hand.
Lavinia ends the episode by plastering her self-drawn nudes across all her classmates’ easels which also makes this episode so great. She’s reclaiming both her body and her power, and it’s incredible to see.
5. 2×06 “Split the lark”
A trip to the theater can do a poet well, this episode proves, as Emily indulges in an elaborate fantasy while juggling her feelings of fame and notoriety. This episode is visually stunning, in the cinematography but also the set design and costuming, which are probably the most elaborate seen on the show.
This episode is also marked by the incredible singing performance by Ella Hunt, who sings the lines of Emily’s poem “Split the lark – and you’ll find the Music,” as Emily pictures her performing her words in the opera house. One of the most underrated musical moments in the series is the use of Maggie Rogers’ “Light On,” as Emily fantasizes about an adoring audience applauding her work, except for Sam Bowles. The episode ends with Emily realizing that she doesn’t necessarily crave fame, and finding herself confronted with the daunting task of choosing what she does truly want in life. In her fantasy, what she wants is Sue, and, at that time, Sam’s validation.
4. 2×10 “You cannot put a Fire out”
The season two finale was a welcome reprieve after a season full of tension, drama, and angst, particularly between Emily and Sue. While the rest of the family attended Jane’s son’s christening at the town church, Maggie made herself scarce so Emily and Sue could have the place to themselves to reconnect after a season at odds. Their reconciliation includes a heated argument between the two, which Ella and Hailee deliver perfectly. Their fun jaunt around the Dickinson home as the church quite literally catches fire down the street is both incredibly touching and hilarious.
In addition, Austin’s acceptance of his practically fraudulent marriage presented a high point for his character, as he decided to embrace the taboo nature of his marriage to Sue while following his own heart when it came to Jane.
Though, the most important moments come between Emily and Sam, especially when she finally takes her poetry back from him and decides that fame is not the path she seeks. “I’m a feminist!” shouted from the back of a carriage as Sam flees with what he believes is a satchel full of Emily’s stolen poetry was instantly iconic.
3. 1×02 “I have never seen ‘Volcanoes’”
This episode is the sole reason I frequently cry while listening to Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl,” and acts, for me, as a pillar of respectful and intimate sapphic storytelling.
Before the incredible ending scene, this episode features Emily and Sue’s first foray into gender exploration, a theme that runs through the entire series. They challenge the gender norms in Amherst by attending the lecture, and the use of gender-bending in their clothing to pull off the heist allows Emily and Sue to casually subvert and explore gender as well. Their casual subversion of traditional gender roles reaches its peak in season 3, but this episode acts as the hesitant beginning for that thread.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the volcanoes scene at the end of the episode, as it’s a perfect representation of what sapphic love can and should look like on screen. The exploratory nature of the scene shows a youthfulness and curiosity that was highly discouraged at the time but is allowed to flourish on screen between these two women.
2. 3×08 “My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun”
Dickinson’s homage to Dante’s “Inferno,” is brilliantly done, and especially fun to watch as the show stepped further into Emily’s subconscious even more during its final season. Each circle of hell Emily goes through allows the audience insight into her fears and desires, as she descends further and further into her hellscape.
Before Emily’s journey through her circles of hell, the argument she has with her father stands out as a highlight of the series and Hailee’s performance within it. She perfectly captures the disbelief and heartbreak of realizing Edward was never going to change the world for his daughter, rather remaining perfectly comfortable in maintaining the status quo.
Immediately following that scene, Amanda Warren gives an equally powerful performance as Betty, giving Emily a much-needed reminder that the world does not revolve around the Dickinson family. “All hope ever did was make me cry,” is a line and delivery that will stick with me for a long time.
In the second half of the episode, Emily’s hellscape visions of her family give us a look into her greatest fears, culminating in a battlefield fantasy and return to reality comparable to Emily’s trip to the circus from season 1. The further embrace of Emily’s subconscious serves the show incredibly well, and this episode is the best of those forays deep into the poet’s mind.
1. 3×09 “Grief is a Mouse”
Choosing between the penultimate episode of season 3 and the finale was nearly impossible, but my adoration for this episode truly runs deep. This episode is truly a love letter to the fans of Dickinson, and each character’s full-circle moment showcases that love perfectly.
“Grief is a Mouse,” offers one last look at each character before we lose them forever, and, much like George’s party, offers fans one last hoorah with these characters before setting them up for their final episodic storyline and the implication of their future in the final episode. It acts as a heartfelt snapshot of incredibly happy times for Emily and her family, finally attaining some peace amidst the chaos.
Though some wrapping up was left for the finale, it was extremely satisfying to be shown the evolved versions of Mrs. Dickinson, Edward, Lavinia, Austin, Emily, and Sue. Although their lives are messy and the war rages on, they can still find hope and connection in times of deep sorrow.
All episodes of Dickinson are now streaming only on AppleTV+.