I Watched All of “Dickinson” Last Week, and I’ve Had it With Sue

Heads up this has spoilers on Dickinson so like — stop reading if you get mad at spoilers.


I sat on my couch and binge-watched Dickinson last week after getting a very enthusiastic response from Tracy and Yash when I dropped a tweet and a question into the Autostraddle Slack.

A screenshot of Autostraddle Slack

I made my way through each episode, watching 4-5 in a row some days, and as as I did I tweeted to the world my thoughts on Emily Dickinson and her crew.

I did a little research as I watched and found that so many people loved Emily & Sue together. Respectfully — I disagree.

Sue Gilbert my darlings is messy.

She’s a pretty 19th-century package wrapped in a narcissist bow.

Now, I know many of you Dickinson Dykes are already heated at those first two sentences. So before I get into it let me explain, these thoughts are based on the sometimes exaggerated/fictionalized stories and portrayals of the actual people as shown in the show Dickinson. This has nothing to do with the real versions of these folks, but that should be obvious because neither I nor y’all were around in the 1800s to know what these people were like.

Oftentimes, we excuse the horrid actions of folks with a hard history in lieu of checking them on their shit, especially in the queer community. Sue was a mess, and that could be for many reasons. She has had quite the hard life filled with death, trauma, and pain. However, that does not give her a pass to treat those in her orbit the way she does — namely one Miss Emily Dickinson.

Sue wanted to have her cake and eat it too. She wanted Emily to obsess over only her, to yearn for and only want to love her — but she (Sue) could love or lust after anyone she so chose. She was disrespectful of Emily’s boundaries, and the moments where Emily gained enough courage to stand firm in her convictions, here came Sue with the gaslighting, tears, or timely “…but I DO love you Emily Dickinson!”

There are many reasons why I am so vehemently anti-Sue but these are just a few.


Her emotional Olympics are tired.

“Why do you always do that to me?” is something Sue has repeatedly said to Emily after reading her poems. Upset that her words bring up emotions that she isn’t ready to feel — but then also getting upset when Emily opts to write about or get notes from someone that isn’t her? She constantly flip-flops on her love for Emily, dangling it in her face when she feels her slipping away and then withholding it when she gets her back.

She wants Emily to constantly chase her.

When Emily wants to give her some space after Sue is upset with her (yet again) She yells at her, “I am mad at you and that’s why you should have come to see me!!” TOXIC. That is the equivalent of texting your girlfriend/crush to leave you alone after a fight that YOU picked — and then getting upset when they don’t call you 10 minutes later. Also, they live right next door to each other………I wish Emily had responded “Shorty, you know where I live if you were so mad why didn’t you come to see me?!?!”

She is WILDLY NARCISSISTIC.

Remember when she went to have afternoon tea with the wife of the man she was having an affair with? And when the wife revealed she had a miscarriage, Sue then was like “me too girl” and cried while the wife consoled her. Oh yeah, this is the same man she tried (successfully) to get Emily to fall for under the guise of him publishing her poetry, but it was really so she could keep him close to gas up her and her little parties? Oh, and also so she could sleep with him and blame it on the power of Emilys’ poetry. Like — ma’am what?

Everything has to be done on her time.

She goes on about how she has to wait days and weeks to see Emily, in an attempt to make her feel bad but fails to acknowledge how Emily feels about the situation. What is she supposed to do? Kick her brother out of your bed so she can sleep there? Blow up her whole life and hope that she is doing it at a time where Sue is in one of her “I love Emily” modes? Nah. When Austin brings up having a child in hopes of discussing it, she immediately knocks it down, and then when wants to instead care for his orphaned cousins in place of having their own child she has issues with that too. There isn’t any wiggle room for Sue and compromising isn’t something she cares to do.

She lets fame go to her head.

She turns into one of The Real Housewives of Amherst! She’s an influencer now, so as soon as she got popular she changed. She becomes rude to the fire starting orphans, is short with the help, starts fucking folks husbands, ices out her mother-in-law, won’t even wear the same dress twice, and is spending Dickinson money frivolously as fuck. It really hit me how much she thought she was that bitch when Austin Is like “Sweetheart we are about to be broke — actually we lowkey already are so chill on the spending” and she’s like “Fuck you, buy me another horse.”


Anyway, the show is incredible. I think it’s wonderfully written, gives the whispers of queerness around this talented poet a great story, and drops in just the right amount of modernity to make a period piece interesting to a millennial audience.

The reason I despise Sue so much is because the writers did such a damn good job at making this the type of character that you either love or hate as her story evolves throughout the series. I watched the show on a whim and now that it’s a wrap, you too can binge all three seasons. After you’re done, come back here and let me know: How do you feel about Sue?


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Shelli Nicole

Shelli Nicole is a Detroit-raised, Chicago-based writer. Her work has appeared in Bustle, HelloGiggles & Marie Claire. She is terrified of mermaids and teenagers equally.

Shelli has written 176 articles for us.

34 Comments

  1. With you alllllll the damn way. The theory that my gf and I have about why Emily continues to be into Sue despite her mess is quite simply that Emily knows no better. Bitch never leaves Amherst and lives with her parents! Whaaaat could she possibly know about healthy rlships? Sue is the only dyke on the block! So ofc Emily is into it. It has strong “hook up with the only other dyke in your small town high school” vibes.

    • I totally agree I haven’t liked how Sue has been either I dislike her character so much. Yet she acts like everyone else is the bad guy never her. I agree with all you said for sure. I liked Emily with Ben way better too bad he had to die. Honestly even George was better choice than sue

  2. yes, a thousand times yes!!! i’m in the middle of season 3 right now and i do nOT understand sue at all. she keeps saying she wants to run away and raise the baby with emily while emily has repeatedly stated she never wants kids! girl!!!

    • I totally agree with you! Sur is toxic af. But honestly, I stain the ship because I’m a sucker for Ella Hunt and Hailee Steinfeld… so.. As it’s mostly fiction I really didn’t care 🤣🤣

    • This exactly. In the Emily Dicksion movie that came out a few years ago, Emily had a thing with some other lady who would visit their town from time to time. I was WAITING for this the whole season.

      Maybe it happens much later in Emily’s life and that’s why it wasn’t included or the writers knew they couldn’t have their ship go over well with the audience if they didn’t make the literal ONLY option

    • This exactly. In the Emily Dicksion movie that came out a few years ago, Emily had a thing with some other lady who would visit their town from time to time. I was WAITING for this the whole season.

      Maybe it happens much later in Emily’s life and that’s why it wasn’t included or the writers knew they couldn’t have their ship go over well with the audience if they didn’t make the literal ONLY option

  3. Love the entire show, all the characters, scene by scene, for me was very refreshing with that touch of contemporaneity. Now, all your points right, I laughed so hard reading this because even though some of us didn’t want to realize of Sue being a total bitch, all the red flags are there. I guess we are not just to get happy endings(between women I mean) we just want it so desperately that we hold tight to any love story shown on tv. I haven’t seen a love story wlw without suffering. Love Dickinson to the bones and Love EmiSue

  4. I need Shelli Nicole to review all my wlw shows! Great article.

    My two cents? Loving a writer is incredibly difficult. Beautiful, and wonderful, but few are strong enough to survive the storm. Gotta give Sue a little credit for hanging in for the long haul.

  5. I don’t think (third season) Emily is totally innocent here either. I don’t think Sue was at all unreasonable to ask for more time with her girlfriend when she was cooped up in the house with a baby and an absolutely miserable husband. Emily spent 3/4 of the third season daydreaming or fretting about family issues she wasn’t actually doing much to fix instead of keeping the girlfriend she had supposedly pined over for years company. But yeah, many toxic phases in this roller coaster of a relationship. I love them anyway.

  6. I guess my controversial opinion is that Sue was the reasonable one.

    Sue’s entire family died, she tried to nanny to avoid having to marry someone she didn’t think would be a great match and then got assaulted by her boss so she married Austin anyway given that seeming less traumatic. The miscarriage leaves her devastated and alienated from Austin so she does the socialite thing to try to alleviate the shittiness of the situation and not be alone with him in the house – and this is narcissism? Absolutely not buying it. She’s just sad and in pain. And while not handling it in the most productive way – what options for healing are available to her? What support is, for instance, Emily offering during this time? None that we can see – Emily later acknowledges that she did not even remotely understand the grief Sue was carrying. And once Sue talks to someone who makes her confront her pain her partying and destructive ways end immediately.
    Interestingly Austin does the same thing to handle his sadness and even as his approach is more destructive (and his family is notably still alive and he is notably allowed to own property etc.) he is still cut more slack – wild!

    Anyway – interesting to see how differently these scenes are interpreted by others. Delightful to have a very low stakes thing to disagree with on the internet – thank you Shelli!

    • I don’t like the “well Austin did it too” card when this is about Sue and her being the architect of her own and others’ unhappiness. I get that Sue went through a lot and wanted to control all things in her orbit but this notion that everyone owed her and she was entitled to it is narcissism by definition.

      Emily didn’t acknowledge the pain Sue was carrying and Sue couldn’t handle Emily’s affections but how was Emily to know when Sue not only never divulged it but did everything she could to hide it? Sue created insecurity in Austin by using the love he had for her against him. The miscarriage just gave her license to fully play on that while simultaneously resenting him for it. His actions and Emily’s are in large part because of Sue’s treatment of them. And why use and treat the Dickinson parents with no regard when they were nothing but hospitable and caring since her parents died? Did she resent them for being alive? She also had the nerve to go to Sam’s house calling herself a friend to his wife. The way she talks to the wife so confidently because she thinks she’s getting away with it is so grimy. When the wife subtly lets Sue know that she knows and that the pain of that only compounds the grief she feels after having lost a child, here comes Sue making it about her. I get that it was played as a moment of realization/catharsis for Sue but her actions prior to that lead me to believe that that display was also about playing on the wife’s sympathy so she wouldn’t have to own up to her wrongdoing.

      Sue did stop being a whole narcissist/asshole but I don’t recall her ever being remorseful or apologizing for what she’d done and she still showed hints of that behavior through the end of the show.

  7. I pretty much agree with all the reasons you listed, but also have tried to look at Sue from the lense of her repressing her gay after marrying Austin and that being a reason she’s so miserable and pushing Emily away. It’s difficult though, in Season 2 she REALLY bugs me!

  8. I think Emily likes Sue at a distance, it allows her to use her as inspiration for her poetry without having to do what Sue keeps asking her to do – be with her and raise the baby and leave her family.

    When Emily “falls for” the newspaper dude he tells her, rightly, that the romance is between her and herself. Same with Sue, Emily is in love with the flurry of emotions and the way they inspire her and the beautiful poetry that comes from it.

    I think Sue is very much in love with Emily and I adore the way she looks at her…great acting, incredible chemistry.

  9. Thank you for this Shelli!! Watching it, I was like – I cannot vote for this couple! I think something the show does really well is that everyone is kind of trash or toxic often in the show. There were times when I really felt for Sue – Emily is so self-centered and tunnel-vision sometimes that she fully ignores or forgets about Sue’s experiences. At the same time, Sue is constantly moving the goalposts and is often very cruel in ways that are like…excuse me. I kept flip flopping between being mad at Emily and being mad at Sue and struggling with who was supposed to be “learning” from each arc.

  10. I hate Sue and I feel SO VALIDATED after only reading the headline. Now I will read the article. THANK YOU. She is THE WORST!!!! “I had a baby; I hate my life; come be miserable with me and this baby I didn’t want and don’t want to take care of!!!” UGH

  11. Since the beginning, I’ve been kinda baffled by the way the show portrayed Sue.
    Like, the real Sue was an intellectual, just as Emily was.
    They both loved literature and poetry, and spent hours and hours discussing books. They met regularly in Sue’s library; they exchanged books they were reading. Sue was also a writer (or trying to be), and sent her own poetry alongside Emily’s to be published in newspapers.
    And when she tried to make a living on her own, she taught MATHS!
    I mean, the woman was brilliant too!
    Emily spent so much time in her head, and in the world of books, and Sue was one of the rare people who could meet her there, who was getting what she was trying to do.

    Their intellectual intimacy is what connected them!

    I’m not a purist, I don’t need historical accuracy and found the show’s perspective to be mostly good fun.
    But without showing this intellectual connection, Emily and Sue being so in love in the show don’t really make sense. We just don’t get what in Sue attracted Emily.

  12. I also didn’t like Sue, and didn’t like Emily by the end either, and I didn’t particularly like any of the other characters – the male characters were almost all awful.
    I mean, the show starts with Sue cheating on Emily with her brother (sorry wtf? Were we just supposed to assume they’d discussed it beforehand or something?), then with Austin wanting to marry Sue even though he knows that Sue and his sister are in love (again, wtf?) and continues in a mess of weird storylines with barely any direction. I found the whole series incoherent; so many things just seemed out of character or didn’t add up.
    It’s a shame because there was a lot of potential to make a beautiful story.

  13. Ha! It’s like Mabel Loomis Todd was reincarnated. People have to realize that this is based on a true story when compulsory het and women being property was a thing. Viewing Sue from that lens, she is hardly the most toxic person in the room.

    To be fair, the show does a poor job with Sue S1-S2. She serves as Emily’s muse and foil, but we never really understand her motivations and feelings. After all, the show is about Emily, not her. Alena also does a poor job of showing us why Emily is drawn to Sue (she was the smartest person in the room). I don’t understand that creative choice. Perhaps, it is a metaphor for the fact that a lot we know about her is from people who did not like her (and hence they would say the same things you said here). I suspect part of this is because we don’t have much surviving correspondence from Sue to Emily.

    I did think her bloomed fully in S3 and her requests for Emily’s time/love are valid then, and did not find her annoying at any point, but to each their own.

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