Emma Valentine, Apollo Kagwa’s better half in the AppleTV+ show The Changeling, is one of the most enigmatic characters in recent memory. The portrayal by Clark Backo is haunting yet mesmerizing. There are times when her arc seems to go nowhere, and it frustrates us, but ultimately, we realize that the emotional weight of what transpired could only be transferred to us via this journey that Emma undertook. Apollo came into her life like a breath of fresh air. She saw her whole life ahead of her and decided Apollo was the one she wanted to share it with, but nothing could have prepared her for motherhood. If Apollo had problems emanating from his father’s absence in his childhood, Emma had her fair share of problems related to her mother. In a way, Emma’s history was more traumatizing as it wasn’t kept a secret. Let’s take a deep dive into Emma and her journey:
Clark Backo As Emma Valentine
Emma Valentine had three wishes. Two of them were harmless, and perhaps the third one as well was relatively benign. Apollo had shown his desire to be with her, and perhaps she should have said ‘yes!’ right away instead of going to Brazil for six months. She should not have left; not because Apollo was the greatest guy on earth but her story wouldn’t have taken a tragic turn if she hadn’t met a witch in Brazil. What sorcery was it that tied Emma’s fate to a gruesome plot where she would have to kill her own baby or at least attempt it? She was tested within an inch of her life and had to figure out if she was insane to think that Brian wasn’t her baby or if she was right in thinking that it was a creature from hell.
Emma was sure of herself and confident in her approach to life. She had the looks, but there was also a humility that made her seem approachable. Apollo thought she was the most beautiful woman on earth. Many would agree. But insanity was one thing she was never sure about. It just took one disappearing photo from an unknown number, and she grew restless. She wasn’t hallucinating. Someone had sent her a photo of her baby. Apollo did not believe her, and she started to lose faith in him. Maybe she had forgotten about ‘the incident’, but there was her sister Kim to remind her. Kim saw that Emma wasn’t taking motherhood very well. She couldn’t sleep and ate very little, was always tired and dull, along with the job at the library to take care of. Nobody ever tied all this to the fact that someone was sending her photos of her with Brian, and they disappeared as soon as she wanted to show them to someone else.
A woman who was brave enough to survive a childbirth on the subway in New York City crumbled under the insidious messages and the pernicious feeling that Brian (or the infant who everybody thought was Brian) was not her baby. What did it mean exactly? Nobody could say and neither could Emma. Kim had to tell her that when they were just children, their mother had burned the house down. It wasn’t an accident. Their mother was suicidal and wanted the whole family to go up in flames. Emma barely survived, as her mother wasn’t ready to let her go. Emma didn’t exactly remember the part where their father had gone into the house to save their mother but succumbed to the fire. Was he murdered in the house? Or was it just the fire that engulfed him? Was Emma carrying a gene that had insanity encoded in it? Or was her motherly instinct correct? She walked through the fire and trusted only ‘Cal,’ whom she met after joining the mothers’ group ‘The Wise Ones’ online.
Monsters, witches, and black magic—these weren’t really Emma’s worlds. Apollo was the one interested in the rather unsettling fairy tales his father read out to him. But the moment she asked for the three wishes when she met the old woman in Brazil, she had crossed over to a world she knew nothing about. It was only a matter of time for it to manifest. Perhaps it was the effect of her third wish that made her shed all modesty and stand naked in front of the Norwegian photographer’s camera. That photo of hers connected William with Emma, and hence, Apollo. Three knots represented three wishes, and the red string tied to her wrist should never have been cut. She got a good husband and a healthy baby, and the first two wishes came true. Her third wish could have been to live a fairy tale life, with magic highlighting the seemingly mundane moments of her life as well. She wasn’t too careful with her third wish, whatever it may have been.
Cal’s instruction ensured she reached the island for grieving mothers after she finally found out that she didn’t carry her mother’s insanity gene. She was now on a quest to find her son. Emma fought her savior, Cal, as well, bringing back books from her library on the island. The deal was to let her risk getting caught for the books she would bring. The women on the island understood her pain, but nobody had ever found out their baby’s whereabouts after it had been replaced by a lookalike. Cal wanted to protect her, but Emma’s adamance granted her the opportunity to leave the island and attempt to find Brian. She saw Apollo during her fugitive stint but did not contact him as Apollo was unstable at the time. He didn’t know what Emma did. Apollo had to have his own journey to reach where she was, and he was truly a good husband and great father. That trust must have been there in Emma’s heart.
Through the twig and the leaf found in Brian’s cradle, she honed in on the location where Brian could have been taken after getting replaced with the creature. She doesn’t know William’s ‘cavalry’ is coming. As determined as she is, she might need Apollo’s help, as he knows William’s connection to the plot. Emma was always a great mother, but no one believed her. It was the one gift she missed from Apollo. But now that it was time, he gave it to her. Emma’s fight is with forces she doesn’t understand, but a mother’s love will make her do impossible things, even at the risk of being called a witch.