Emily Mallum was a girl with a haunted, beautifully alien face – her dark saucer eyes and line-thin mouth and way young voice belonged to an anime waif, not a flesh and blood human being – and an extraordinary gift for drawing that portended a promising artistic career. She had another talent, too, one that portended a less desirable outcome for many, including Emily herself. Like some grim and gothy art school Cassandra, the creepy little girl was prone to receiving prophetic visions of death. She was a human antenna, wired to attract a very specific kind of emergency broadcast signal from the future. The not-so-good vibrations came to her with a hum and a pinch of headache, and she managed the pain by putting the awful images on paper. She tried to use her precognitive affliction/power for good, but often to no avail. “Why did God make me like this?” she asked her father, one of several loaded lines in “Forced Perspective” that tried to shade the story with philosophical/spiritual themes like causality, predestination and the problem of evil. The usual fun-time Friday night Fringe stuff. “You know how I feel, Emily,” Jim Mallum replied. “God has a purpose for all of us. Even if we can’t understand it.” By episode’s end, God would remain more veiled than ever.
Because of her ability, Emily had become a person of interest to all sorts of exploitative Fringe science interests, including Massive Dynamic, and so she and her family, a loving, self-sacrificing bunch, lived like Running On Empty outlaw nomads; at the first sign of black vans and morally ambiguous government types, they were in the wind, looking for new safe harbor. Poor Emily was growing tired of the life, of stressing her mother and father and brother with her inconvenient weirdness. She wished for the place where they were happiest, a house by the lake. She wished she could be free of her freakishness. She wished she didn’t know that her own end was nigh.
In an opening sequence that can only be described as riveting, we saw Emily sketching the urban wilds of downtown Boston when a picture of a young businessman’s death suddenly filled her brain. She quickly hashed it out and then chased after the man, one Mr. Engelhart, and served him with his death notice and a look of “sorry, dude” pity. His walking companion examined the awful artwork as they passed through a construction site and clucked: “Why would anyone draw something like that?!” Mr. Engelhart: “She’s a teenager. Isn’t that what they do? Play depressing music and complain about how everything sucks until they finally make everyone as miserable as they are? It’s a stage.” Yep: A—hole. Which made it really easy to not feel too badly for him when then the i-beam fell from the sky and impaled him to a dumpster – the fulfillment of the cartoon prophecy Emily had handed him just seconds earlier. His friend, splashed with his blood, screamed. For Emily, the feeling of hopelessness that weighed on her became another life heavier. Nothing she did changed the fates of her still-life subjects. Her motivation for trying to tell them of their imminent end: So they could redeem the time they had left with one more good deed or an “I love you” to someone they cared about. And so, with each vision and each death, Emily became increasingly locked into a fatalistic perspective. Her heroism in this episode involved overcoming her own outlook on life.
NEXT: The muted thrills of re-discovery.