Unfinished Business: Becoming a Rock Star
Featured In: Danny Phantom (2004-2007)
Voiced By: Tara Strong
Like a great many of the first season of Danny Phantom villains, Ember McLain is one who is speculated as having been alive at some point. For though she’s one of the few whose origins are not outright stated like Poindexter and Desiree, Ember’s origin as a tragic villainess has only been defined by one of the series’ creators. An origin that clashes with what is popular fan speculation that arose from Ember’s song “Remember” but more on that in a moment.
The time is the late 70’s to early 80’s. Youth revolution is in full swing and rock and roll has reached a whole new level. In the midst of this was an unpopular girl, one who had an incredibly large dream to join those musical legends on the center stage, to inspire others just as they have inspired her.
One day, a boy of the popular crowd approaches her asking her out to a night on the town and she accepts with eager elation. She waits for him all through the night and well into the morning and with a broken heart, she collapses in exhaustion upon her bed. A fire mysteriously sparks to life in the house and consumes it and the lone occupant inside in a blazing glory.
Such is one possible origin for the ghost of Ember McLain but it is one that is told to us by a creator of the series, and it is one that has never been implanted in the series proper. No, Ember’s origins as a ghost are told more clearly in her song, “Remember” in such ways that make me wonder how far this series would have gone if they hadn’t toned it down to childish levels as it progressed.
“It was September… Winds blow, the dead leaves fall… To you, I did surrender… Two weeks, you didn’t call… Your life goes on without me… My Life, a losing game…” Not to beat around the bush with this, it is strongly hinted, if not outright stated, that Ember gave herself to a boy, either her heart or more, and in the time since he had either gone out of his way to ignore and/or avoid her. In his ignorance, his life progresses and likely goes for the better while hers steadily sinks lower and lower either because of heartbreak or perhaps from the results of what transpired that one night in September.
“Your heart, your heart has rendered… Your loss, now bear the shame… Like dead trees, in cold December… Nothing but ashes remain…” Here… Here is the real breadwinner of Ember’s origin as a ghost, particularly in her mild pyrokinetic abilities. It is strongly hinted here that Ember had confronted the boy and or left a strong enough message for him to realize just what he had done to her before she… She killed herself.
A tragic villainess indeed…
As a ghost, Ember has all of the standard abilities and weaknesses including but not limited to intangibility, flight, invisibility, a “ghost ray” which is a blast of ectoplasmic energy, and spectral body manipulation. What makes her a distinctive ghost from others though is her ability to gain power from people chanting her name. This is her greatest strength and her biggest weakness for while her power could be unlimited if enough people chant her name, the moment their adoration is broken and the chanting comes to an end, she as powerful as a newly arisen ghost.
Another unique ability that Ember possesses is tied to her voice and her guitar, both of which she can use together to hypnotize people. However, it has been shown that she can only hypnotize a certain group of people at a time. In her premiere episode “Fanning the Flames,” she hypnotized the teenagers of Amity Park into adoring her and later on, in the episode “Pirate Radio” she did the same to the adults but did a more Pied Piper routine with them.
Her guitar also has a unique feature of a knob that, depending on which icon is selected, allows Ember to utilize it in a variety of ways. The traditional application of using it as a musical instrument via a music note, a spiral wave for hypnosis, a fireball for flame attacks, and, most notably, a heart for a love spell which is what actually made Ember a popular character in the series for fans.
In the episode “Fanning the Flames” while Danny is trying to stop Ember, but she has him on the ropes thanks to the chanting of the other affected teens in town. Sam steps inbetween the two while Danny tries to recover his wits and Ember, recognizing the mutual attraction between the two, opts to not harm Danny further but to distract him, and Sam, both by casting a love song on them. Sam, immune to the spell by way of the Fenton Phones (ear-buds that work as radios that also nullify spectral noise), is merely blown back but Danny takes the full brunt of the spell and falls heads-over-heels down creepy creek in love with Sam.
Now, this is where I in particular fell in love with the character of Ember. For all that he is new to the ghost-busting scene, Danny had still made quite the name for himself by besting such villains like Skulker, Vlad Plasmius, Spectra, and Desiree. Heck, Poindexter recognized Danny instantly as a halfa, a viable threat to ghosts and humans alike. That she chose to instead distract him, heck, to actually try and help him and Sam’s relationship with one another…
Why would she do that instead of hurting him or even killing him outright?
In the end, Ember’s own spell came back to bite her as Sam figured out fairly quickly that a sufficient shock to Danny’s worldview of their relationship would snap him out the spell. Thus she applied the “fake-out make-out” with Dash, Danny’s chief bully and tormentor at school, and though he was freed from the spell, Danny’s heart still felt like it had been ripped out of his chest and he took that pain out on Ember. Oh he didn’t hurt her physically but boy did her pride take a severe hit as Danny took after his “not my girl”-friend Sam by way of shocking the audience out of their hypnotic stupor.
He had his friend Tucker sing and let me tell you now gentlemen and ladies, you have to work extremely hard at being able to sing that badly.
She also appears in the episode “Pirate Radio” where she was more of a secondary villain to the likes of Youngblood, a child ghost with a huge chip on his shoulder in regards to adults and their so-called authority. Rather than hypnotizing teens into adoring her again, Ember used her powers to lure the adults of Amity Park onto a cruise ship which is actually Youngblood’s own ship and uses them to power it via exercise equipment like treadmills and such.
… Honestly, it’s one of the sillier episodes and raises far more questions than answers about Ember, particularly her willingness to work with what is essentially a kid but let’s be honest here. If you had the chance to be a pirate, even for an off-the-wall-crazy plan, you know you’d totally do it and with greater gusto too I’m sure.
Like a vast variety of ghosts from Danny Phantom and most other media, Ember is a ghost bound to the Ghost Zone, and the mortal world, by her unfinished business or as the show defines it, her obsession. In life, she had aspirations of being a rock star and in death she has succeeded in that regard but it is a satisfaction without end.
She will never be happy until the whole of the world is united in chanting her name and if such a thing should come to pass, I don’t think she’ll happy. Because no matter how great a singer she is or how amazing a performer she can be, Ember still “cheats” with her music, using hypnosis and other ghostly abilities to her advantage.
No matter how much she may try to hide it, even from herself, Ember knows that there is no greater power than that of pure adoration of the crowd, given freely and willingly.