The Big Picture
- Emily is unfairly villainized in Friends. She sacrifices a lot for her relationship with Ross and is humiliated by him at their wedding.
- Ross manipulates Emily and Rachel, pitting them against each other. He lies to both women and does not respect their feelings.
- Despite being portrayed as the villain, Emily is not at fault. Ross is the true bad guy in the story, causing the dissolution of their marriage.
“Take thee, Rachel.” Three little words that floored the Friends fandom when David Schwimmer‘s Ross Geller uttered them on May 7, 1998. It was the two-part finale of the show’s fourth season. The episode was “The One with Ross’s Wedding,” and it played an important part in the story of the beloved sitcom’s endgame couple, Ross and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston). The couple has, without doubt, become one of the most iconic will they/won’t they couples in television history, but throughout the sitcom’s fourth season, there was one character standing in their way: Emily Waltham, Ross’ romance of the season turned bride. Ross’ flub, cheered by the studio audience, set in motion the end of the relationship, allowing the eventual happy ending for him and Rachel. Many fans were thrilled to see Emily go, as she quickly became the show’s villain for the fifth season. However, Emily was not the monster she was made out to be. The true big bad of the story was the one who shared the altar with her.
Brought to life by Helen Baxendale, Emily joined Friends midway through the fourth season in the episode “The One with Joey’s Dirty Day.” Polite, fiery, and intelligent, she and Ross quickly pursue a serious relationship, getting engaged five episodes later. While their romance was always in opposition to the show’s long-term romance, Emily otherwise fit in with the other friends well. The last episodes of the season even ended with the whole gang, minus Pheobe, played by a then-pregnant Lisa Kudrow, heading to London for the wedding. Following Ross’ flub, Emily snuck out of her wedding via the bathroom window. Ross would spend the next few weeks trying to contact his runaway bride. When he finally tacked her down, she agreed to continue their marriage if Ross cut off all ties with Rachel, while also ridding himself of any furniture or belongings with which she may have come in contact. Ultimately, Ross can’t part with one of his dearest friends and the marriage ends with a bitter divorce. Emily became one of the most hated characters in Friends history. Nearly two decades later, it’s time to re-examine Emily’s reputation and her unfair status as a big bad in Ross and Rachel’s relationship.
Ross Geller, Rachel Green, Monica Geller, Joey Tribbiani, Chandler Bing, and Phoebe Buffay are six twenty-somethings living in New York City. Over the course of 10 years and seasons, these friends go through life lessons, family, love, drama, friendship, and comedy.
- Release Date
- September 22, 1994
- Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer
- Main Genre
- Romance, Sitcom
Emily Became the ‘Friends’ Villain, but Ross Geller Is the Real Bad Guy
Emily is fiery from the moment she is introduced. It’s Rachel who brings her and Ross together. Rachel promised her boss to take his niece, Emily, to the theater. Instead, Rachel makes a date and pushes Ross into entertaining the visitor. Emily is initially put off by the situation and makes her feelings clear, proving herself to be strong and self-assured. Intellectually and culturally, she is every bit Ross’ equal. While both spend a better part of the fourth season trying to make their long-distance relationship work, audiences get a glimpse at just how much more Emily has to sacrifice when the gang goes to London for the final installments of the season. By marrying Ross, Emily would have to say goodbye to her father, Stephen Waltham, and her stepmother, Andrea, brought to life by comedy legend Jennifer Saunders. Season 5 reveals an even larger extended family, all of whom had Emily’s best interest at heart when they refused to reveal her whereabouts to Ross when she did not want to be found by him.
While those later episodes are meant to reveal Emily’s iciness, neither she nor her family are at all in the wrong. Not only is Emily giving up the life she knew, the people she loves, and her home to move across the world, she is humiliated in front of said people by the man for whom she is giving them all up. While both parties have to make sacrifices and changes to their lifestyles to make the relationship work, Emily’s efforts are far greater than those of Ross. The sacrifices that Emily asks Ross to make afterward may seem cold, but after all she’s gone through, one can’t blame her for distrusting the relationship and the connections her husband shares with Rachel. Speaking of things he shares, let’s not forget that in the final moments of the Season 5 premiere “The One After Ross Says Rachel,” an episode considered one of the series’ best, Emily shows up at the airport, ready to forgive Ross for ruining their wedding and go on their honeymoon, only to find that Rachel has been given her plane ticket by Ross. Two points for Emily, zero for Ross.
Ross Geller Pitted Emily and Rachel Against Each Other
The most complicated and least discussed issue of the entire story comes from the fact that Ross pitts his love interests against each other. Audiences learned early on in the show’s first season Ross has always had feelings for Rachel, and sometimes those feelings are weaponized. There is no better example of this than with this particular love triangle. Ross’ wedding is a complicated matter for Rachel. Throughout his dating Emily, Rachel tries to appear to be over the love she shared with Ross the year before, but it is still understandably challenging for her to ultimately let him go. The moment he says her name at the altar, Ross pits the two strong, hardworking women against each other. It is a competition made worse when Ross agrees to Emily’s anti-Rachel terms. Ross avoids telling Rachel what Emily has asked of him, up until it is almost time for Emily to come over to America and give her marriage a now, third chance. The entire time leading up to Emily’s return, he continues to see Rachel behind his wife’s back, meaning he not only lies to the wife he’s already embarrassed and hurt, but he is also torturing Rachel, whose heart aches at the impending loss of her friend. In one final act of gaslighting, Ross finally reveals to Emily that he has been hanging out with Rachel and that he has no intention of cutting her out of his life.
Ross’ marriage to Emily, of course, ends in his second, but not final, divorce, leaving the path clear for his eventual happily ever after with Rachel five seasons later. Emily is never seen again on the show and is only occasionally mentioned. When she is, she’s always portrayed as the domineering tyrant, who nearly destroyed Ross and Rachel. Her reputation in the fandom hasn’t been much better, viewers often remember her as cold and antagonistic. However, after all the sacrifices she made for this marriage, the countless times she tried to move forward with Ross, and the backstabbing she endured, it is safe to say that Emily was not the villain of Friends’ Seasons 4 and 5 drama. Indeed, that title goes to everyone’s favorite unstable dinosaur man, and series “hero” himself. Ross Geller.
Friends is available to stream on Max in the U.S.
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Khushi Patel is a science fiction author who lives in Austin, Texas. She has published three novels, and her work has been praised for its originality and imagination. Khushi is a graduate of Rice University, and she has worked as a software engineer. She is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and her books have been nominated for several awards.