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The Changeling Episodes 1, 2 & 3 Review And Recap-The God Apollo, Harper Lee and A Brazillian Waterfall

 Adapted from Victor LaValle’s 2017 novel of the same name, The Changeling was right when it was marketed as being a fairytale for adults. Mysterious and beautiful, The Changeling is an unsettling gothic fantasy rooted in the realities of New York City.

It’s understandable why Apple TV+ chose to drop the opening three episodes at the same time. It takes all three episodes to peel back the layers hidden within these characters. Although the jumps through time can be a little confusing and disjointing, it allows us to better understand the parallels of family lineage. Some families are destined to repeat tragedy. By allowing audiences to sit with the couple and their traumas, their ultimate fate, and their betrayals hurt even more.

Some of the themes are so mad they could easily become a parody, yet the script (written by Kelly Marcel) and direction are delivered with care that keeps it entirely serious. Melina Matsoukas (Queen and Slim) plays with the horror tropes, mixing mysticism with jump scares.

The Mighty God Apollo Meets His Future Wife

The Changeling opens on a thundery night in 1825 when 52 immigrants sailed from Norway to America to flee from religious prosecution.  “Tell me your life’s voyage, and I will tell you who you are,” announces the narrator, Victor LaVelle. He will appear throughout the tale, narrating the character’s lives like he is telling a fairytale to a child. Without this narration, you may be fooled into thinking you are watching something a little more grounded.

We meet Apollo (Lakeith Stanfield) in a modern-day New York library. He is flirting with the librarian, Emma (Clark Backo). She has little interest in him and quickly turns down his offer for a date.

We quickly jump back to 1968 and meet Brian (Jared Abrahamson) and Lillian (Alexis Louder) in their version of New York. We get a mirror image of Apollo and Emma’s start. Brian is flirting with the secretary, Lillian. Their flirting loses Lillian her job because it turns out Brian is a cop, and Lillian’s boss is involved in money laundering. He lost her the job, so she has no interest in dating him.

It’s suddenly 1977, and on the 6th attempt, Lillian accepts Brian’s offer of a date. This mirrors modern-day Apollo and Emma, who finally caves in and goes on a date with him.

The Changeling
Courtesy of Apple TV+

On the first date, we learn that Emma and her sister Kim (Amirah Vann) were orphaned after their parents died when she was just 5. When she asks Apollo about his parents, we see a flash of a man in a mask. “One sad story is enough for a first date,” Apollo declares. Their family backstories are destined to play a huge role in this tale. It all moves rather quickly for both couples. Apollo is already declaring his longing to be a good father when Emma drops the bombshell that she is about to leave the country to travel the world.

We go back to 1977, to Lillian and Brian’s date. She tells him her story, of drunken parents in New York. He asks about her family, but one sad story is enough for a first date. It is quickly revealed that Apollo is the son of Lillian and Brian, his name inspired by their first date to see Rocky in the theater. Not an entirely unexpected reveal, but it’s nice to see it confirmed, as this show has enough mysteries.

Brian disappeared before Apollo’s 4th birthday. Apollo dreams of a strange blue-masked man at the door, who takes his mask off to be a version of Brian blowing blue smoke. He dreams a lot about his father coming home, something that never happened. We see multiple scenes of Apollo believing his father has come back to him. Including a time when a mysterious box is left on his doorstep, filled with paperwork.

Time overlaps and changes as memories grow. The Changeling likes to jump quickly between timelines, an uneasy way to introduce us to the characters. You can never be certain what is real and what is the character’s version of events.

We see Apollo growing up, his head usually in a book. He longs for a career working in a bookstore, but they are too scared of him to employ him. It’s never specified if the rejections are racially motivated or if there is something else about him that causes fear. A teenage Apollo starts to wonder if he was the reason his father abandoned his family.

The Changeling
Courtesy of Apple TV+

The first real sign of the presence of mystical powers is during Emma’s trip to Brazil. She meets an enchanted woman by a waterfall who ties a string bracelet around her wrist. If it comes off, she will be granted three wishes. The stunning scores give the whole scene an eery atmosphere. This woman may be a positive presence, but the way this scene is set up indicates it’s probably not going to end well for the pair.

When Emma returns to New York, she laughs about it over breakfast with Apollo. He cuts the string from her wrist in a very in-character moment of gung-ho confidence. She laughs like she doesn’t believe in it, but still closes her eyes and makes a wish when the string falls to the floor.

Soon, the pair are married with a child on the way, a little boy named Brian, who is born on the subway. Were these Emma’s three wishes? As we all know from a lifetime of fairytales, wishes are only granted when something is wanted in return.

Emma’s Struggles With Motherhood

If the first episode of The Changeling is about Apollo’s history, the second is about Emma’s. The sophomore episode opens with a little girl standing in front of a house fire. Modern-day Emma looks a shadow of her former self. She is tired and drained. Emma isn’t communicating with her friends and has been suffering from nightmares. She picks up a bag of chains from an eery figure she met through a message board.

Back to 6 months ago to see how this happy but overwhelmed mother became a shell of a tired human. Apollo’s mother, Lillian (Adina Porter), is not helping the situation. She is judgemental of her grandson’s name, of their parenting, of the fact he is not being baptized.

There are hints from the start that Emma is struggling with postpartum depression. She declares that she loves her son so much she would kill herself if anything happened to him. This is followed by a cinematically stunning shot of the pair snuggling under a bridge, the bridge she had declared she would jump from just moments earlier.

Emma’s mental health is not helped by being forced to go back to her job in the library after just six weeks. Luckily, Brian can join Apollo on his job as a book appraiser. Emma starts to get photos sent from Apollo’s phone that are clearly not taken by her husband. It looks like someone is hiding in the bushes and taking photos of her husband and son. As soon as Emma can look at the image, it mysteriously disappears. Whether these are real or a figment of Emma’s tired mind, we’re not really sure yet.

Slowly, Emma starts to unravel. She starts to believe that Brian is not truly her son and is some demonic figure who has leapt into her life. The narrative angles this behavior like its postpartum depression, understandable after she traumatically gave birth on the subway during a power outage.

Emma’s story is finally complete when her sister informs her that the story of her parent’s death isn’t 100% accurate. Emma’s memories of that tragic day are slightly off, with little details about who was where and who did what off. It’s ultimately revealed her mother purposefully set the house on fire with the goal of the family dying together. Her father saves the two young girls before running back into the fire. The reason her sister is finally revealing this information? Emma has the same look their mother did that day.

The narrator announces her panic attacks and hallucinations as part of a “final progression,” like she is part of some cult. We leave Emma incredibly distressed, looking to baptize Brian in the hopes of removing whatever demonic spirits he has within him.

Apollo Copes With Life After Emma

Episode 3 opens with a jaw-dropping scene of Apollo chained up in his own apartment. Emma is almost unrecognizable, waving a boiling kettle around like a murder weapon. Episode 2 leaves Emma distraught and dangerous, shouting at strangers and walking into traffic, but it’s shocking to see her at this intense level.

Before we see the full story, we get one of those timejumps we have come to expect from The Changeling. Apollo is on a bus, now sporting a large scar on his face. It takes a while for the whole story to be revealed. Apollo is not welcome near the playground, according to the other Dads. He is sleeping on his friend, Fabian’s, couch after three months in jail. Why? It takes a while for us to know.

Fabian describes the scene of Apollo and Emma’s flat. He found Apollo chained up, and their baby left in a condition so bad they could barely explain it. Emma is gone, likely having killed her own child. After her disappearance, a distressed Apollo went to the library with a gun in search of his wife, which led to his arrest.

Apollo goes to a survivor’s meeting, but he doesn’t need to introduce himself. They all know what happened to him. At this priest-led meeting, we meet a woman called Monique, who also reveals she had been receiving disappearing images of her child, taken from outside her apartment. She is involved in a social media group called The Wise Ones, something we see Emma look up. This message board appears to be encouraging mothers to do unspeakable things to their children.

We also learn more about Apollo’s father, Brian. His mother turned down the interest of her boss, which led to her being forced to work Saturdays. As this is the day the babysitter isn’t available, little Apollo is forced to stay home alone. It is finally revealed that the dreams of his father weren’t 100% made up by the boy. His father did return and stayed with him. Brian never abandoned his family, Lillian stopped him from being involved.

In the episode prior, Apollo found a rare, signed copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. He dreams of selling the book in the hopes of buying a house for his growing family. Without his family, he has no need for the money, so gifts it to her veteran colleague and friend, Patrice (Malcolm Wheeler). The third episode ends with a stranger chasing him out of the survivor’s meeting. He wants to buy the book, but there is something more here. The man was filming the entire meeting, voyeuristically filming Monique’s breakdown.

The Changeling offers a trio of intriguing opening episodes. Constantly unsettling and not scared to go to difficult places, The Changeling uses repetition and the rhythm of life to expose the hideousness of reality.