“Tell me your journey. Each of you. Tell me your life’s voyage and I will tell you who you are.” – Victor LaValle, The Changeling.
Fairytales and folklore are rooted in the all too real fears and dangers found in life. Filled with warnings and moral lessons, these stories are the foundation of the lessons we learn from infancy on. It is the power of storytelling and how stories come to shape people and tell us who we are at our core that seems to set the foundation of Apple TV+’s latest supernatural series, THE CHANGELING. And, in the first three episodes, we see how narratives shift meaning as we head towards inevitable tragedy.
Adapted from Victor LaValle’s novel of the same name, viewers are thrust into a whirlwind of a first episode. Going backward and forward in time, we learn about our protagonist, Apollo (Lakeith Stanfield), his wife, Emma (Clark Backo), and Apollo’s mother, Lillian Kagwa (Alexis Louder/Adina Porter). All three are connected by traumatic pasts and a driving need to survive, but Apollo and Emma desire above all else to be better parents than their own.
This non-linear timescape is used to expand on all three characters across the first three episodes, but it is the most jarring in the first. Arguably, this method of storytelling isn’t as smooth in execution in the first episode but seems to rectify itself in the second and third episodes once the framework is laid out. Across the board, we know that while THE CHANGELING hints at the supernatural to come, the fears surrounding parenthood and the reality of post-partum depression have the first three episodes by the horns.
Parenthood is a hell of a thing
There are glimpses of the supernatural, though. From a witch in Brazil to the ominous repeated imagery of Apollo’s father billowing out dark smoke, there is something otherworldly about the world showrunner Kelly Marcel. But it is not the focus quite yet. No, we’re settled into the all-too-real horrors of untreated post-partum depression, its continued dismissal, and what happens when it is left untreated.
This is highlighted in Episode 2, featuring a breathtaking performance from Clark Backo. We are there with her as Backo’s Emma descends into paranoia and insanity. Starting with mysterious photos of her child to her lack of sleep and messages she’s been receiving from the Wise Ones, Emma’s fear is understandable. But it’s more than just the fear of her child. No, it’s fear of becoming her mother and following in her erratic footsteps. Unfortunately, for all, Apollo’s lack of understanding of Emma’s situation and her continued spiral resulted in tragedy.
This tragedy plays out in snippets in Episode 3, where the audience receives the truth of what happened in bits and pieces. Episode 3 is Stanfield’s hour, with his Apollo broken after losing his dream – his son and the idea of a happy family. Apollo is at his weakest here. The proclaimed god has fallen so far and is proven that despite his hubris, he is, in fact, just as human as the rest of us.
Rise and the fall of a would-be god
It is heartbreaking watching Apollo swing up and down in his emotions. The grief and pain are heard in his voice, etched on Stanfield’s face. But then comes the moment of both validation and betrayal. The dream that he’s been plagued by since the birth of his son? There were memories shaped by a child’s mind. As Adina Porter’s Lillian tells this story to Apollo, it is like watching a bundle of bricks come crashing down and Stanfield captures the complexity of this new truth well. Rage, sadness, pain, heartache, they flit across his face like turned pages.
Raw and on edge, by the end of THE CHANGELING Episode 3, the audience sees Apollo with William Wheeler (Samuel Herring), who may not seem like much yet. However, we’re clearly moving on to the next act in Apollo’s story. With THE CHANGELING Episodes 1-3 setting up the tragedy to propel our would-be god human on his next journey, the set-up opens up the possibility for what will happen next.
It makes sense that AppleTV decided to release THE CHANGELING Episodes 1-3 at once. The first episode does not shelter the audience. It tosses us in feet first and expects us to swim with the tossing and turning of the waves with no life vest. By itself, it’s a hard episode to sell an audience on. With THE CHANGELING Episodes 1-3 released together, it gives the audience room to adjust as they settle into this complicated world that’s been built for
THE CHANGELING episodes 1-3 are now available to stream on Apple TV+. New episodes premiere every Friday on Apple TV+.
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