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The Changeling

The Changeling season 1

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Cast

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Reviewer

Emily Tsiao

TV Series Review

Apollo first met his wife, Emma, in a library. He asked her out seven times before she finally said yes. But on their first date, she announced that she had denied him before because she was moving to Brazil soon.

Apollo waited for Emma, and upon her return, they picked up right where they left off.

But something had happened to Emma while she was in Brazil. She had spoken to an old crone, who had granted her three wishes, tying a cord to Emma’s wrist and warning her to never cut it. She didn’t say why, of course, just that it shouldn’t be cut.

Well, Apollo wasn’t buying that. He believed he could make Emma’s wishes come true—without all that magical mumbo jumbo.

So he cut the cord. And soon after, he managed to grant two of Emma’s wishes: Emma and Apollo married and then they had a baby.

Unfortunately, that’s where their fairy tale takes a grim turn.

First Comes Love . . .

Unable to get their new son, Brian, to eat or sleep, Apollo and Emma begin suffering from sleep deprivation themselves. Emma’s behavior starts looking more and more like severe postpartum depression. And after she returns to work (because her job is the one that provides their family with health insurance), things get even worse.

Her first day back, Emma receives a photo from Apollo. It’s a picture of him and Brian, but one taken from another person’s phone. Then, before she can get a closer look, the photo disappears. And when she asks Apollo about it later, he denies having sent her anything.

More mysterious photos arrive and then vanish, making Emma more confused. When she comes home from work, Brian suddenly latches while breastfeeding for the first time—and then he bites Emma.

Emma is more than a little suspicious. For starters, Brian is only six months old. He doesn’t have any teeth to bite with. But also, there’s just something off about him.

Because of the pictures she received, Emma isn’t convinced that Apollo had his eyes on their son all day. And therefore, she isn’t convinced that this baby is theirs.

Emma becomes resentful of “Brian” and begins neglecting him. The whole family continues to lose sleep. Emma arranges a baptism for Brian which Apollo suspects might be more in line with an exorcism, based on the fact that she keeps saying Brian isn’t a baby.

And then, the unthinkable happens.

Apollo comes home one day to be attacked by Emma. She chains him up and beats him with a hammer. He begs her not to hurt the baby…

But Emma already told him, “It’s not a baby.”

. . . Then Comes a Grimm Nightmare

In folklore, a changeling is a type of fairy that has been exchanged with a human, most often a child. And in this tale, that’s where Apollo and Emma find themselves at an impasse.

Emma vanishes without a trace after the attack. And Apollo, still not convinced that Brian was a changeling (as Emma suspected) and wanting to avenge the infant, goes after her.

This series, based on the novel of the same name by Victor LaValle, takes us into a magical world parallel to our own—one where changelings are indeed a reality, not just a myth.

There’s a lot of spiritual content to wade through here. Several references to witchcraft and sorcery turn up in the first few episodes. And considering that this is a horror series based on a horror novel, we can safely assume it all gets pretty dark and demonic.

Moreover, Emma wanted to baptize Brian before her horrific act against him. That’s likely because the folklore surrounding changelings suggested that being adopted into Christian faith would protect children from fairy interference.

Unfortunately, diving into the facts beyond these legends is a bit more disturbing—and truly saddening. Many scholars now suppose that the changeling legend was invented to explain why some children are born with physical deformities, developmental disabilities or are simply neurodivergent.

Worse still, because these people weren’t believed to be human, many were neglected by their families, received improper care, or were even murdered, as we witness here.

Granted, The Changeling is meant to be supernatural. It doesn’t compare baby Brian to children born with autism or Emma to women who experience postpartum depression (although you can’t help but see that parallel). But even so, this is a show that will challenge parents everywhere.

LaValle’s book has been praised for its unique take on parenthood. It explores the lengths parents go to protect their children, both mentally and physically, and the anxieties they experience trying to provide a better home than perhaps the one they were raised in.

The Changeling unpacks Apollo and Emma’s grim story, as well as the sad stories of their parents, all of whom experienced tragedies in their own lives. Those struggles included divorce, severe mental health disorders, sexual harassment, racial discrimination, being orphaned and murder. And that’s without the supernatural elements added in.

But this show isn’t just an abstract on the challenges of modern parenting. It’s a twisted, Grimm-esque fairy tale meant to scare the living daylights out of its viewers—though without the moralistic lessons of the Brothers Grimm.

Language, nudity, sex, demonic beings, spiritual foibles and unspeakable violence plague the series from the get-go. And if those problems weren’t bad enough, we’re not promised any happy endings, either.

Episode Reviews

Sept. 8, 2023 – S1, Ep1: “First Comes Love”

In the past, Apollo’s father tries unsuccessfully to woo his mother for nine years before she finally agrees to a date. They fall in love, marry and have Apollo. In the present, Apollo follows a similar trajectory. He asks Emma out seven times before she finally says yes. They too fall in love, wed and have a child of their own.

Emma speaks with a witchy-looking woman who promises to grant her three wishes. The woman ties a cord to Emma’s wrist, telling her the wishes will all come true when the cord falls off naturally, but she warns Emma not to cut it off. (Later, Apollo cuts it because he doesn’t believe what the woman has told Emma, but he promises to make Emma’s wishes come true himself.) Apollo has a recurring dream about his father banging on his door, breathing smoke and wearing a frightening mask. Throughout the episode, he also jokingly repeats the mantra, “I am the god, Apollo.” Apollo reads a storybook about fairies.

A teenage boy walks in on his parents arguing, with his father calling his mother a “whore” and his mother making a crass reference to the size of his father’s genitals. A woman sobs on the couch after being abandoned by her husband. Their son later wonders if it was his own fault that his father left them.

A couple has sex, and we see quite a bit of skin (though critical bits are hidden by camera angles and shadows). A man lies shirtless in bed with his girlfriend, who is in her bra. Apollo reads a historic postcard discussing sodomy. Someone tells Apollo that there is a picture of his wife without clothes hanging in an art gallery. We see pictures of models, some of whom are wearing bikinis. Some women wear very revealing outfits. Couples kiss and make out. Two women become pregnant by their husbands.

In 1960s Africa, a young man is shot by soldiers for refusing to exit a vehicle. He was trying to protect his sisters, who drive off after the attack as the soldiers continue to shoot at their vehicle. And his sisters tragically watch him die, bleeding in their arms.

We see flashforwards of people getting tortured. We hear the details of a movie about people getting murdered by slaves. We see shots of boxers fighting in the movie Rocky. Posters of missing people, including children, hang on a lamppost.

A woman goes into labor and gives birth on a broken-down subway, and we see some of the resulting fluids.

Characters drink alcohol at meals. There’s an advertisement for beer on a restaurant window. A waitress calls someone an idiot for not drinking alcohol.

A teenage boy is racially discriminated against. People lie. A man dodges his parole officer. Someone is arrested for laundering money. A woman is unlawfully fired. Apollo and his father both essentially stalk their future wives, and it’s excused as “persistence.”

We hear about 10 uses of the f-word and four uses of the s-word. God’s name is abused eight times, twice paired with “d–n,” and we hear “d–n” one other place as well.

When a homeless man screams for admittance to the locked bathroom of a public library, Emma (who works at the library) verbally deescalates the situation and assists the man. Characters make sacrifices for those they love. Several men state their desires to be good husbands and good fathers. People demonstrate acts of kindness.

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Emily Tsiao

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.

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