Adapted from Victor LaValle’s novel by Kelly Marcel, The Changeling (like the incredible Foundation) is another example of Apple TV+’s dedication to bringing high-quality visuals and long-form story telling to a premium streaming medium.
Unfortunately, unlike Silo (another Apple TV+ sci-fi gem), it stumbles in its translation of the book’s complex themes, resulting in a frustrating lack of cohesion and structural discipline. Despite its arresting visuals, intriguing premise and some stellar performances, The Changeling grapples too long with its own demons, and the pacing issues will leave many viewers oscillating between being enthralled and exasperated.
Embracing a non-linear narrative, the story interweaves the courtship and marriage of rare bookseller Apollo Kagwa (LaKeith Stanfield) and librarian Emma Valentine (Clark Backo) with their traumatic upbringings. Early in their courtship, the couple take a ‘break’ and Emma finds herself alone in a Brazillian jungle, seduced by a mysterious witch, and it’s here that the lines between reality and dark fairytale start to blur. The story leans heavily into the folklore around the titular ‘Changeling’ and slowly examines the real-world complexities of parenthood and postpartum depression, setting it against a uniquely mystical landscape of New York City.
Stanfield’s portrayal of Apollo is exemplary, carrying the weight of his character’s profound grief with restraint and (when called for) unbridled explosiveness. Backo, too, delivers a standout performance, seamlessly transitioning from sleepless despair to haunting determination. Unfortunately, the writing and direction often fail to fully capitalise on the pair’s exceptional performances.
In a Watchmen-esque detour, episode six pivots towards a story about Apollo’s mother, Lillian (played by the remarkable Adina Porter). This departure adds yet another layer to an already complex narrative, exploring survivor’s guilt, immigration struggles, and the challenges of single parenthood. Porter’s performance is genuinely extraordinary, offering a poignant examination of the immigrant experience and the hardships faced by marginalised individuals.
In the hands of creator Kelly Marcel, The Changeling emerges as a chilling blend of cerebral horror and timeless fairy tale motifs, smartly wrapped in the dressings of a modern parable. However, frustratingly, the messaging often falters amidst left-field tonal shifts and stylistic narrative choices. LaKeith Stanfield and a powerhouse ensemble guide us through a love story that descends into a nightmarish odyssey of loss and terror. And while the series teeters on the edge of brilliance, it has a tendency to lose its footing, confusing an already murky journey into darkness, its structural flaws ultimately hindering the series from realising its full potential.
The Changeling is out now on Apple TV+