OPINION: In the second episode of this dark fantasy series, the characters begin to unravel the true meaning of the word changeling.
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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
The second episode of Apple TV+’s new haunted fairytale series “The Changeling,” finally brings the show’s title into focus. Based on Victor LaValle’s novel of the same name, “The Changeling,” gets its name from European fairytales about children that’ve been stolen by fairies and replaced by inhuman creatures that only look like the children.
At the end of the premiere, Apollo (Lakeith Stanfield) and Emma (Clark Backo) have just given birth to a baby boy, Brian, named after Apollo’s father who vanished from his life when Apollo was only four. The baby appears to be healthy, but the traumatic birth on a subway car coupled with being named after a specter whose absence haunts Apollo’s life does not bode well for this baby.
Plus, there’s Apollo not heeding a witch’s warning to Emma not to cut a red string off her wrist if Emma wants her three wishes to come true. Things were looking up for the happily married new parents, even after Apollo cut the string off Emma’s wrist. But shortly after Brian’s birth, things take a turn.
This episode begins just like the first, with LaValle narrating, “tell me your life’s voyage, and I’ll tell you who you are.” The focus has shifted from Apollo to Emma, who is six months postpartum. She’s a shell of herself: frazzled hair, nervous, paranoid, walking unconcerned into oncoming traffic. Emma’s off to a rundown building where she tells a woman that Cal sent her there and in exchange receives a bag of chains. Her sister (Amirah Vann) is scared by her behavior but Emma won’t provide answers.
‘The Changeling,’ Episode 1 Recap: A haunting fairy tale begins
A few months earlier, Emma and Apollo look just about as tired as any new parents as Emma’s sister and Apollo’s mother Lillian come over to help. Emma can’t latch and her frustrations grow as she shares with her sister her desire to be “a perfect mom.” Lillian was an immigrant from Uganda when she came to America and had Apollo, so she empathizes with Emma, whose mother died in a fire and thus can’t help guide her through new motherhood.
Lillian is less empathetic to Apollo and his choice to name the baby Brian. “You honor an invisible man,” she tells him. Two months later, she’s also insisting on baptizing Brian to save him from “the dark creatures of the world.” Apollo and Emma gently dismiss this as they head out for their first date night since the baby.
Over their meal, Emma morbidly shares that she’d have to die by suicide if anything ever happened to the baby. They lightheartedly laugh about the way Emma would do it: jumping off the George Washington Bridge. This inspires Apollo to take her on a ferry ride under the same bridge. These people are weird.
While Emma is breaking down over having to return to work after only eight weeks of maternity leave, Apollo is having the time of his life as a doting dad, with other fathers of babies hanging out at the park and taking photos of Brian that he texts to Emma. He takes Brian to a book haul in hopes of finding rare books to sell. While there, he exposits to Brian (and therefore to the audience) about his vanishing dad and his dad’s box of memorabilia that showed up at Apollo’s doorstep when he was 12. In the box was a children’s book, “Into the Waters, Into the Wild,” that Brian used to read to Apollo. Apollo recites a quote from the book, “A baby is a dream made real, but dreams are the fairies’ favorite meal” –which brings us back to the title, “The Changeling.”
So far, though, Baby Brian appears to be just a baby, albeit one who brings good fortune. Apollo winds up finding at the book haul a valuable first edition “To Kill A Mockingbird,” signed by Harper Lee for Truman Capote. He excitedly tells Emma who confirms for him his favorite mantra, “You are the god Apollo,” because now they can buy an apartment. We’ll see.
Shortly after, Brian starts acting differently. He’s crying nonstop when he’s in Emma’s arms. She starts forgetting things. Pictures of Brian that she has in her phone start vanishing. She reads a newspaper article about a missing baby named Blue. On Facebook, she sees Apollo’s page covered in photos of him and Brian. She finds a page called the “Wise Moms,” where moms seek advice for calming babies who won’t settle. She gets a text from Apollo, a picture of him from a distance changing the baby’s diaper on the ground. It disappears. She tries to go to church for help, but is only reminded of her parents funeral, so she leaves.
Emma continues on her downward spiral. She questions Apollo about sending her pictures and deleting them, which he denies. Brian bites her but Apollo doesn’t believe her because the baby doesn’t have teeth. Apollo starts to believe that Emma is going crazy due to her postpartum depression. Emma knows something’s not right. “You’re the fucking devil aren’t you?” an increasingly agitated Emma yells at the screaming baby as she walks through traffic. “It’s not a baby!” A man on the street yells (or warns) her.
LaKeith Stanfield stars in chilling ‘The Changeling’ trailer
Apollo is increasingly fearful of leaving Emma alone with the baby after he hears the way she talks to him. She tries to explain that there’s something wrong, that he immediately stops crying when Apollo holds him and not her. But, it’s Apollo’s dream to be a great dad, and though he doesn’t say it, he seems to feel like the baby calming in his arms is proof that he is. And that maybe Emma is the problem. Emma gets another text, this time a picture of her and Brian. She doesn’t share it with Apollo because she knows now that no one will believe her. At Apollo and her doctor’s request, she starts taking postpartum depression medicine.
And we’re back to the opening scenes, where Emma gets a bag of chains at the behest of someone named Cal. Emma’s sister tells her the truth about their parents’ death. The young sisters had stayed home from school at their mother’s insistence. Their mother then set the house on fire, intending to kill their whole family. Their father got them out but went back inside to get their mother. The pair never came out. Emma’s sister tells her the truth now because Emma has the same look that their mother had. Emma confesses she doesn’t believe Brian is her son.
Emma tries to take Brian to be baptized but Apollo won’t allow it. He sees Emma’s phone in the trash. She explains that she got another text, a picture of Brian in the car seat and the caption was “Got him.” Apollo still doesn’t believe her and insults her with some ableist words: “go take another pill.”
“God forgive me,” Emma says, as she breaks down the door to do something monstrous.
Brooke Obie is an award-winning critic, screenwriter and author of the historical novel “Book of Addis: Cradled Embers.”
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