SERIES REVIEW – The Changeling, Apple TV+’s newest series starring LaKeith Stanfield, is a unique and surprisingly multifaceted work that combines elements of horror with a fairy tale narrative. The story begins with the magical love between Apollo and Emma, but takes a sudden turn when Emma mysteriously disappears, setting Apollo on a defiant journey through the unknown streets of New York. The series unfolds as a love story, fairy tale allegory, and chilling horror, while weaving a mysterious story hidden from the viewer.
The early parts of the series seem straightforward: the first episode focuses primarily on unraveling the relationship between Apollo Kagwa (Stanfield) and Emma ‘Emmy’ Valentine (Clark Backo), reminiscent of the enchanting romance typical of A24 films. But when the narrative changes direction, it does so with dramatic depth. The twist begins with the birth of the couple’s son, Brian, named after Apollo’s mysteriously absent father, and continues with Emmy’s depression and paranoia. As Apollo and Emmy sleep less and become increasingly suspicious of each other, the situation continues to deteriorate. This is especially true of the third episode shown at the premiere, which is the most outstanding part of the series so far, but also an extremely taxing viewing experience. The first two episodes hint at horror imagery and themes, but the third delves into the full depth of psychological terror. To give away any more details would be a spoiler, but it is undeniable that this part is the pivotal point of the series and has a significant impact on everything that follows.
Comparing The Changeling to other mystery series on Apple TV+
The Changeling shares many similarities with other mystery series on Apple TV+, such as Severance and Servant. Like The Changeling, these works skillfully keep key elements of the story hidden from the viewer, often leading to questions before answers. In this environment, mood becomes critical. Viewers must remain curious about the unknown, accepting that they may never fully understand the unfolding events. Severance exemplifies this approach, where almost nothing is certain, yet humor, emotion, and a mysterious atmosphere are brilliantly balanced. The Changeling aims for a similar effect, though with less success.
The series, directed by Kelly Marcel (Terra Nova, Fifty Shades of Grey), generally aims at the genre of magical realism. This is largely inspired by the source material, the novel of the same name by Victor LaValle (who also serves as the series’ narrator), which attempts to intertwine human fears with modern folktales. This duality poses a challenge for a show where fantasy and supernatural elements are more difficult to portray than on the pages of a book. One of the biggest challenges of the series is finding and maintaining a consistent mood, which makes it difficult for viewers to fully understand and experience the events. Should we take seriously the traumas revealed in the characters’ pasts? Should we give equal weight to the more horrific scenes and the real issue of Emmy’s postpartum depression? The Changeling leaves these questions mostly unanswered, never really finding itself during its eight-episode run. The narration also doesn’t help interpret the series, either by complicating things or by making themes too obvious, which the creators should trust the viewers to recognize.
Art and mystery intertwined
The series is full of pleasant elements. The music and direction, which emphasize the surreal aspects of the story, are a real treat – especially in the parts directed by veteran TV and film director Melina Matsoukas (Insecure, Master of None, Queen & Slim). Stanfield brilliantly portrays Apollo, especially in the show’s quieter scenes where the camera closely follows his face, and this great actor carries the weight of the entire creation. Among the supporting cast, Samuel T. Herring, who plays the enigmatic William Wheeler, stands out. Best known as the frontman of the synth-pop band Future Islands, Herring appears in a dual role in The Changeling: sometimes as a stuttering loner, sometimes as a key plot device, but occasionally loses the balance of his character.
It’s hard to blame him for not being quite sure which show he’s in, given the constantly changing environment and the evolving nature of the other characters. The most frustrating aspect is that The Changeling often approaches genius, only to suddenly cut off the thread it has built up. This is a series that, even several episodes in, still forces the protagonist to constantly ask, “What the heck is going on here?” The biggest drawback of The Changeling is that viewers may eventually lose interest and patience in unraveling the mysteries of the series.
From Family Drama to Mystical Fairy Tale Horror with an Overcomplicated, Overgrown Plot
The Changeling takes viewers on an exciting journey that begins as a family drama, but soon leads into a much darker and more mysterious world. The series boasts excellent acting and directing, both of which contribute to the exciting and impressive presentation of the story. However, the complex plot and series of unexpected twists may sometimes alienate viewers, especially those expecting a clearer narrative and character development. The series may not reach the heights of Apple TV+’s best, but it still offers a compelling experience for fans of the mystical horror and thriller genres.
-Herpai Gergely (BadSector)-