There are several characters in The Changeling, but no one is as laden with secrets as to merit an entire episode dedicated to them— except Lillian. Lillian Kagwa, who fled from Uganda and came to America seeking a better life, found herself alone and frightened, even after marrying Brian, the cop. Her heart was a chamber of secrets, and she couldn’t ever really open it up to anyone because she thought she couldn’t afford to. Apollo was the apple of her eye, and when he, too, shunned her, she knew it was time to leave a message behind for him to discover. Let’s take a closer look at the character, which has been portrayed by two actors. The younger version is played by Alexis Louder, and the older one is played by Adina Porter.
It was in 1968 that it all began. This was the time of the ‘Garbage Strike.’ We often remember events by smells. This was also the time Lillian got a whiff of the American life. She was willing to work hard, but it was not an easy task being a foreigner who didn’t understand the culture well. Could she be fired if she didn’t work Saturdays? She had to leave Apollo alone at home for half of the day. It crushed her, but she needed to have a job, as Brian had left. The same Brian, who had promised to be by her side and pursued her to the point of harassment. Their marriage didn’t really pan out as she had thought. Lillian’s will to live was challenged, but how could she leave Apollo alone in the world? She had to march on.
Fighting her way out gave her such strong willpower that she could survive anything. But the guilt of leaving Uganda after the murder of her brother Arthur, weighed heavily on her. She was a survivor, and with that came the survivor’s guilt. Stacked on top of it was the fear of loneliness and lovelessness in America. Brian came in with the promise of being a good man, but things fell apart. Who was at fault? From afar, Brian seems like the culprit for destroying the marriage. He seemed to have abandoned the family. That’s what Lillian always made Apollo believe. But on closer inspection, Lillian turns out to be the harbinger of chaos in everyone’s life.
What else do people have to offer? They can only offer what they themselves have stored in their subconscious. Lillian’s life had been a series of catastrophes. Her life in Uganda had been tough as the country was going through political changes. Then, after Arthur’s death, she came to America and slogged her way to make a living. Then came Brian, and there was a period of stability in her life, but only from the outside. Internally, she looked at Brian and was terrified of what that man could do to her if she spoke out of turn. Brian was a cop, and his demeanor exuded violence. She needed him to be by her side rather than be against her. It cannot be said that Brian would have harmed Lillian, but the male psyche and the cultural conditioning was such at the time that there was always a violent conflict lurking beneath the surface. At least Lillian’s heart knew it. Maybe she was projecting her own fear of men onto Brian. The circumstances were incomprehensible for Brian. What did Lillian really want? Absolution? Yes. But for what sin specifically?
Lillian was a Christian, but her faith dwindled. What God would have allowed such atrocities? What had she done to lead such a tumultuous life? Apollo grew up to be his own man, and Lillian was left behind. Her advice, which came from a long lineage of women who applied their own science to raising a child, was dismissed by Apollo’s wife, Emma. She again felt truly alone. After tragedy struck and Emma killed Brian(Apollo’s son) , Lillian felt it was time to tell him the truth. Apollo was never abandoned by his father. It was Lillian who had filed for divorce. She had mustered the courage, but only to tell him the half-truth. It was only when Apollo went away on his own quest to find Emma that Lillian got the time to look back at her life. It was essential that she tell him her entire journey so that he could understand that she did what she did only because she loved Apollo.
Brian suspected Lillian of cheating on him. The question of whether he was raising his own kid or someone else’s must have consumed his mind. The Elk Hotel’s receipt meant Lillian had gone to that shady hotel that let in everybody, except gangsters and murderers. The bar was too low. Brian suspected that Lillian was having an affair with her boss, Charles Blackwood. She had removed Brian from her life, but the rage in Brian was terrifying. Lillian didn’t imagine he would ever hurt Apollo. One fateful Saturday, when Apollo had to be left alone because of her job, Brian came in and tried to drown Apollo in the bathtub. Lillian hit Brian, killing him on the spot. She had killed a New York cop. A death sentence was in the works. Who would believe her? She killed Brian because he wanted to kill his own son. She had no faith left in anyone. Some of it was snatched by her motherland, and America took away the rest. Suicide was an option, but Apollo needed his mother to survive. She couldn’t be that selfish.
So what did she do? She dressed Brian’s corpse in a flashy golden dress, packed the body in a suitcase, and dumped it in the bay. The police thought another transgender person had been murdered. Elk Hotel was known for such incidents. Brian had kept her in line all this time as he made her remember that he could do anything to her and no one would come looking. Her folks were all gone. The police didn’t miss the former cop. Lillian panicked after killing Brian, but remembered that no one was coming for Brian either.
The American dream of being a singer had not manifested for Lillian, and maybe she never really wanted to climb that ladder. Maybe she simply wanted to be a housewife and a great mother. Her deep desire to fit into the American culture even showed up in the kind of foods she packed for Apollo’s lunch. She was perhaps on her way to become a proper ‘American’, whatever that means. But one mistake ruined it all. Maybe she honestly believed that she had done nothing wrong in placating her boss, Charles Blackwood, but his name was in Elk Hotel’s register, right below Lillian’s. Does it mean Brian was right in suspecting her? Was he justified in his anger? Does that make Brian a good guy? Did he have the right to kill Apollo? Most certainly not. Lillian was a woman tougher than nails, while Brian was a romantic dolt. But the power was with the ‘white man.’ Brian represented the America she wanted to be a part of but knew that she would never be. After she overpowered him and saved Apollo, did she finally feel like an American? All that was left for her was to leave Apollo with a testimony that cleared all his doubts. Lillian recorded her whole journey while revisiting the Elk Hotel, which hid the horrors of her life in its bosom. Apollo may not be able to fully understand the complexity of his mother, but at last, Lillian had purged the demonic silence out of her soul, and told her story from her point of view.