‘The Changeling’ Episode 1 Review/Recap: How Was Brian Born?

There are always fresher ways of telling a story. Storytellers ruminate on a fresh approach that would revitalize the whole form. Filmmakers are not much different. They have to dabble in the narrative, and they, too, are constantly looking for a fresh vision. The new series, The Changeling, does seem very offbeat in its approach to storytelling. Based on the novel of the same name by Victor LaValle, The Changeling presents us with an alternate version of New York City in the hopes that it can then tell a fairy tale of epic proportions. This fairy tale is quite unusual, as it contains elements of horror as well, and at times, things become so nerve-wracking that it’s hard to process anything. The first episode keeps things very grounded, but introduces aspects of the horror and fantasy worlds to get us prepared for the upcoming episodes. Here is a recap of the first episode of The Changeling.


Spoilers Ahead

How Does The Fairytale Begin?

The story started in 2010 in Queens, New York. But if one has to go a little deeper, the actual origin is when Brian West met Lillian Kagwa in 1968. Rocky had been released in this alternate reality as well, and Brian and Lillian named their son Apollo after Apollo Creed in the movie. Several years later, Apollo was a grown man himself and met Emma Valentine, and Apollo started to be reminded of his father, Brian, who had abandoned his family. He started dating Emma and nightmares and Flashbacks about his father began haunting him. Apart from this little hiccup, he was madly in love with Emma. He wanted to marry her and be a great father to their children. This wish might have stemmed from the fact that his own father had not been a great dad himself. Before Apollo could marry Emma, she told him of her plans to go to Brazil for a few months. Apollo, who could do anything to be with her, decided to wait, and when Emma returned, his joy knew no bounds. They ended up staying together, got married, and Emma eventually got pregnant.


What Was Lillian’s Traumatic Past?

The story was primarily about how Emma and Apollo found each other, but Brian meeting Lillian was equally important, as far as the entire plot is concerned. Maybe Brian wasn’t aware, but Lillian had escaped death once. Before she came to America, she was in her native country, Uganda. There, her cousin Arthur was shot by the local militia, and we don’t know if he survived. Perhaps after this traumatic event, she left Uganda and came to America. How this story is directly related to Apollo’s journey will only be known in the upcoming episodes.

What Happened To Emma On Her Trip To Brazil?

Emma, who saw Apollo falling hard for her, had to tell him up front that she had her own plans. She may have wanted to check his resolve to be with her, but it seems she had wanted to visit Brazil even before Apollo came into her life. When Emma reached Brazil, she met someone who would affect her life in mysterious ways. Near a waterfall, she saw an old woman, who seemed to be a shaman. She spoke to Emma and tied a string to her wrist. She tied three knots and asked Emma to wish for three things, one for each of the knots. We never learn, what Emma wished for, but according to the old lady, it would come true, and she warned her to never cut the string off. When Emma came back and told Apollo about the old woman and the wish-granting string, he nonchalantly cut the string, as he didn’t believe in the ‘warning.’ 


How Did Apollo Get Brian’s Box?

Apollo was a collector of unique items, especially books, and he used to sell them for big bucks, but he remembered a time when he used to visit every bookstore for jobs, and they would turn him away. This habit of collecting items may have started when a teenage Apollo found Brian’s long-lost box, which had a collection of random photos of Lillian and some books, among other things. When Brian left the family, Lillian started to get second-hand books for Apollo to read, and people really helped her. She started getting donations in bulk. One day, Apollo received Brian’s box as well. Could Brian have dropped them off himself? We never get to know that. All Apollo was interested in was a book he found in the box titled ‘To the Waters and the Wild.’ It seemed like a children’s book, but Apollo got a different sensation altogether. It was as if he had gotten hold of Brian’s special belongings. This was all he had to remind him of his father.

How Was Brian, Apollo’s Son, Born?

In a harrowing turn of events, Emma’s water broke as she was having dinner with a character named Michelle. Apollo was being told something important by Michelle when this happened. What happened was this: Emma had gone to the washroom, and Michelle told Apollo that Emma had a naked photograph of herself hanging in an art gallery in Norway. The photo was taken by Emma herself, and Michelle was telling this to Apollo as a way to reveal her third wish, which was the only one that hadn’t come true yet. Before Apollo could comprehend, what exactly Michelle wanted him to do with that piece of information, Emma’s water broke, and Apollo had to rush her home. They had decided to have a home birth, but there was a lot of traffic, so they decided to take the subway. The train stopped, as there was something wrong with it, and there was simply no way for them to reach home. Emma gave birth on the train itself, and miraculously, she and the baby survived. They named their son Brian.


Episode 1 Review

The Changeling definitely has the feel of a novel, as there are multiple plots being explored in the alternate reality version of New York. There are several nuances added that might hint that the place is different. The most arresting thing about the first episode, apart from its gorgeous color palette, is the element of horror. The suddenness of it all makes it clear that the rom-com beginning is just a part of a grander scheme of things. There is a voice-over, narrated by Victor LaValle himself, that comes at crucial points, revealing the subtext of a scene.

One thing is for sure: Even though the Juxtaposition of several Plotlines creates intrigue, it also derails the flow of the story. The bursts of energy exuded by the flashbacks are not organically tethered to the present-day timeline. LaKeith Stanfield is devastatingly vulnerable as Apollo, and Clark Backo plays the urban woman in touch with her roots quite brilliantly. Their pairing seemed odd at first, but as the episode progressed, the ease grew, which complemented the characters’ individual journeys as well. The Changeling is a promising series that is trying to present a story spanning decades and a fresh perspective involving the point of view of a person of color. It will challenge our stereotypes and even subvert our expectations at times. For example, the people in the subway; The first seemed to be hooligans, who later helped Emma give birth to Brian. How the story progresses and weaves its various themes in the fantasy horror genre might ultimately decide, how good the series really is. As for the first episode, it does grab attention with its blend of mythical yet grounded storytelling.


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Ayush Awasthi
Ayush Awasthi
Ayush is a perpetual dreamer, constantly dreaming of perfect cinematic shots and hoping he can create one of his own someday.

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The Changeling is a promising series that is trying to present a story spanning decades and a fresh perspective involving the point of view of a person of color. 'The Changeling' Episode 1 Review/Recap: How Was Brian Born?