Review By Erin M. Brady
Navigating how to accurately depict the aftermath of childbirth will always be difficult. There are many different perspectives and biological results that one must consider. Apple TV+’s The Changeling, based on Victor LaVelle's novel of the same name, represents one such approach: heightening the uncertainty of postpartum life through the lens of witchcraft. Book dealer Apollo (LaKeith Stanfield) finds love with librarian Emma (Clark Backo), with that love culminating in the birth of their son. However, that love turns sour after the two of them lift a curse placed upon Emma while on an excursion to Costa Rica, and in the aftermath, Apollo becomes determined to find out the truth.
That is probably the best description one could give without diving into major spoilers. Showrunner and writer Kelly Marcel knows how to handle such a densely-constructed premise. Elevated by the show’s main directors, Melina Matsoukas and Jonathan van Tulleken, the world that the show is set in feels both distant and intimately well-worn. It’s uncanny, but not in a distracting way – rather, its uncanniness in parallel to our reality makes the denseness of the story more palpable. It also helps that the set design, courtesy of Lester Cohen, is just so well-constructed that it’s hard not to be immersed in its world, even if you might not be sure what’s happening in it.
The performances also helped elevate the show significantly. There is a certain creepiness to how most of the actors, including a magnetic Stanfield, act in this universe that almost makes them feel alien. However, their humanity is reaffirmed with every scene, something that many modern riffs on magical realism seem to lack. Even in moments that are hard to stomach, nothing and no one is depicted in a dehumanizing light. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Backo’s stellar performance as Emma. Those who know her as the sardonic lover of the toughest guy in Letterkenny will be surprised by how much breadth she brings to this challenging role. The show would not work at all without her, as she brings much-needed grounding to the dense storyline.
It’s difficult to dissect The Changeling in such broad terms, especially since the show will follow a weekly release schedule – there is only so much that can be discussed without risking the chance of spoilers. At the same time, though, you will need the extra time to dissect the series and its proceeding events. It’s not a show that should be binged but rather savored to get the best viewing experience. Just remember that not everything is as it seems.
The Changeling premieres on Apple TV+ on September 8 with its first three episodes before releasing weekly. All eight episodes reviewed.