Apple TV+’s The Changeling Lets Down Its Flawless, Profound Performances

A TV show with an intriguing premise and excellent performances but without the cohesiveness and structural discipline to be great is one of the most aggravating things in pop culture criticism. Kelly Marcel’s “The Changeling” is based on Victor LaValle’s novel of the same name; the author narrates each episode of the series, though his monotonous voice detracts from the storytelling. Kelly Marcel’s track record as a screenwriter for “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Saving Mr. Banks” does not exactly inspire confidence. The novel is well worth reading, but as the eight-episode TV adaptation goes on, it becomes increasingly obvious that several themes and ideas are too figurative to be adequately conveyed on screen.

Add to this a blatant disdain for pace, and you end up with a series that is both too short and too dragged out to adequately resolve story elements.

The non-linear plot of “The Changeling” allows for the courtship and marriage of book appraiser Apollo Kagwa (LaKeith Stanfield) and his librarian wife Emma Valentine (Clark Backo) to be shown alongside their terrible upbringings. Apollo’s father, Brian West (a superb Jared Abrahamson), was an abusive police officer whose instability made life difficult for his wife, Lillian Kagwa (the invariably brilliant Adina Porter); a house fire left Emma and her sister Kim (Amirah Vann) an orphan when they were young.

Although both stories feature many visually stunning scenes, there isn’t much of an aesthetic distinction between how the series portrays New York City in the 1970s and in the current day. It isn’t until smartphones are mentioned in the plot that we understand we are switching between two different periods. Melina Matsoukas (“Queen & Slim”), the pilot’s executive producer and director, whose influence on “Insecure” made the show a joyous weekly treat for the senses, deserves much of the credit for this. However, riveting performances and gorgeous cinematography go a long way to establish the ongoing impact of generational trauma.

Numerous things, such as their shared childhood trauma, portend doom for Emma and Apollo’s marriage, but none so horrifyingly as the former’s trek through a Brazilian jungle. Emma encounters a woman who had all the telltale signs of being a witch, including a telltale cackle and different-colored eyes, at a remote lagoon that she had been advised not to approach. When you believe in things you don’t comprehend, you suffer, as the great Stevie Wonder famously sang. The woman’s discussion with Emma changes the path of her and Apollo’s lives for all time; once she returns to New York, the pair marries, and Emma gives birth to a boy. But Baby Brian only cries; he doesn’t latch, sleep, or do anything else.

Emma begins to fall apart and wonders if the object in her arms is really a human being or even her kid. She receives a ton of texts with pictures of Brian and Apollo that Brian did not take; they disappear when she tries tremendous show them to Brian, who is perplexed by her actions.

What at first seems to be postpartum depression becomes more and more menacing until the distinction between reality and a grim, unmistakably non-Disney fairy tale is lost. I admire the series for posing tough, ageless themes like: Can the overwhelming worry and fear of motherhood overrule all our instincts, or is our gut still reliable? How do other people’s choices affect our ability to exercise free will? Of course, there is also the timeless classic. Philosophy 101 cliche: is unrestricted

The search for information about their son is ultimately sparked by Emma’s tragic spiral into madness. Actors completely commit to their roles: With startling accuracy, Backo transitions from tearful insomnia—her under-eye bags almost dragging her to the ground—to maniacal determination. Even the way her lanky hair is styled tells a nightmare narrative about how she should never hold her spine and shoulders.

To be fair, each episode takes chances with camera angles, storylines, or acting choices, but the editing doesn’t result in a tightly put-together product. The episode run-time is the most perplexing factor of all. The length of episodes 1 through 7 varies between 45 and 50 minutes, however the season finale is only 29 minutes long. But considering how hurried everything feels by episode eight, “The Changeling” misses the possibility to be a carefully plotted series. Instead, it’s yet another unimpressive offering from Apple TV+.

For review, the complete first season was watched. The first three episodes of “The Changeling” are currently available on Apple TV+, with a brand-new episode debuting every week.

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