In my notes regarding Stanfield’s performance, I wrote “EYES.” Most of his directors—Jordan Peele and Boots Riley in particular—know the immense power of Stanfield’s big brown eyes. Whether trembling with suppressed fear in “Get Out” or gleaming greedily during telemarketing calls in “Sorry to Bother You,” Stanfield’s eyes communicate entire universes without a word. The roster of directors on “The Changeling” use this to the series’ advantage, zooming in on Apollo’s shocked joyous eyes upon learning Emma is pregnant, only to dovetail it with the terrifying desperation of a father confronting his worst fear. Alas, the profundity of Stanfield’s performance is let down at nearly every turn by the writing and direction.
Though this is mostly Emma and Apollo’s story, Adina Porter, as Lillian, just about walks away with the entire show. Episode six explores the motivations and interiority of Lillian’s heartbreaking life—survivor’s guilt, leaving behind Uganda for America under tragic circumstances, and the stressors of being a working black woman in a white-collar setting with no one to care for her child are each explored with love and agonizing detail. Porter sings, she weeps, and she communicates Lillian’s humanity with a presence that can only be described as flawless. Monsters may loom in the forest and abandoned subway tunnels and online that are excited to victimize your child, but low wages, domestic violence, the lack of subsidized childcare, and mental illness are just as insidious and much harder to avoid than the creepy forest or the far end of the subway platform. Lillian’s storyline is interesting enough to deserve its own show, a phenomenal examination of the immigrant experience in America, the deleterious effects of capitalism, and the alienation of single parenthood. You could just watch the sixth episode of “The Changeling” and get more out of the experience than sitting through the entire series.
To give credit where it is due, each episode takes risks, whether with camera framing, narrative devices, or acting choices, but the editing does not create a tight, finished product. Most baffling of all is the episode run-time. Episodes 1-7 range from 45-50 minutes, but the season finale clocks in at just 29 minutes. This is likely the production’s way of angling for Season Two since the eighth episode does not cover the entirety of LaValle’s novel. But given how rushed everything feels by episode eight, “The Changeling” misses out on the chance to be a tightly constructed series. Instead, it’s yet another mediocre offering from Apple TV+.
All of Season One was screened for review. The first three episodes of “The Changeling” are now playing on Apple TV+, with a new episode premiering each week.