‘The Changeling,’ episode 3 recap: It’s the witches

Written by on September 10, 2023

LaKeith Stanfield stars in ‘The Changeling.’ (Courtesy Apple TV+)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Apple TV+’s horror-fantasy fairy tale “The Changeling” kicks off episode 3 with a horrifying start. Apollo (Lakeith Stanfield) is chained up. Apparently, the bag of chains that his wife Emma (Clark Backo) acquired at the behest of a mysterious Facebook friend named Cal in episode 2 has been put to use. Apollo is bloodied and bruised, a bike lock fastened around his neck. He’s calling for Emma as a tea kettle whistles and their baby, Brian, cries. Emma appears, a woman possessed, and he begs her not to hurt their baby. 

In episode 2, it seemed as if someone, a mysterious texter who would send her photos of Brian and then delete them before she could show proof to Apollo, was trying to make her look crazy. Perhaps Apollo was mistakenly misinterpreting her postpartum depression for mania. But as Emma walks with the disjointed stiffness of that little girl from “The Ring” and then lifts a tea kettle off the gas stove and holds it by the heated bottom without flinching, there’s no doubt the old Emma is gone, and something demonic exists in her place. 

Apollo tries to talk her back into reality, but she picks up a hammer and knocks him across the face with it. He gasps for breath as he asks her not to hurt the baby. She responds, “It’s not a baby.” 

LaKeith Stanfield, theGrio.com, The Changeling
LaKeith Stanfield’s character in ‘The Changeling’, Apollo, attends a grief support group in episode 3 of the horror-fantasy series. (Courtesy Apple TV+)

Throughout European fairy tales, a changeling is a creature that takes the place of a human, usually a child, that fairies have kidnapped.  Emma has believed for months that Brian is a changeling and not their baby because he bites with no teeth and taunts her with satanic grins. But when Apollo has the baby, Brian acts like a normal, happy infant. With no help from Apollo, Emma has taken matters into her own hands. Apollo loses consciousness, and we don’t see what Emma does next.

The next time we see Apollo, he’s getting off a prison bus back in Queens. He returns to the apartment where they used to live, but he can’t enter. He returns to the park where he used to play with Brian and the other fathers. They don’t want him around. Apparently, he went somewhere with a gun (hence the prison bus), and Brian is dead. 

His landlord posits that whatever Apollo did in the aftermath of Brian’s death, he was only imprisoned for three months. It was the landlord who discovered a badly beaten Apollo and the baby. 

Apollo’s mother, Lillian, was able to get him released quickly. He and the landlord commiserate over what it means to have a good mother and what it means to be a good father.

In a flashback scene of Apollo’s childhood, Lillian’s boss is sexually harassing her. After Lilllian (Adina Porter) rejects his advances, she’s relegated to work on Saturdays and leave 4-year-old Apollo home alone. After months on that schedule, one day she returns to fog spilling out from under the door, just like in Apollo’s recurring nightmare.

In the present, Apollo attends a survivors’ grief counseling group as a parole requirement. He starts recounting what Emma did to him and Brian, but everyone already knows.. They ask him why he did what he did, and he replies, “Because I lost my f–king mind.” 

We soon learn he took a shotgun to the library where Emma worked and held everyone hostage until he realized that she wasn’t there, and he was scaring the people who were begging for their lives. He admits that he would’ve killed Emma, himself and anyone who got in his way had she been at the library.

Adina Porter, The Changeling, theGrio.com
Adina Porter, portrays Lillian, the mother of LaKeith Stanfield’s grieving character in ‘The Changeling.’

Back at his apartment, Apollo is a zombie of grief unable to enter the bedroom where Emma killed Brian. He sleeps on the couch and has the recurring childhood nightmare in which his absent father is banging on the front door.

In episode 2, Apollo found an autographed first edition of “To Kill A Mockingbird” that was worth tens of thousands of dollars. He intended to sell it to buy a home for him, Emma and Brian. In this episode, he gifts the classic novel to his friend and fellow bookseller Patrice, (Malcolm Barrett) who recognizes the extravagant generosity as a prelude to suicide.

Patrice vows that if Apollo dies by suicide he’ll destroy the book. But it’s Apollo’s curiosity of how much “To Kill A Mockingbird” will sell for that prevents Apollo’s self harm, not Patrice’s threat. Apollo returns home to the sound of a screaming tea kettle, the last sound he remembers before Emma knocked him out. He thinks his wife has returned, but it’s his mom. Patrice called her to make ensure Apollo doesn’t harm himself.

Unable to sleep, Apollo enters the bedroom that’s still marked as a crime scene. He cries with his mom, confused about how his wife changed so much. To Lillian’s horror, Apollo shares that his last words to his son were, “You’re coming with me,” something his dad told him in his recurring nightmare. Lillian explains that it was a memory, not a nightmare. She filed for divorce from Apollo’s father, and he came come to their house while she was working to take him away. Devastated, Apollo blames his mother for his dad leaving and in turn, how he turned out as an adult and father with a wife that’s gone crazy and a murdered son. His mother gives him the address to Brian’s grave, but he refuses it.

Back at a new grief therapy group, a woman shares stories about her daughter that are similar to events Emma recounted. Someone has been taking pictures of her daughter from a window and sending texts and emails that disappear, but her husband doesn’t believe her and wants her to start taking medication. The mysterious Cal who gave Emma chains also told this woman what to do, but she doesn’t know if she can go through with it. Apollo warns the group that the woman will kill her baby. Like Emma, she replies, “It’s not a baby.”

Overwhelmed, Apollo runs out of the group chased by a man named William. William says Patrice sent him to Apollo to buy his rare book. Over coffee, William “accidentally” shows Apollo a recording of the woman’s rant during the grief group. It jogs Apollo’s memory about the Facebook group of Wise Moms Emma joined for advice. It also reminds him of the witch in Brazil who granted Emma three wishes provided she didn’t cut the red string the witch tied around her wrist. In episode 1, Apollo cut the string off of Emma’s wrist. Remembering all of this, he now has someone to blame for his suffering: “witches.”  

Brooke Obie is an award-winning critic, screenwriter and author of the historical novel “Book of Addis: Cradled Embers.”

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