The Changeling (Season 1), Episodes 1, 2, 3: Apple TV+ presents “The Changeling,” a horror series based on Victor LaValle’s book (he also serves as the narrator here) of the same name. Premiering with the first three episodes, the series follows the story of Apollo Kagwa, portrayed by LaKeith Stanfield. Apollo’s idyllic life unravels when his wife mysteriously vanishes, and the aftermath of his firstborn’s demise leaves him in a state of agony, pain, frustration, and horror.

Utilizing elements of the supernatural, occult sciences, and witchcraft combined with a typical mix of the horror genre, the series carefully constructs its plot over the first two episodes. It then takes a dramatic turn in the third episode, revealing how parenthood can strain marital relationships, particularly for those who come from a long line of trauma and have never grasped the importance of addressing it.

Without divulging into further details, here is a comprehensive explanation of the events that unfold in the first three episodes of the series. Please note: the article contains spoilers. Read at your discretion. 

The Changeling (Season 1), Episode 1 Recap: 

The premiere episode of The Changeling Season 1 begins with a narrator telling us a story from 1825 about how a group of Norwegian prisoners were able to immigrate to America, enduring a terrible storm and persecution.

The story begins in the year 2010 and introduces us to our main characters, Apollo Kagwa and Emma, in a library in Queens, New York. Apollo is an ardent reader, while Emma works as the head librarian. Emma’s stern character intrigues Apollo, making him pursue her to go on a date with him. On the sixth attempt, Emma finally agrees to go out with him due to his persistent nature. While enjoying Chinese food at a nearby restaurant, Apollo asks about Emma’s background, and we learn that after her parents died when she was 5, her older sister adopted her. When Emma asks about his background, Apollo basically dodges the question, which also brings us to his mother’s storyline from 1968 during the great garbage strike.

Apollo’s father, Brian West, was a parole officer, and his mother, Lilian, worked as an assistant in an office where he constantly visited. Brian and Lilian’s meet-cute eventually turned into matrimony, followed by Apollo’s birth. However, four years later, Brian suddenly abandoned his family. Lilian found herself another job that helped her raise her son. His education was mostly from the books her colleagues lent her, leading him to have an inclination for the literary world.

A backstory shows us how Lilian’s brother was killed by local policemen when she, along with her brother and sister, were trying to flee the town. On the other hand, Brian’s life was not colorful either. Growing up, he often saw his parents fight, and that gave him a push to get out of town by saving from his job as a porter in a movie theatre.

Before courting Apollo, Emma had made plans to move to Brazil and tells him about it when he proposes to move their relationship at a steadfast pace to marriage and a family. He eventually drops her off at the airport, and his nightmares of being abandoned by his father reappear. In the nightmare, he would often see his father knocking at the door wearing some sort of mask, blowing a blue-colored gas out of his mouth, or taking him away from his mother.

One day, he visits a local auction and gets a bunch of vintage books. Back at home, when he is going through them, he finds a letter inside the book ‘Witches Still Live.’ Inside the book, he finds a letter signed by Aleister Crowley (the great occultist writer), and it’s the first sign of the show’s inclination toward occult sciences. The first thought he has on seeing the letter is how it could be sold for at least ten thousand dollars. However, his excitement turns into sadness when he doesn’t have anyone to share the news with.

On the other hand, Emma lands near a lagoon in spite of being warned not to. Emma meets an old sorcerer who ties a red thread on her wrist, asking her to make three wishes and never cut it off. When Emma decides to return to Queens, she asks Apollo to meet her at the airport, thus rekindling their affair. Upon meeting him, she shares her story about the old witch. However, Apollo takes his pocket knife and cuts off the red thread, telling Emma how all her wishes will always come true if they are together. Next, we see Apollo and Emma getting married and finally getting pregnant with their first child.

The story briefly takes us back to the time when Apollo was a young kid, and he heard his father’s voice knocking on the door. Only this time, when he opens the door, he finds a box marked ‘improbabilia’ that belonged to his father. Inside the box, other than Apollo’s birth records and a hotel receipt, he also finds a book called ‘To the Waters and the Wild’ that might have eventually shaped his life.

Coming back to the present, Apollo meets a heavily pregnant Emma and Michelle (a friend) at a posh restaurant for dinner. While talking, her friend shares her opinion about how dangerous Emma’s plan is about having a home childbirth. When Emma excuses herself to go to the restroom, Michelle turns towards Apollo and quickly shares about Emma’s nude picture in an art gallery in Norway. She then goes on to tell him about the three wishes, which are a good husband and a healthy child and for the third wish, she claims to not break Emma’s trust and vaguely tells him a story about Emma’s adventure in Salvador.

It turns out that Emma had met a Norwegian photographer in Brazil. While exploring a decayed factory, the photographer takes a loo break, and Emma decides to click a nude picture of herself using a self-timer. A gallery owner later bought that photo, displayed it, and never took it down. Michelle describes the picture to be extremely scary, one that sort of portrays Emma as a sorcerer.

Before Michelle could further detail Emma’s water breaks, the two of them ran out of the restaurant. Seeing the town stuck in traffic, the two decide to take the subway and head home because Emma is adamant about having a home birth. However, things become only more challenging when the train abruptly stops due to load-shedding. This is when Emma goes into labor and decides to give birth inside the train. The passengers become mere onlookers to their circumstances; a few dancers inside the train help Apollo with his wife. When Emma is in the midst of childbirth, Apollo sees graffiti on the train that states, “How a person suffers when he doesn’t understand anything he believes in.” Emma finally gives birth to a baby boy, naming him Brian.

The episode ends with the parents embracing their newborn. However, we are also clued into some of the loops that are still missing pieces in each character’s story. Basically, it drops us into an illusion that further pushes us out of the way of these characters and their stories and how their actual truth is still unfathomable to us.

The Changeling (Season 1), Episode 2 Recap: 

More than six months have passed since Emma and Apollo had baby Brian. However, Emma is not doing well mentally, as we see her aimlessly walking on the nearby street while her sister, Kim, is visiting to take the baby and Emma for a check-up. Emma sort of wanders off to a nearby building and reaches a house where a mysterious lady hands her a bag of chains, which worries Kim.

The action then moves back in time and shows us how Emma and Apollo have been struggling to keep up with their lives now that the baby is here. Apollo’s mother and Emma’s sister are of great help, but since the couple needs medical insurance, it’s time for Emma to head back to her job. Meanwhile, we also learn that Apollo doesn’t have a steady job and is a sort of collector of all things rare and antique in the literary world.

His friend, Patrice, arranges for him to look at houses that have no said owner anymore, and in one of those instances, Apollo stumbles upon a rare first copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird” signed by Harper Lee (someone known for never signing books) that belonged to Truman Capote. The rarity of this instance makes Apollo ecstatic as he shares the news with Emma.

After a long time, the couple goes on a date, and everything seems like old times. However, soon, Emma starts getting these photo text messages that somehow disappear after the first look. It also feels like someone is keeping an eye on the child, but we can assume that it’s Emma’s mommy brain that is making her insecure about her child’s safety.

Back at work, Emma is welcomed with open hearts by her coworkers, but it seems like the exhaustion and possibly postpartum depression are getting to her as she keeps forgetting things and even calling Brian (her son) “the baby.” Unable to process the paranoia that she is feeling, Emma starts descending into a loop of distress and disassociation. She ravages through online forums in order to understand what she is feeling, but she starts developing a kind of hatred towards her child that possibly stems from her own childhood trauma.

Slowly, a gap starts appearing between Apollo and Emma after she visits a pediatrician who suggests that Emma should take care of herself and prioritize her mental health. She starts taking pills, but they only lead to hallucinations and more paranoid episodes.

A still from The Changeling Season 1 Episode 3.
A still from The Changeling Season 1 Episode 2.

What had happened in Emma’s childhood?

We come back to the present, where Emma takes the chain from the mystery woman and starts heading back home. Her sister also suggests that Emma should seek professional help because she is clearly not doing well. Kim also realizes that Emma’s descent could be attributed to a past memory that has sort of faded away into fragments that hit her every now and then. This is where Kim confesses that her distorted memories may have protected her up until now. However, now that she has become a mother, some of it is latching on to her. Kim tells her how it was their mother who set their house on fire, which also led to their father’s death. The two young girls escaped a near-death experience and were taken into foster care until Kim turned 18.

The ending of episode 2 of The Changeling shows a literal wedge growing between the couple when Emma decides to get Brian baptized at a local church without discussing it with Apollo. The final sequence shows us how, for the first time, Apollo loses his calm and lashes out at Emma. It almost feels like a monster has arisen inside her, and she is out for Brian’s life.

The Changeling (Season 1), Episode 3 Recap: 

Episode 3 of “The Changeling” finally doubles down on its true horror elements with an opening scene that sees Emma under some kind of spell. She feels like a possessed ghost who has no sense of the reality she is in, and her only focus remains hurting the child. We can see Apollo chained and bleeding. He requests Emma not to hurt the baby, but Emma takes a hammer and thrashes his face again.

That action then moves to a few months later when Apollo is released from prison, and he reaches back to Queens. So much has changed since he was last there, and a dejected Apollo tries to find answers where there are none. Fabian, the janitor who helped him back when he was being tortured by a possessed Emma, offers him some comfort and tells him that his mother has cleaned his apartment and he can go there for the time being.

What do we learn about Lillian, Apollo’s mother?

A flashback sequence takes us back to the time when Lillian was working at the lawyer’s firm, and her boss was smitten by her. He tried many times to ask her out, but Lillian, being a single mother, dismissed all his advances, which hurt his ego. In order to punish her, the man asked her to come to the office even on Saturdays – a day when Lillian could not afford to have a babysitter. Helpless and unable to think of any other option, she used to leave a young Apollo alone in the apartment.

Why did Apollo end up in prison?

Later, we see Apollo joining a survivor’s meeting, where we get to know why Apollo was in jail for a brief time. He tells the group that after the death of his baby and Emma’s sudden disappearance, Apollo was completely out of his mind and wanted some answers. He took a shotgun and stormed into the library Emma used to work in. He threatened her coworkers to tell him where Emma was, and when he got no answers, he fired into the library window out of frustration. He was released before his actual sentence because the women at the library understood his situation and favored him. He also adds that his mother used to work for a big lawyer, so his sentence was shortened.

Apollo then visits his apartment but is constantly traumatized by his nightmares yet again. So in order to escape that, he goes to Patrice’s house for dinner and offers the valuable book that he had found, as seen in the previous episode, without taking any cut. Later, when Patrice realizes that Apollo is spiraling and would probably attempt to hurt himself, he takes a promise that he will put the book up for auction, and he would not be there to know what it was worth.

Did Apollo’s father really abandon him?

When Apollo returns home, he finds his mother already there, possibly to keep an eye on him while he is low. When she wants to talk to him, he dismisses her, and the two of them go to sleep. Later in the night, Apollo goes into the room where the incident happened and has a talk with his mother. He tells her that right after Brian was born, he started having nightmares again. This is where Lillian tells him that those were not just nightmares but a memory where his father visited him on one of the ‘cartoon days’ (one of the Saturdays when he was alone.) She also tells him that his father wanted to stay, but it was her who wanted a divorce because she needed some kind of stability in her life. After learning that he was not abandoned by his father and that his mother lied to him all his life, Apollo gets extremely mad because he always felt that he was some kind of monster that drove his father away. The ingrained trauma in him never truly allowed him to see beyond the idea of him not doing the same to his child. This eventually led him to not see the other gaps in his family tree, and he sort of stopped noticing Emma when she was having trouble dealing with everything.

The next day, Apollo visits the local church where Emma had gone to get Brian baptized. He is there to get a signature on his parole slip, but the priest asks him to sit for a meeting before he does that.

The Changeling (Season 1), Episode 3 Ending Explained:

Who are ‘the wise ones’?

During the meeting, a woman starts narrating her story, which feels eerily similar to that of Apollo and Emma. When the woman said that she used to get messages that would disappear from an unknown number, it worried her. These messages would be of someone taking pictures of her daughter from a distance, and when she tried to tell her husband about it, he would tell her that she is going mad. This woman shows the only piece of photo proof that she was able to capture of this entire happening. She also tells them that when she used to look at the photograph long enough, she realized that it wasn’t her baby after all. This instance makes us realize a few things, but more on that later. When the woman tells the group that she tried and tried and eventually found some help in the mothers and Cal – the leader of ‘The Wise Ones.’ On hearing all this, Apollo gets agitated and creates a scene in front of everyone, claiming that the woman will eventually kill her baby.

He then storms off from the church, but one of the meeting attendees follows him. The attendee tells him that Patrice has sent him, and he is interested in the copy of the book that he has been selling. The two of them later sit down for a cup of coffee, and when Apollo sees a recording on the man’s phone about the woman at the church, the name ‘the wise ones’ stands out to him. When they Google the name, they come to the realization that the phrase ‘the wise ones’ is associated with ‘witches.’

The ending of The Changeling episode three leaves us with this realization that Emma, the three wishes, and the witch she met at the lagoon in Brazil had a deep connection with her disappearance and Brian’s death. If I am to assume, the show has been dropping hints of occult science from the very start, and it’s possible that everything from Emma’s descent into paranoia to the text messages and everything else might boil down to a group that follows the idea of sacrificing a young child for the betterment of the world and everything in it. At this point, these are mere speculations, and we will only be able to form more concrete opinions once the next episode airs.

Read More: Everything Coming to Apple TV+ in September 2023

The Changeling (Season 1), Episodes 1, 2, 3 Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
The Changeling (Season 1), Episodes 1, 2, 3 Cast: LaKeith Stanfield, Clark Backo, Adian Porter, Amirah Vann, Jared Abrahamson, Alexis Louder
Where to watch The Changeling

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