Each week, Joe and Terry discuss Apple TV+’s new series The Changeling, based on the novel by Victor LaValle.
Spoilers follow for Episode 8
The biggest surprise of Episode 8 of The Changeling isn’t that it’s not even 30 minutes long, or that it finally and fully leans into fairytale creatures…but that it isn’t the end.
I think we both went into this, maybe naively, thinking that it was a limited series. It’s based on a book, after all. And like Apple did with Lisey’s Story, I guess I assumed these eight episodes would tell a complete story.
But, no. It ends on a cliffhanger that doesn’t resolve…well, anything?
Instead, The Changeling teases us.
The finale opens with a familiar scene from earlier in the season, where Kim (Amirah Vann) talks to Apollo (LaKeith Stanfield) about her sister Emma (Clark Backo) and her three wishes. This sequence recaps everything we know already. Her first wish was to have a good husband. Her second wish was to have a healthy child. But her third? The “only one that hasn’t come true yet”?
Well, Joe, we’ll either have to wait for a second season for that…or go read the book.*
Consequently, I have used an Audible credit to purchase Victor LaValle’s book because while I haven’t really enjoyed this show, the bones are good. And I want to see if this is just a muddled adaptation of a good novel.
After catching us up to speed with everything we know about Emma’s trip to Brazil, The Changeling…catches us up to speed with everything that has transpired up to this point. I think this was actually the most frustrating part of this episode. It’s as if writer Kelly Marcel doesn’t have confidence in the storytelling–or the audience–to keep up with the story.
So we get a repeat of the way the series began–”once upon a time” in 1825 with a group of 52 men and women escaping religious persecution in Norway–as well as bits of pieces reintroducing William (Samuel T. Herring), Little Norway in NYC, Emma’s nude photo in Norway, the plight of the women who’ve lost their children to the fairies, and more. Just brief snippets, but with a runtime of 30 minutes, I feel as if The Changeling could have spent that time better.
On its own, Episode 8 is a good episode. It has agency and a propulsive pace. It’s actually an exciting episode, but one that I feel comes too little, too late for this season. We get William channeling Pennywise and dropping the announcement that Kindergarten, the social media poster who created an online shrine to baby Brian, is basically legion. A group of 10,000 (presumably angry) men who want…I’m not sure? Maybe they’re a “Men’s Rights” group? They’re obviously part of the fairytale, since William begins to bellow and an unseen giant tears through the island.
He’s brought “the cavalry.”
And what follows are explosions, a tense escape through a forest, a wild descent down a cliff towards safety, and Cal (Jane Kaczmarek)’s final stand. It’s shot incredibly well and director Solvan “Slick” Naim brings an intensity to the finale that I’ve found missing from the series up to this point. The excitement and the tension makes me even more miffed about the middle of the season, in particular episodes 5 and 6, that felt like they were wasting time. I’m not sure that the entire novel could have been told in one season of eight, better paced episodes, but the adaptation of The Changeling could have done more with the meager assortment of storytelling we got in the middle.
Right up to the end The Changeling feels like…well, not to be punny, but it feels like the ultimate troll, teasing us with the wishes and then giving us indelible imagery of Emma discovering a merry go round in a forest and Apollo getting bit (?) by something in Brian’s coffin (??) before ending on a giant eye (???) in some dark tunnel.
It should make me excited for the possibilities of a grander, more epic second season…but all I feel is exasperation. As a standalone episode, Episode 8 gets an A for me because the parts that frustrated me had less to do with the episode than what came before.
For season 1, however, I’m giving The Changeling a C. While there’s a lot that didn’t work for me, when it was working, it was incredibly intriguing and well-acted.
So take us home, Joe. What did you make of this spectacle of a finale? Were you intrigued by the revelations or did the end of the series frustrate you like it did me? Who is the “she” that William and Cal talk about? What is the giant eye lurking, presumably, under the streets of NYC? And what do you give this season?
I certainly appreciate what you’re saying about the direction and the energy, Terry, because I feel that, but as a finale…this is a slap to the face.
You’re right that Episode 8 is not only too short; it mistakenly puts all of its emotional stakes in the wrong characters. Consider the recap (which P.S. feels like something straight from a 90s network show): everything in that “previously on” montage tells us that The Changeling is a show about Apollo and Emma.
So why is the climax of the first season between Cal and William, two characters we barely know and have no real emotional investment in, fighting atop a ridiculously fake looking cliff?
And why, on a show that has relied so heavily on creatures from books and internet lore, do we hear a creature and never see it? This is what The Changeling has been waiting for: a large Cthulu eyeball? Never mind that William suddenly transforms into a maniacal, omnipresent villain who can call upon monsters at will (why now? Why not earlier?)
Nope, sorry, this finale doesn’t satisfy AT ALL.
Honestly, this last episode clinches it for me: this series is a bust. I don’t care if LaValle’s source material negotiates this in a more satisfying way; The Changeling needed to do a better job of standing on its own feet as a text. In that regard, it completely failed.
From too many subplots, to circular narratives that seemingly don’t trust the audience (as you suggest), to nonsensical character developments, to this lackluster finale that fails to offer any form of resolution, explanation or catharsis.
No, absolutely not. This is all tease and no pay-off; it’s insulting.
Terry, I hated this and it has completely soured me on the preceding episodes of the show. The Changeling S01 is a D for me.
I don’t want to think about how this show wasted its incredibly talented cast ever again.
The Changeling is available on Apple TV