The Changeling review: LaKeith Stanfield's fairytale loses its way
It's not happily ever after for the Apple TV+ show.
LaKeith Stanfield's grim fairytale The Changeling has an enthralling premise, a stellar cast, and works from a beloved book as its source material. What could go wrong?
The Apple TV+ series, based on the bestselling novel by Victor LaValle, follows a father and husband (Stanfield) whose wife (Clark Backo) does something horrific in the aftermath of the birth of their first child. He's forced to search for them in a mystical New York City where anything could happen - and horrors he never could have imagined are real.
The main premise of the show isn't exactly a surprise given its title, but that certainly doesn't take away from it in the first half. Stanfield and Backo are sensational as Apollo and Emma, the seemingly perfect couple whose lives change completely following the birth of their first child. Backo's performance is particularly compelling as Emma is faced with events that just don't make sense, a baby she doesn't recognise, and a husband who doesn't believe what's happening to her.
Meanwhile, the story is perfectly paced at first, weaving in the tale of Apollo's mother Lillian (Adina Porter) and her husband Brian (Jared Abrahamson) - their meeting in New York, their worsening relationship and how his departure affected Apollo. The story veers between sweet, uncomfortable, suspenseful, and terrifying as the set-up builds to Emma's horrific act.
But then it goes off the rails. Despite a promising start, we're then sped through incredibly important parts of the plot (the main antagonist and his motives, for instance), while spending too much time on ground we've already covered, or parts of the book that could easily have been cut. Some aspects of the plot just aren't explained fully, while other less important elements take centre stage for entire episodes.
The biggest crime is the ending. While most of the plot is faithful to LaValle's novel (and for good reason), the last episode strays away from the source material, leaving an unsatisfactory ending, perhaps in an effort to secure a second season and keep fans waiting a little longer. While this sometimes works well, in the case of The Changeling, it leads to a confused, abrupt and disappointing end to the journey.
More like this
That's not to say there aren't moments of excellence in the later episodes too though, because there absolutely are. The penultimate episode, which takes us away from the main story to focus on Lillian and her past in New York City, is a joy, switching up the storytelling to a visual treat that feels like it should be performed on stage. While we'd been introduced to elements of Lillian's story previously, this is where Porter's standout moments come, in an episode that's sure to stick with the viewer long after the credits have rolled.
The series also tackles huge topics, often with seeming ease, bringing in topics of morality, spirituality, sisterhood, and questions just what people will do for the ones they love. While the fairytale lens could have come off as cliché, in a setting like New York City, it still feels fresh and unique.
Had The Changeling followed the source material more closely, cut the dead wood and sorted out its pacing at the end, we'd certainly be looking at yet another Apple TV+ hit. After all, the streamer's proven itself when it comes to sci-fi with slow-burn and word-of-mouth shows like Severance and Silo - why not fantasy?
But unfortunately The Changeling isn't the hit we've been waiting for.
Want to visit Game of Thrones locations in Croatia at a discount? Radio Times is offering savings of up to 7% for registered users booking their next holiday with travel website Expedia. Claim your exclusive Radio Times Expedia holiday discount now.
Try Radio Times magazine today and get 10 issues for only £10, PLUS a £10 John Lewis and Partners voucher delivered to your home – subscribe now. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to The Radio Times Podcast.