Things aren't the way they were before, you wouldn't even recognise your kid anymore. Or at least some mothers wouldn't like in season one of The Changeling, a psychological drama with fantasy elements that is an adaptation of the novel of the same name authored by Victor LaValle who also serves as the series' narrator. Our main characters are Apollo Kagwa (LaKeith Stanfield) and Emma (Clark Backo), a young couple whom we follow from their first date to a stable relationship as they also have a baby boy named Brian. Feeling that something sinister is going on with the baby, Emma finds herself committing an equally sinister act before vanishing altogether. In search of answers, Apollo tries to track her down on a journey through parts of New York City that he's never seen before.
Other individuals and creatures in Apollo's life include his mom Lillian (Adina Porter as older, Alexis Louder as younger version), absent dad Brian (Jared Abrahamson), best friend Patrice (Malcolm Barrett) and William (Samuel T. Herring), a kooky new acquaintance.
In terms of how one will approach the show and its city-building, if not world-building, it could be useful to lower your expectations if the talk about its horror and fantastical ingredients seemed intriguing. Firstly because horror can really only be found in LaValle's narration where the text heightens emotions and secondly because the fantasy side begins to show signs much later in the season. The Changeling is generally a fable about an emotionally exhausted man as Apollo has lost the surface he's been standing on and finds himself in a free fall.
Showrunner Kelly Marcel's writing explores Apollo's rebuilding of his personal structures with notions about parenthood, nurture-versus-nature and what you can and can not control as a parent. The often free-flowing dance between literary dialogue and what the actors are doing to express those conflicts is enchanting even when the series itself sometimes loses its focus, Porter shining in episode seven with real fearlessness whilst Stanfield starts to turn up the heat in a demanding third episode as Apollo's shift can be noticed beautifully in his adjusted posture, shivering voice and hopeless eyes.
That third episode is important because thanks to Stanfield's elevated performance and smoother story developments, it is then when the series finally becomes what it had promised to be. First two are rather underwhelming in comparison to the middle section, as is the finale, though that has more to do with its genre confusion. The Changeling's craft is always at least slightly above average—whether that's the direction (talent includes Melina Matsoukas and Solvan ''Slick'' Naim), moody photography (Marcell Rév, Steve Cosens) or Ane Crabtree's costume design which puts stylish (metaphorical) armours on Apollo as if to shield him from ugly shades of our world—but it all also begins to experiment after the first two episodes.
Whatever isn't working in those less persuasive episodes predominantly stems from the overall mood which the filmmakers aren't always able to conduct as well as they should and probably could. The series promises a little bit more mythology and insanity for its undecided future so maybe it can still correct its course when it comes to those issues. As for now, we're still looking for answers, albeit quite poetically which isn't too bad.
Smileys: Acting, dialogue
He checked her out at the library.