‘The Changeling’ Episode 1 Recap & Ending, Explained: What Is Emma’s Secret?


Kelly Marcel’s Apple TV+ series, The Changeling, keeps alternating between the 2010s, the 90s, the 70s, the 80s, and the 90s in New York, but it starts with an anecdote from 1825, when over 50 men and women embarked on a perilous journey from Norway. Why? They were being persecuted for their religious beliefs, and they needed to move to a place where they could live freely, even if it meant that they’d lose their lives before they found a safe haven. I don’t exactly know how this factors into the story, especially in the first three episodes that have been released today. I can only guess that it indicates that the show will be about immigrants, religion, and “help” from something supernatural. But instead of counting our chickens before they hatch, let’s take this slow and talk about the first episode only.

Spoiler Alert

The Traumatic History of Emma and Apollo

In the 2010s, we meet Apollo and Emma. Apollo probably works as an agent who buys and sells books that he and his friend, Patrice, find at houses that are going to be vacated. Emma is a librarian. Apollo is immediately smitten, and he asks Emma out on a date. Emma doesn’t reciprocate Apollo’s feelings and rejects him several times. This is juxtaposed with the time when Apollo’s father, Brian West, met his mother, Lillian Kagwa. Lillian also rejected Brian’s requests to go out on a date with him several times before finally saying “yes.” So, it’s like history repeating itself with Apollo and Emma. Anyway, Apollo and Emma go on their first date, and Emma talks about her parents’ deaths, how she was adopted by her sister, Kim, and how she was essentially brought up by the local librarian, Ms. Rook. This can seem like a matter-of-fact piece of information, but it’s very essential.

What’s also important is the brief snippet of a guy in a blue flesh-like mask that appears when Apollo is asked to talk about his parents and Emma’s fascination with Brazil. So, apparently, Emma was rejecting Apollo’s advances because she was moving to Brazil and wouldn’t be back for a long period of time. I have my issues with films and shows that depict this stalker-esque brand of romance, but in the case of The Changeling, it’s a red flag wrapped in a romantic box. That’s not a theory. It’s true because Brian and Lillian’s date went the same way. Brian had pent-up trauma due to his abusive father. Lillian was traumatized because her brother was killed by the army in Trinidad. By the way, I’m assuming it’s Trinidad because the song that they’re listening to is “Obeah Wedding” by Mighty Sparrow, one of the most famous Trinidadian singers. Now, Brian had the burden of becoming a father who wasn’t like his own father, while Lillian wanted to safeguard Apollo more than she could when she had to protect her brother. We can already see Apollo echoing his parents’ words while having nightmares about his father abandoning him and Lillian, and that doesn’t bode well for Apollo or Emma.

Emma and Apollo Are About To Have A Baby

After a time jump to the 1980s, we see Lillian working at an agency called Lubbick, Weiss, and Blackwood. She seems to be earning enough to provide for herself and her son. There’s yet another time jump to the 90s, which is when Apollo learns about racism as he’s shooed away from several bookshops where he wants to work. Add to that the notion that Apollo thinks that his father left him and his mother because of him, and Apollo is clearly a case study for extreme anxiety and social awkwardness caused by bad parenting. Cut to the present day (which is still the 2010s), and Apollo finds an edition of Witches Still Live that he thinks can be sold for a fortune. Given how he wants to share this information with Emma, the episode naturally cuts to her in a forest in Brazil, meeting with an actual witch (or just some old lady who has gone a little too crazy).

This witch ties a thread on her wrist and puts three knots on it. The three knots signify three wishes. Apparently, these three wishes will be fulfilled when the thread slips off Emma’s wrist. The witch tells Emma to wish wisely because if she jokingly thinks about something horrible, it’ll come to fruition. The narrative briefly shifts back to the 1990s as Apollo receives a box full of Brian’s (Apollo’s father’s) stuff, and as a lover of books, To The Waters And The Wild grabs his attention. When we return to the present, we learn that Emma has given Apollo an opportunity to resume their relationship. Apollo obviously goes to pick her up from the airport, and upon learning about the thread, he cuts it, thereby unleashing Emma’s three wishes onto the world. This is followed by Apollo and Emma’s marriage and Emma becoming pregnant, thereby indicating that these are probably two of Emma’s wishes, or maybe it’s just something that was bound to happen eventually.

What is Emma’s secret?

Moments before Emma is about to give birth to her child, Apollo meets up with her and Emma’s best friend, Michelle, at a very posh restaurant. There are several elements at play, most of which point out the possible class differences between Apollo, Emma, and Michelle and how Apollo is a little uncomfortable when it comes to ordering stuff from the menu. There’s also a whole conversation about natural childbirth versus cesarean. But that’s not the main focus of that scene. It’s actually the conversation between Michelle and Apollo when Emma goes to the washroom. Michelle blatantly blurts out that there’s a nude photo of Emma in an art gallery in Norway. Apollo doesn’t really care about the nude photograph. It’s the story behind it and Michelle’s interpretation of it that disturbs him. Michelle says that this Norwegian photographer actually didn’t click the photo. He apparently went for a bathroom break, and Emma had access to the camera. So she set the camera up, undressed herself, and then clicked the photo. According to Michelle, there’s something spooky about the way she looks in that photo.

At the end of The Changeling, episode 1, we don’t get to see the photo, and we don’t get to hear the third wish because Emma goes into labor and is forced to deliver the baby (who they name Brian) with Apollo’s help in the subway train. What we do get to see is a bunch of ominous signs that indicate something is about to go wrong. As explained by Michelle, Emma wanted a good husband, and she got that in the form of Apollo. Emma wanted a healthy baby, and that’s Brian. But going by the “sorceress” remark, I’m guessing she wanted access to some godly powers. And now that she has it after the completion of the second wish, something is about to go down that neither Emma nor Apollo are ready for. By the way, I do have to say that everyone in the cast is amazing, but LaKeith Stanfield is just on another level. He doesn’t change drastically as an actor. He just does these subtle yet relatable things that turn these fictional characters into flesh-and-blood human beings. I love it, and maybe The Changeling is finally going to push me to watch Atlanta.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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