Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Young Lillian has a secret. The fourth episode of Apple TV+’s horror-fairytale “The Changeling” begins with Apollo’s (LaKeith Stanfield) mother Lillian (Alexis Louder) dragging a red suitcase across a dock to the water in the same year that Apollo’s father vanished when Apollo was just 4 years old. Why young Lillian is on that dock and what’s in the suitcase remains to be seen. But as “The Changeling” novel author Victor LaValle narrates, each tale told on those waters informs the next.
In the present, Apollo and his friend Patrice (Malcolm Barrett) have agreed to meet William (Samuel T. Herring), a member of Apollo’s new grief therapy group, who has offered to pay $70,000 for Apollo’s rare autographed copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” They meet on the same dock where young Lillian stood over 30 years before. Just before, Patrice informs Apollo that there’s a tribute page on Facebook for Apollo’s son Brian, who was, presumably, murdered by Apollo’s wife Emma (Clark Backo), who has been missing ever since. The tribute page is tracking Apollo’s movements, which makes Apollo aware that, though he originally feared witches were behind his series of tragedies, social media might be an even greater foe.
The clumsy, nerdy app developer William brings Apollo and Patrice onto a boat tied to the dock in order to give them the check for the book. He shares with them that his wife has left him and taken his two daughters with her. The book is a last-ditch effort to win back her love, he says. Patrice is unmoved and finds William creepy, but Apollo has compassion for a fellow dad who would do anything to get his family back.
Back at his apartment, still sleeping on the couch and unable to enter the bedroom where Emma killed Brian, Apollo has nightmares of the night Emma chained him to a pole. He meets with Emma’s sister and pays her a portion of the $70,000 for her help with Brian’s birth and planning his funeral when Apollo was hospitalized and unable to. It’s meant as his final goodbye to Emma and her family.
On his way out, he gets a text from an unknown number telling him that Emma’s alive and asking him to meet. A furious Apollo arrives at the requested destination to find William, who reveals himself as the mystery texter with info on Emma’s whereabouts that the FBI doesn’t even have. “100 people with 100 computers can cover as much ground as [the FBI],” William tells him. “They can cover more.” Perhaps the Facebook tribute page for Brian is an example of the level of national interest people have in bringing Emma to justice.
William says he found Emma on an island on the East River, and Apollo just needs a boat to get there. Fortunately(?), William’s app is all about getting people a boat as fast as you can get an Uber. This guy is creepy and Patrice seems to understand that, but William offers Apollo CCTV footage of Emma, proving she’s alive. Apollo is desperate to find her, so he takes William up on his offer.
To increase the creep factor, William takes Apollo out on the boat at night. He also tries to further the wedge between Apollo and Patrice. Apollo was already mad that Patrice had subscribed to the Brian Facebook fan page, thinking that Apollo had created it.
Now, William shows Apollo shady Facebook comments about a boat capsizing that William credits to Patrice. “Vampires can’t come into your home unless you invite them,” William tells Apollo, referring not only to telling Patrice his boating plans to find Emma but also his habit of posting pictures of himself and Brian all over social media throughout the baby’s short life.
Apollo fears William is right, and his guilt, coupled with the memory of him and Emma sailing underneath the George Washington Bridge, happy and in love, now makes him vomit.
Eventually, the fog lifts and Apollo spots the island on the East River where he believes Emma to be hiding. As they get to shore, Apollo finally gets curious enough to ask why William is there with him. William confesses his wife said no to his grand gesture of the first edition “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Essentially, William is looking for a distraction. The lonely Apollo accepts his story and doesn’t press further.
After walking a bit and discovering hospital beds in overgrown fields, William surmises that they’re on North Brother Island where Typhoid Mary and other infectious people were quarantined. A real place, not a mystical one full of witches, as he first feared.
Emboldened by that reality, he says his hype man phrase, “I am the god Apollo,” and starts screaming for Emma to come out of hiding so he can get his revenge. The worst-laid plans! A group of people attack and imprison Apollo and bring him to the mysterious Cal. Apollo believes Cal is the one who told Emma to kill the baby, but she explains that Emma was right, “It’s not a baby.”
Just when everyone’s getting along, the group discovers and imprisons William, beating him nearly to death when they realize who he is. Apollo starts to piece together that William hasn’t told him everything. William confesses that he’s essentially been stalking Apollo and Emma ever since he read their story of giving birth on the subway in the paper. He stalked Apollo through his social media posts for months. But William promises to help Apollo if Apollo will find his wife Gretta and bring her to him. There’s that theme again: Men trying to control women’s lives is the greatest horror story. William threatens that if Apollo doesn’t help him, everyone on the island is going to die.
The episode ends as it began, with a red suitcase, but this time, it’s sitting at the bottom of the ocean. Present-day Lillian (Adina Porter) stands on the docks, staring down at the water. Everyone’s secrets are starting to come to the surface.
Brooke Obie is an award-winning critic, screenwriter and author of the historical novel “Book of Addis: Cradled Embers.”
TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Android TV. Also, please download theGrio mobile apps today!