The Changeling Episode 5 Recap: Going to Kinder Garten

“This Woman’s Work”

Emma lies in bed making a face while Apollo is lying nearer in the frame
Screenshot/Apple TV+

The following recap contains spoilers for The Changeling Episode 5, “This Woman’s Work” (written by Kelly Marcel and directed by Jonathan van Tulleken).

Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Cards on the table, I’m not sure if I’m held back in my enjoyment of The Changeling because I don’t have (or want) children, or if I’m perhaps just too desensitized to experience its putative horror. I’d like to praise the show’s subtlety, but it also feels like a problem to me that five episodes in I’m still not entirely sure if maybe Emma (Clark Backo) just murdered her baby because she was having a bad one.

There are a couple of scenes in Episode 5 that seem intended to bolster the perspective that it was not a baby, but man are the indications subtle. Aren’t babies weird little beings anyway? I take it that’s part of the point or inspiration for The Changeling, and the show wants to feed off some ambiguity. But at the same time, if I hadn’t had the subtitles on and seen them say things like “changeling cackles,” I can’t say I’d have been thinking I was seeing a changeling.

Emma bends down while sitting at a desk in the library
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Episode 5 begins by flashing back to Emma’s time in Brazil to show us things we already know happened, as when, for example, she’s warned against going near the woman by the waterfall.

We further see her meet Leif (Dennis Andres) and use his camera to take a nude photo of herself while he’s off having a pee. A lot of significance has been placed on this photograph. Back in Episode 1, Michelle (Rasheda Crockett) was freaked out about how Emma looks like a sorceress in it, as she told Apollo (LaKeith Stanfield) about it hanging in a gallery in Norway. Episode 5 doubles down on the suggestion that this image is an Important Thing by bookending the episode with scenes involving its placement in that gallery.

But, to be frank, when we finally saw this image I was underwhelmed. I guess it’s a pretty good photo, but it’s hardly shocking.

Emma nude in a photo taken in the Amazon, hanging on the wall of a gallery in Norway
Screenshot/Apple TV+

When Michelle mentioned all of this in Episode 1, she was trying to tell Apollo about Emma’s third wish, but their conversation was cut short by Emma going into labor in the bathroom. So, we still don’t know what that third wish was, though we do know her wish for a healthy baby didn’t exactly pan out. Maybe Apollo messed things up when he cut that string off Emma’s wrist.

At the end of Episode 5, we see William (Samuel T. Herring) looking at the photograph of Emma through a window from the street as he holds his daughter in his arms. Given how this is juxtaposed with the climax of the episode (which I will get to in a moment), I’m led to believe that this is a moment of revelation for William. But I’m not sure what he’s doing in Norway.

William on the street, holding a girl and an ice cream, looking through a gallery window, with the owner to the side in the foreground
Screenshot/Apple TV+

You’ll recall that The Changeling began with a preamble about a ship that set sail from Norway in 1825 called The Restauration, which noted how improbable its journey was. And William hollers in Norwegian from his jail cell on North Brother Island early on in Episode 5. It may also be of note that the gallery owner who displays the photo on his wall, who doesn’t have a spoken line in this episode, is played by William Cashion. He and Samuel T. Herring are in a band together in real life called Future Islands. I don’t know if that will feel like it’s blurring any lines between fact and fiction, or if it’s just a bit of trivia.

Regardless, the thrust of Episode 5 is in a series of large shifts in how we view William and how Apollo views William. He entered the story as a meek little man who wanted to buy a rare book before he told Apollo they were in the same boat (figuratively), and then they got in the same boat literally to discover Cal (Jane Kaczmarek) and her group on North Brother Island.

As soon as Cal saw him, she wanted to kill him. It turns out that Gretta (Michelle Giroux) didn’t disappear like Emma did. William was the one who killed their baby. And further, Gretta tells Apollo that William emptied out her bank account to buy that copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and mailed it to her, defaced. He wrote the name of their dead daughter, Agnes, on every page.

I honestly don’t know what’s worse: killing a little girl or defacing a first edition Harper Lee with an autograph to Truman Capote. I mean, I know it’s the former, but the latter is pretty egregious! Let’s set him on fire already!

William, bloody, up against the cage of his cell
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Apollo goes running to William’s cell window to find the man transformed. He insists that his name isn’t William and tells a story about finding his people, learning his true name, and discovering his true face. He snarls at Apollo through the window, and quotes from a disturbing message Apollo read on the baby Brian message board before he even met William.

A message board message posted by Kinder Garten reads "Dinner plans tonight. A meal inspired by baby Brian. BOILED VEGETABLES" in The Changeling
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Further, where William’s face had been bloodied from the beating he took last week, it now appears to be perfectly fine. While he’s no longer wearing his broken glasses and no longer bald, I think we’re still getting Samuel T. Herring in this scene, though I played with the idea that he’d been replaced by Leif (Dennis Andres). I don’t think that’s the case, but please let me know if I’m wrong in the comments.

Kinder Garten makes a menacing look through his cell window
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Regardless, the transformation is striking, and The Changeling seems to be finally giving us definite confirmation of a changeling in its story. Apollo calls him Kinder Garten, and that seems to be what he calls himself, so we’ll go with that.

Of course, kindergarten is the name of a grade in school, or that year prior to grades, and it is interesting to think about why we call it that. Etymologically, it means “child garden” and that makes enough sense to stomach. But we don’t generally think about growing them for food.

Yet, according to Apollo’s favorite book:

Babies are dreams made real

And dreams are fairies’ favorite meal

That book is called To the Waters and the Wild, which references a line from W.B. Yeats’s poem “The Stolen Child.” Feel free to go look for clues in there.

Apollo holds a book called To the Waters and the Wild in The Changeling Episode 5
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Working with what The Changeling itself has given us, I’m prone to conclude that Kinder Garten is the bad guy of this story, and maybe also the one who was sending Emma disappearing text messages. We don’t know where Emma is at this point (Cal suggests that it’s somewhere otherworldly), but I think it’s more important to emphasize that we don’t know for sure that she killed baby Brian.

Here in Episode 5, Emma tells her child that she would willingly sacrifice herself (and her husband) to save his life. Then, she threatens the being she takes to not be her child, while still holding the baby in her arms. So, I think the door is open to Brian being alive in some way.

At the same time, Cal confirms that all of the women on North Brother Island did the same thing that Emma did, and while she is adamant to Apollo that this is not the same as what William did in killing his daughter, there is no indication that any of the children on the island are survivors of some metaphysical measures taken by their mothers. Instead, Cal says that some of the women had other children, who they brought along with them.

Cal serves Apollo some food
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Still, I find myself doubting that The Changeling is going to end up sitting on the suggestion that it was OK for these women to kill their babies because their babies were possessed or something like that. There has to be some nuance that we’re just not getting yet.

Cal says that what she offered these women was someone who believed them, and she notes how rare it is for a woman to simply be believed. And much like Apollo at this point, I want to believe Emma. I want to believe she didn’t do something absolutely heinous. But The Changeling still hasn’t quite given us the ground for believing that.

See you next week.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

Caesar non est supra grammaticos


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    • Ha! It managed to get its hooks in me finally with this episode, but I haven’t found it terribly mysterious. Or, at least, I haven’t been all that intrigued, or been sure what I should be intrigued about. To be clear, though, I don’t begrudge anyone who’s been finding it more compelling than I have been, or look down on anyone or anything. I wish I liked it more. Hoping I get there over this final stretch. But if I have a critique, it’s more that I don’t think it’s mysterious or strange enough. I’d love to be writing about all sorts of interesting questions I have and it’s just not giving them to me

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