The following recap contains spoilers for The Changeling Episode 7, “Stormy Weather” (written by Kelly Marcel and directed by Michael Francis Williams).
Editor’s Note: This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.
There are (at least) three ways to make a story a mystery. The first would be the most straightforward, as evidenced by any number of murder mysteries: there’s a defined question (whodunnit?) and someone investigating that question who serves as an audience surrogate. But it’s worth noting that in such a story, someone (the murderer) knows what happened.
The second way is to present things that elude comprehension, both for the audience and for the characters in the story. Any number of things in Twin Peaks are exemplary here—though the show plays on the first form of mystery, it truly makes its hay through the Red Room, BOB, and so on. All sorts of things inspire thought, but thought can’t find a resting place because it’s not even clear that there is a straightforward answer within the world of the story itself.
If The Changeling is mysterious, in contrast, it’s not in either of these ways so much as a third: the story is scrambled, information is withheld, and even the big-picture question that structures the narrative is unclear. To a degree, this kind of mystery feels contrived because one gets the sense that the storyteller is playing coy, and surely Victor LaValle’s narration feeds into this sense more than it remedies it.
I’m not suggesting that the story of The Changeling would be straightforward without the conceits of its presentation, but I keep feeling frustrated that the questions themselves are obfuscated. I want to think about the show deeply and provide something like an analysis or interpretation. I want to pose pressing questions and speculate about their possible answers. But this story just doesn’t feel very amenable to that.
I might hazard the suggestion that The Changeling is more of a poem than a story. It aims to evoke feelings more than thoughts and is perhaps after a kind of emotional truth.
I certainly think that fits when it comes to Episode 7, which takes a detour from the main course of events to focus on Lillian Kagwa (Alexis Louder/Adina Porter) in a way that’s unstuck from time.
As the episode begins, Lillian is returning to the Elk Hotel after many years, and since she’s calling Apollo (LaKeith Stanfield) and noting that she has been trying to call him for three weeks, we might think this lines up with him being on North Brother Island. But as she paces her hotel room and records a message for him on a tape recorder, she speaks as though he’s never had a child, which would suggest that this was earlier.
When she goes to tend to a young man, who’s sick and alone, he talks about going to see Lena Horne perform “Stormy Weather,” which would suggest that this interaction occurred in 1981. And, further, the young man is listed in the credits as Young Wheels (Cooper Bilton).
That would connect things in Episode 7 to Episode 6 in a way the show doesn’t really make explicit as you watch it. And then there’s William (Samuel T. Herring) abusing Angelica (Jonelle Gunderson). When was that happening and how do we fit it into the story?
Episode 7 culminates with the older version of Lillian confronting her younger self, as though she reached through time to keep herself from jumping out of the window of the Elk Hotel. Young Lillian promises to be a good mother if only God/older Lillian can get her out of the mess she’s in, and the older Lillian says something about how Apollo will have to pay the price eventually (flash to baby Brian’s gravestone), which the younger Lillian doesn’t get.
At this point, Lillian has killed Brian West (Jared Abrahamson), as I guessed when we saw her previously dumping a heavy suitcase into the river. But Episode 7 doesn’t bother with any of the logistical questions around how she got his body into that suitcase or anything like that. Instead, it acts like this would be easy, or as if she made a magical deal with the gods.
We learn that Brian West was a misogynistic asshole, even as Lillian continues to make apologies for him years later in her recorded message to her son. We already knew that he came to visit Apollo after Lillian had split with him, but Episode 7 fills in the moment of his death. Before that, Lillian says she saw something she could never unsee, but The Changeling doesn’t clearly show us what it was. I think Brian was drowning Apollo in the bathtub, but let me know if I’m missing something here.
Regardless, he had it coming.
As Episode 7 comes to a close, it’s strongly implied that Apollo’s father was actually Lillian’s boss, Charles Blackwood, and though there’s some indication from what she says in the episode that she married Brian to cover up this indiscretion, the Elk Hotel ledger lists her name as Lily Ann West.
Again, the whole thing is more like a poem than anything. Lillian is confronting her past self and trying to reconcile herself to what she’s done. Or she’s come back to the Elk Hotel to try to unmake a deal, as she says, only to find that this kind of deal can’t be undone.
There are gods at play, or forces beyond our control we can’t help but think of as gods. If there are real gods and monsters in this story, I hope The Changeling brings that home in the finale next week.