The following recap contains spoilers for The Changeling Episode 8, “Battle of the Island” (written by Kelly Marcel and directed by Solvan “Slick” Naim).
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.
Until I watched Episode 8, I was under the impression that The Changeling was a limited series. And, indeed, as I googled after finishing this finale, I found multiple sources referring to it in this way, including one that also noted that the show was clearly banking on a second season. That’s pretty confusing since I was also under the impression that “limited series” meant just one season, even if some shows that had originally been billed that way ended up getting a Season 2 (e.g., The White Lotus, Big Little Lies, etc.).
The point is that I expected some closure from this episode, and even after I noted the shorter-than-usual runtime of 30 minutes, I felt that expectation was bolstered by its opening sequence. It’s not truly a “Previously On” segment since it feels like a proper part of the show itself, but the cold open of Episode 8 does remind us of virtually all of the things we should be remembering as we enter into this final episode (of the season).
We flash back to Emma’s (Clark Backo) wishes and are reminded of the fact that while we know the first two (a good husband and a healthy child), we still don’t know the third. We see the nude photo of her in a gallery in Norway again in connection to this, with some hint that it relates to the mystery. We’re reminded that William Wheeler (Samuel T. Herring) lives in Forest Hills, which is also where Emma was heading at the end of Episode 6 in light of what Wheels (Steve Zissis) told her about how it used to be called Little Norway. And we revisit The Restauration on choppy waters as Victor LaValle repeats his narration about it from the very beginning of the series, noting its impossible journey, which was only successful because those aboard had help.
Each of those points raises a question or two, but I don’t feel any closer to being able to answer them at the end of Episode 8 than I was at the beginning. Instead, the episode consists primarily of an action sequence on North Brother Island, which picks up from the conversation between Apollo (LaKeith Stanfield) and William/Kinder Garten in Episode 5.
I was happy about that since I felt intrigued by that scene three weeks ago and had been lamenting the way The Changeling had ignored it since, but the only new information we learn in Episode 8 is that Kinder Garten is a multitude. I’m inferring that the “William” we saw in Norway wasn’t the same William we’ve known in New York, and that Cal (Jane Kaczmarek) killing William before diving off a cliff does not amount to killing Kinder Garten since we see other versions of the man as the episode comes to a close.
We might interpret Kinder Garten as representing something like toxic masculinity—or, at least, I’d like to do that—but The Changeling doesn’t give me quite enough to work with. The series seems to want to say something about gender, but it always remains nebulous (and the same goes for what it might want to say about race).
Perhaps that’s OK, but I was surprised to hear the creature William had summoned to attack the island referred to as “she” given that I’d started thinking along these lines. I guess it’s the same creature (dragon?) that we see Apollo stumbling upon as the episode ends, in a scene that seems disjointed from the rest of the narrative. Regardless, I’m at something of a loss when it comes to interpreting this creature as a symbol. That is, I don’t know what to take it as a symbol of.
The sanctuary of North Brother Island is destroyed, and it’s unclear how many people (including children) die, though it seems like a lot. It’s confirmed that Gretta (Michelle Giroux) has been killed, which is slightly odd since before the attack William was yelling about reuniting with his family, and this has seemed to be his motivation throughout, however toxically.
Regardless, the surviving inhabitants of the island make it away on a boat that we last see crossing the East River, and given that this is a boat full of women wanted by the police for killing their babies, I do have to wonder where they’ll go and what they’ll do when they get there. They’re without Cal now, since she sacrificed herself by staying behind to fight so they could get away.
Cal also sent Apollo off on a different, smaller boat in search of Emma. We cut to Emma approaching Forest Park in Queens, and I feel the need to note that the timelines point to this being significantly before the events we’ve just witnessed on North Brother Island, though I’m not sure how much that matters.
Victor LaValle once again recites the lines of To the Waters and the Wild as Emma approaches a well-lit carousel in the forest. That’s a real thing, for what it’s worth, but it’s not entirely clear what it has to do with the fairies who supposedly have her baby.
Cal tells Apollo that the only real magic is in what you’ll do for the ones you love, but that’s clearly not true in the story of The Changeling. Supernatural elements are verified pretty definitively by Episode 8, even if it leaves us guessing as to what exactly they are or how they function.
We see Apollo opening a box, and he’s apparently bitten by what sounds like a baby. And then we see him crawling in an underground tunnel, and the opening dragon eye.
Given that Episode 8 doesn’t offer us closure on any of the questions it reminds us of as it opens, and instead presents new questions as it unfolds, it’s abundantly clear that this isn’t meant to be the end of the story. Indeed, we can add that, after spending an entire hour last week on Lillian Kagwa (Alexis Louder/Adina Porter), she doesn’t appear in this episode at all (but “Stormy Weather” plays over the end credits).
I feel like all of this is a betrayal of labeling The Changeling as a “limited series,” but I suppose I shouldn’t get too hung up on that. Rather, I’ll admit I’m frustrated because I expected some closure from Episode 8, and I find myself thinking about how expectations about such things can impact one’s viewing experience. Perhaps I would have enjoyed The Changeling more throughout if I hadn’t had it stuck in my mind that it was going to be a wrap after eight episodes.
I want to like The Changeling more than I do. It’s just neither weird enough nor straightforward enough for me. That might sound like a contradiction, and maybe it is, but I hope you might know what I mean. There are mysteries here, but they haven’t really grabbed me, and there’s a surface-level plot, but I’ve never felt terribly invested in it.
In writing on the premiere, I said that The Changeling takes three hours to set its stakes, but in retrospect, I’m not sure I’d say it ever truly does. It’s more like a poem that wants to make its hay through vibes, or a piece of magical realism that asks not so much for a suspension of disbelief but for a belief that reality itself is fantastical in a way that hinges on the power of emotion.
It’s cool that a TV show is doing that, but it hasn’t quite landed for me. If there is a Season 2, I hope that more happens, or at least that the symbolism becomes more compelling. But maybe this one just isn’t for me. Others seem to be enjoying it, and I certainly don’t intend to look down on anyone who does.