To love someone else with such consuming intensity is horrifying. It changes you. It makes you terrified and helpless, but it also makes you stronger than you ever thought you could be. Parenthood is, in a word, horrific. And “The Changeling” reflects that. The show burrows deep into the timeless terror of parenthood through the lens of our current world, rife with social media and dad dates at the local playground.
The cadence of the narrative, which unfolds in a world of smartphones, however, is almost lyrical and reflects traditions from oral storytelling. LaValle, who is also an executive producer on the series as well as its narrator, interjects at key moments in the first season’s eight episodes to remind us of the larger context of the story, and several phrases — “Tell me your life’s voyage and I will tell you who you are,” “If you’re looking for a sign, this is it,” and “You are exactly where you need to be,” are just a few of them — are repeated continuously. We’re invested in the character’s specific struggles, of course, but “The Changeling” is at its core a fable. And as a fable, its focus moves beyond the plot-driven to delve into who and what has shaped its characters — parenthood, yes, but also intergenerational trauma, among other things.
That focus makes the series an introspective endeavor more often than not, even when the dark creatures who go bump in the night become real. It’s not a simple show, nor is it an easy one to watch for myriad reasons. The mindfulness required to absorb everything, however, pays off, in no small part due to Stanfield and Backo, whose performances effectively twist and tear your heart in all the proper places.