Sure to be a hit, the mysterious intimate chamber piece marks a glorious return for Shyamalan.
The first three episodes of M. Night Shyamalan and Apple TV +’s horror series Servant premiered today and it was a meticulously manicured reality rife with questions. The episodes are an easy thirty minutes each with ten episodes in season one. This serialized version of the quintessential master of “gotcha” is all things The Sixth Sense and no parts Devil thankfully. Servant is worth the $4.99 needed to see all the new streamers content. The second season has already been approved with six seasons in total slated. Here’s how the first three episodes went down.
The first episode titled Reborn is as much a red herring as anything as this winding road of strange twists begins. Dorothy a frenziedly nervous Lauren Ambrose and her husband Sean(Toby Kebbell) are weird, wealthy, and super white. The kind of affluently oblivious people who look their nose down at everything despite being more than a little flawed themselves.
Their infant son Jericho(insert joke about waspy hipster names here) died six weeks ago, and Dorothy had a psychotic break as a result. Her therapist suggested everyone play along with her psychosis by purchasing a Reborn doll and continuing the charade of motherhood. This hardly seems like the prudent medical advice one would expect to hear from a psychologist or psychiatrist. The doll is eerily lifelike, and Dorothy doesn’t seem to realize her son never blinks, eats, or cries.
The ruse has become so complex, Sean and Dorothy have hired a nanny to care for the doll when Dorothy goes back to work. Leanne is just as bluntly drawn as the other main players. Dorothy is a narcissistic viper who vacillates between being viciously aggressive, and sadly dependent. She dotes on Leanne, and hurls insults at Sean in between his own bouts of nastiness. Sean is a hot-headed chef who sometimes appears to be a grieving, father and husband, and sometimes a gaslighting monster. Leanne(Neil Tiger Free) is a malignantly innocent small-town girl, rigidly religious and awkward. Dorothy’s brother Julian, Rupert Grint(Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter Franchise) is a douchey lawyer type who loves his sister, likes his brother in law, and enables both. It’s a messy dynamic that pays dividends right away.
The genius of Shyamalan’s world is everyone is subtly fake. The doll may be the most real thing of the entire group. Even the therapist is suspect in this world. They encouraged Dorothy to care for her doll version of Jericho utilizing Transitory Object Therapy. It is a recognized concept that possessions can act as place holders for real things. The individual associates positive memories with the item. Children who seek comfort from blankets or a favorite stuffed animal demonstrate the notion. There is something very wrong, however, with both a doctor who would suggest encouraging a complete break from reality and a group of people who play along.
That’s not the only thing fake here. For example, we find out in episode three, the fancy trappings of Sean and Dorothy’s home are not theirs to claim. The house and the furnishings are her family’s. They are in no way poor, but they aren’t as well maintained as they would like others to believe. The couple is deeply troubled, and when things take an unexpected turn shortly after Leanne’s arrival, things just get worse.
From the beginning, Leanne treats the doll like a real baby. Even so much as to send withering but blank stares at Sean when he throws the doll down in exasperation. Ominous prolonged looks at the camera and uneasy voyeuristic shots through the window put the viewer on edge long before the real wackiness starts. This is a situation as full of decay as the corner of Leanne’s bathroom ceiling is.
The first twist comes quickly when the doll turns into a living child. There are no children reported missing so the baby’s existence is either supernatural or a product of commerce. By this time, Leanne has become firmly entrenched in the house as a friend, caregiver, and oddly erotic breast massagist. In a particularly bizarre scene, Leanne helps Dorothy massage her breast while in the bathtub to relieve her mastitis. A normal part of womanhood gets an icky sexual treatment.
With Dorothy lost in the fantasy and Leanne encouraging it, only Julian, his HR goon Rosco, and Sean are available to investigate Leanne and the appearing baby. Julian and Roscoe fly to Wisconsin and find Leanne’s house burned. Found amongst the rubble is more Leanne’s hand made crosses. At the cemetery, they find her family’s grave, including hers. Upon returning, Julian engages in a sly game of cat and mouse that ends abruptly when Leanne asks if he was there when “it happened” and if they asked for his help. Turning the tables on Julian she becomes the aggressor and mimics seductive behavior she witnessed between Sean and Dorothy earlier. It is uncomfortable, to say the least.
Well crafted scenes of eel skinning, crotch-grabbing, and abrupt emotional changes drive a plot heavy on suspense and secrets. Nothing is as it seems, and everyone has something to hide. Has the baby been kidnapped or is he paranormal? What is happening to Sean? Why does Leanne seem naive one moment and calculating the next? What happened to Jericho? Did a psychotic Dorothy kill her baby, or did Sean? Who or what is Leanne? The real question is, who is gaslighting who? Episode four drops December 3rd with each subsequent episode releasing weekly.
Easter Eggs and Theories
- Dorothy is Reading Motherhood: Journey Into The Unknown. Ironically things are even more unknown than anyone could guess.
- The battle of Jericho from the Judeo-Christain bible is a story that moralizes absolute devotion and obedience to the Lord. According to the story, Joshua’s unwavering belief that God would be with him would allow him to defeat the men of Jericho and take the city.
- The allusion to Pinocchio is clear with the enormous amount of wood coming from Sean’s body and the now living doll. The original much darker story by the Brothers Grimm seems more appropriate. In the original story, the Blue Fairy is a self-described dead girl who was never buried, Jiminy Cricket is killed by the puppet, Gepetto gets financially exploited and lied to on more than one occasion, and Pinocchio gets his feet burned, hanged and left for dead in the woods. It’s hard to tell who is the deceiver and who is being deceived, but Sean is literally turning into a wooden man and the baby became a real boy.
- Leanne’s grave gave her death year as 2012. Where has she been these last seven years or did she assume her identity?
- Is Leanne a witch, demon, or some other harbinger of doom, or is she a servant to some other dark force? Think the nanny from Omen.
- Eels traditionally represent masculinity but can also mean trouble in a relationship. When one dreams of eels it can mean fertility problems or not living up to one’s own expectations. This couple sure seems to have a whopping dose of that for sure. One final thought, if eels are standins for serpents, the devil is already present and no amount of skinning will save them.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.