Servant Season 3 is back with an ominous bang. There is something coming for Leanne and the Turners and intimidation is only the beginning.
Apple TV +’s creepy horror series from Tony Basgallop and M. Night Shyamalan is a masterpiece of slow-burning dread. Every shot, meticulous set piece, and pluck of a chord is designed to curate a feeling. Unfortunately, those feelings are a mix of confused unrest and bone-deep anxiety most of the time. Servant Season 3 Episode 1 opens in a big way, declaring it isn’t content to make you uneasy anymore. Now it’s going to sting you.
The new introductory sequence invokes the dread only hinted at in previous seasons. Servant Season 3 isn’t playing around anymore. There is blood, pain, and magic in the walls of the Turner’s house, and Leanne will die to protect it. Instead of sweeping shots of the gorgeous home, there is an invasive sense of danger lurking just outside the walls, with only Leanne capable of holding it back.
It has been three months since the night of Aunt Josephine’s death. Everyone is trying something different. Everyone that is but Dorothy. Julian went to rehab, was dumped by Natalie, and is dating someone new even if he is still having sex with Leanne. Sean has found a new sense of joy and purpose in the world. He is no longer the sullen, depressed man dependent on wine, snails, and snark to get through the day.
Not even Dorothy’s narcissistic barbs affect him any longer. There is a kindness to Sean in Servant Season 3 Episode 1 that feels truer to who he was before all of this. As great as Lauren Ambrose has been as the brittle and oblivious Dorothy, Toby Kebbell has been equally good playing off her manic energy. His Sean has had the most significant change since Season 1, and Kebbell rarely gets credit for how good he is. He really is a fully fleshed man now.
Leanne is still scared, but she is now worried for a different reason. She isn’t the timid unsophisticated girl, but a terrified woman haunted by what may be coming for them. Leanne has moved back downstairs, taking all her favorite odd things. The mannequin is now residing in her room, and even the moths have followed her. Gone is the virginal white and stark black replaced with jewel and gem tones rich in color and symbolism. She seems to have lost her ability to raise the dead but not her healthy respect for The Church of the Lesser Saints. Leanne is still vigilant and scared, while the Turners are consumed with the parenting duties they have back. The Turners are consumed with their perfect baby boy while the literal backdoor sits open and invites all kinds of danger into the world.
Leanne’s fear prevents her from straying from the house too far. It seems a block may be too far. The silent haven of her home blocks the cacophony of noise and monsters who could be waiting behind every seemingly ordinary person. So when the family goes to the Jersey Shore for a day trip, she stays behind. Her fear is too great, and she instead spends her day disposing of the dead bugs she has been unable to resurrect and doing chores. She is content to sit vigil over the flooded hole in the basement and eat her Campell’s Tomato soup.
Only Dorothy seems unscathed by everything that has happened. However, she is still the same self-absorbed friendly viper who could just as easily kill for you as cut you to the bone with her nasty verbal jabs. Lauren Ambrose continues to shine, portraying the complex and delusional character. She hovers over Leanne almost as oppressively as she does Jericho. Dorothy showers her with gifts and tries to break the crippling fear that prevents Leanne from going far from the house.
Julian continues to be the funny bone of the group with his one-liners and zingers about dead-eyed Midwestern cults and accessory choices to break up the monotony of their hellish fashion sense. He may have sobered up, but that doesn’t mean he has given up everything. Despite dating Vera, someone he met in rehab, he and Leanne are still having sex. Compared to Dorothy’s refusal to admit problems and snide comments, Leanne knows exactly who Julian is and doesn’t think it is a reason to stop having sex. Julian may want to do the right thing, but she is a liberated woman, and there is no going back now.
Even the house hasn’t changed. The hole in the basement continues to resist being filled in by anything but muddy water, and pieces crumble and crack around them. Their sanctuary is bubbling with things unspoken and unseen. Moths crawl out of holes directly above biblical paintings, and doors slam shut. A stone finial nearly falls on Julian as he enters the house. Was it an accident or something supernatural? In a house like theirs, anything is possible.
Some moments seem so banally familial. Julian riding a stationary bike while talking to Jericho about growing up would be sweet if not shadowed by the obsession that plagues everything. Julian has exchanged his addiction to drugs and alcohol for exercise. Dorothy and Sean are obsessed with the life given back to them, and Leanne is obsessed with keeping her found family intact and safe. Some things can’t be denied, though. Leanne has changed. The quiet naive girl from Season 1 has been replaced by a young woman who makes drunken booty calls and guzzles wine.
She may have lost the ability to resurrect dead things, but now she can either foretell or cause events. At the same time that she drew in her journal hundreds of checkmarks, Julian was attacked by Seagulls. When the camera pulled back to reveal she was drawing swarming birds, things came into focus. Did Leanne see what would happen to Julian, or did she cause it? Her smile is an indication of her hope, though. She has a love-hate relationship with Julian, so it would be reasonable to assume she caused the birds to attack. Even if she can only see the future, it would be a powerful tool in the coming fight.
Everything would have an air of progress if not for the constant intense anxiety and the actual man who broke into the house while Leanne was home alone. The police believe the man was responsible for a rash of burglaries in the area, but Leanne knows better. At the same time, the man searched for something; Leanne hid in the crawl space in her room and discovered the grisly source of the moths. Aunt Josephine’s burned body is still in the walls and is a breeding ground for the insects. After locking him in her bathroom, she counseled the man that just because he was reborn did not mean he no longer had choices. The “light” was his to use. We don’t know yet whether she meant literally reborn or figuratively because he escaped with Leanne’s dagger. What else he took and why we don’t know yet.
The entire episode has a voyeuristic quality to it. The sliding shots from window to window and room to room feel like watching from outside a dollhouse. Direction by Shyamalan is as exciting and odd as the series itself. Servant is leaning all the way into the strange, and Servant Season 3 Episode 1 is forging new ground.
The painting on Leanne’s wall and what does donkey mean?
The painting on the wall is a version of Balaam and his Ass by Rembrandt. It was one of his first works and did not fit his signature style. There is no black background and no plants set in the corner to signify nature. The painting depicts the Judeo-Christian story of Balaam, his donkey, and an angel of God. In the story from the Old Testament chapters 22 and 24, Yahweh tells Ballam not to go to Jericho and curse the Israelites. He comes to him a second time and tells him to go but follow God’s rules strictly.
Balaam’s donkey strays from the path several times on the road to Jericho, resulting in Balaam whipping him. He eventually lays down and refuses to budge. The donkey asks him why he doesn’t trust him and whips him instead. Finally, Yahweh removes the veil from Balaam’s eyes and allows him to see what the donkey had seen all along. There was an angel with a sword in his hand blocking the way. Balaam repents and refuses to curse the Israelites.
His turn towards righteousness is short-lived, though, and he orchestrates a different way to destroy Israel by encouraging relations between the Moabites and the Israelites. This eroded their core faith and turned them from God. The moral of the story is to beware of false prophets. Not every person who speaks the words of God is holy. The biggest question is, does that reference Leanne or The Church of the Lesser Saints?
One of the things Servant has always done so well is mixing the mundane with the otherworldly. The ominous plinky soundtrack is broken by moments of an ordinary chirpy cell phone ringer, for example. It’s so jarring and unexpected it breaks the tension only by snapping it rather than releasing it. But, just like the hole in the basement, there is something simmering just below the surface. Something is coming for them, and like the donkey, Leanne seems to be the only one who can see it. Servant Season 3 Episode 1 was everything we could have hoped for. New episodes air weekly on Apply TV +. Find all our Servant coverage here.
Leanne has excellent taste in music, even if it is very limited.
The best line of the night goes to someone other than Julian for a change. Sean perfectly captures the insanity that is Dorothy by saying she “is radioactive with joy.”
The Turner’s casual consumption of wine continues to amaze me. A bottle of 96 Petrus is a real thing and would cost approximately $4300.00.
Is Leanne right, and the cult is coming for them? The fact they took her dagger seems like a strong indicator.
Can’t we find a better place for Josphine’s body? Moths freak me out.
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.