From the discordant strings that open the show, M. Night Shyamalan’s Servant makes it clear that whatever is coming is just slightly off. If you want to go into the show surprised, read the logline and then go fire up the first episode: “Servant follows a Philadelphia couple in mourning after an unspeakable tragedy creates a rift in their marriage and opens the door for a mysterious force to enter their home.”
Dorothy and Sean Turner lost their son, Jericho, when he was 13 weeks old. Six weeks later, they’re still coping with that loss and Servant could almost be classified as merely an exploration of their grief and how they’re processing it in the wake of such a tragedy. Dorothy was so affected by Jericho’s passing that she fell into some kind of coma or fugue state for a time before ‘recovering’ with the advice of some well-meaning friends. She still zones out in taxis, and staring into the fridge, fighting with her subconscious to bring up the memories of her lost son.
As Servant begins, she picks at Sean and fusses over whether or not their new nanny will want to work for them, ultimately welcoming Leanne into their home with a lot of grandeur. Their home is impeccable, if impersonally styled, though Leanne’s personal room is more worn down and spartan – so that she can make it her own, insists Dorothy. Sean promises to fix the stubborn window in her room that refuses to open.
They sit down with Leanne to discuss her employment, bickering with the comfort of a long-married couple, and Dorothy momentarily forgets that Leanne is underage when she offers her wine. It’s a very clear and straightforward arrangement… until it’s not.
Leanne slots quietly into their space, often faded into the background and hovering just out of range of the action. When she does step into the forefront, it’s usually for something unsettling. Actress Nell Tiger Free easily transitions between demure and naive young farm girl in the city to creepily unnerving and decisive.
There’s a predictability within the first three episodes of Servant, wherein everything a viewer may guess is going to happen does happen. Attaching M. Night Shyamalan’s name to the show attaches certain expectations, though it was written by Tony Basgallop and is more in tune with Shyamalan’s recent horror-near-comedy offerings like Split, rather than classics like The Sixth Sense. Viewers are left waiting for unpredictable, mind-blowing twists, but Servant’s strength is in the building tension of the situation.
Extreme facial close-ups are jarring but abundant as Dorothy and Sean visually wrestle with the sorrow of the situation. Sean is determined to make everything as normal as possible, despite the odd circumstances he’s put himself and his family into. Lauren Ambrose, who plays Dorothy, is phenomenal and frenetic in her portrayal of a woman who is refusing to pick at the threads of her carefully crafted narrative. The conscious choice to portray nearly all of this unfolding saga within the confines of their home – and only their home – make for an even more personal journey.
The first season of Servant premiered on November 28 on Apple TV+ with three half-hour episodes and releases weekly. The first three episodes served to introduce strong characters, plenty of questions, and a growing sense of dread for viewers.