The M. Night Shyamalan executive produced series continues to serve up spooky atmosphere, but quickly loses its way.
To watch the Apple TV+ series Servant is to frequently ask “What is this show about, exactly?” Is it about the dangers of gaslighting? The horror of postpartum psychosis? Something even more sinister than that? It seems to want to say something about all of these things, but in a sort of muddled, half-formed fashion. Season 2 is more of the same, while pushing the boundaries of how long the initial deception could last far beyond a realistic limit.
When season 1 ended, weirdo religious freak nanny Leanne Grayson (Nell Tiger Free) fled the home of her weirdo employers Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) and Sean Turner (Toby Kebbell) to go live with her cult leader aunt and uncle. Presumably she also took baby Jericho (or rather, his replacement) with her, leaving the doll from the premiere episode behind. Rather than finally sit Dorothy down and tell her the truth about Jericho, Sean and his smarmy brother-in-law Julian (Rupert Grint) make the absurd decision to continue maintaining the cruel lie that Jericho never died. If this was a hard pill to swallow in season 1, it’s impossible to get past in season 2.
Unable to get help from the police, who know what’s going on but also inexplicably choose to not tell Dorothy, the family looks for Jericho themselves, even going so far as to open a fake pizza restaurant so they can gain entry into a mansion where they believe he’s being held captive. Despite Sean and Julian’s belief that in gaslighting Dorothy they’re protecting her sanity, she’s coming unglued anyway, eventually kidnapping Leanne and keeping her prisoner in the house. That Sean passively goes along with this is merely baffling–that by the end of episode seven multiple people know that the real Jericho no longer exists but still refuse to tell the by then completely unhinged Dorothy is ridiculous.
Season 2 is more of the same, while pushing the boundaries of how long the initial deception could last far beyond a realistic limit.
As pointed out in the season 1 review, Servant has plenty of unsettling atmosphere. Virtually all the action takes place inside Sean and Dorothy’s Philadelphia townhouse, which manages to be both palatial and suffocating at the same time. Ambrose is terrifying as a mother who would do almost quite literally anything to find her missing son. The primary issue with Servant is that it lacks focus. There’s no clear villain, because every single character in it is a terrible person, in a way that makes it puzzling as to why we’re supposed to care about what happens to them. Sean is useless, staying in an untenable situation with a wife he no longer loves, if he ever did in the first place. Dorothy is mentally ill, exhibiting a cruel violent streak. Julian seems to enjoy the psychological torture he’s putting Dorothy through, in the name of “helping” her. It’s hard to see why we should be interested in how this plays out.
Fully 50% of the plot in Servant is devoted to these characters endlessly sniping at each other. Even in flashbacks revealing that Dorothy had complications with her pregnancy, she and Sean have nothing but naked contempt for each other. Who are these people? Why do they hate each other so much? It makes no sense, along with the weird focus on the preparation of food, and Sean’s ample wine collection, to which Julian constantly helps himself while making withering remarks about a situation he helped create.
It takes four episodes for things to really get cooking (no pun intended), and everything that happens after that is implausible to the point of laughable. By the time in episode seven when Dorothy now has two people held captive in her home, and Sean is still going along with whatever she says in slack-jawed apathy, the audience isn’t invested in finding out what happened to baby Jericho’s replacement so much as how much more off the rails Servant is going to get. If it’s trying to be a lunatic psychological thriller, it succeeds. If it’s trying to say something about mental illness and/or the occasionally pathological bond that develops between a mother and her child, well…better luck in the already announced third season.
Season 2 of Servant premieres on Apple TV+ January 15th.