Without question, the most overlooked show of recent history is Servant. Executive produced by M. Night Shyamalan, the show has attracted somewhat of a cult following who venture onto the steadily improving Apple TV+ service to watch it.
The first season was a strange hybrid of horror, mystery, and pitch-black comedy wherein grieving mother Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose) is so in denial of her baby’s death that she believes an inanimate doll is her child Jericho. Not wanting to break her illusion, her husband Sean (Toby Kebbell) hires a strange nanny named Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) to “watch” Jericho. Much to his surprise, once Leanne moves in, the doll is replaced by a real baby, opening up a whole work of strangeness. Ten episodes of scares, surrealism, dark laughs, and an unhinged Rupert Grint performance later, Servant season 2 has a lot to live up to.
Suffice to say, we’re off to a good start with the first episode, “Doll”. Full spoilers for the premiere episode of Servant season 2 follow.
“Doll” picks up immediately where season 1 left off. Sean holds his hand to fire, still unable to feel anything. In his periphery, Dorothy is panicking now that “Jericho” is missing, having been “replaced” by the doll that had been acting as Jericho prior to Leanne’s arrival. Seeing no other options, Dorothy immediately dials the police. This snaps Sean out of his trance, as he hurriedly tries to hide the evidence of the baby’s christening. This is all classic Servant, with an air of ridiculousness as Sean comically pops the balloons to keep up the ruse.
He manages to do so in time before the police, as well as Dorothy’s brother Julian (Rupert Grint) and friend/therapist Natalie (Jerrika Hinton), arrive. The ridiculousness piles up as Sean, Julian, and Natalie realize they’re stuck with a hard choice. They must either A). reveal to Dorothy that they’ve been lying to her the entire time – risking an even worse psychological break – or B). fess up to the police about what’s been going on, doing A in the process.
Thankfully, there’s an option C. Turns out the responding officer was there on the day the real Jericho was found dead. Our trio manages to convince the officer that this is all part of Dorothy’s coping mechanism (hey- they’re not wrong!). Luckily for them, the officer leaves, and they – as well as the audience – breathe a sigh of relief.
After that exciting start, “Doll” slows down to let us breathe. Debriefing with Julian and Natalie, Sean gives a surprising take on the situation: he wants to find the baby that was posing as Jericho. After all, he feels that they were giving him a loving home. Could this be the early signs of Sean coping in a similar way that Dorothy has been? It’s certainly something to chew on. Yet Sean has other nasty surprises in store for him as his hand has now mutated into a disgusting, decaying growth that still has no feeling. He seeks to find answers.
First, he finds evidence that allegedly deceased May Markham was in their household during the christening. The viewer will recognize this as the leader of the cult Dorothy once reported on. Next, he takes a peek inside Leanne’s bible. Inside he finds a passage marked “Sean”, detailing the trials of leprosy. Clearly Leanne, and whoever she’s with, is not done with the Turner family. Dorothy herself finds a camera hidden in the walls and triggers a 48-hour missing person’s warning.
As Sean pretends to be looking for the baby, Dorothy ventures down the rabbit hole. She tirelessly peers over her old reporting on Markham’s cult, until Sean’s return interrupts her. Sean questions what she’ll do if the baby isn’t found, or worse, is dead. Dorothy then lays bare her intentions to “follow” Jericho to the afterlife. The two break down in a moment where one can nearly hear a pin drop. It’s a devastating scene that, for all the comedic beats in Servant, reveals the tragic core at the center of it.
Hope arrives whenever a note arrives at the door following the end of the 48 hour missing persons period. The note reads “tell no one, baby lives”. Now they have something to hang onto. Or do they? The episode concludes with Julian driving away, indicating that he left the note, as Sean bathes the plastic doll that once posed as Jericho.
Directed by Julia Ducournau, best known for acclaimed horror Raw, nails her Servant debut. As a season premiere, it’s perfect. As an episode of one of the best shows on TV, it’s top tier. Creator/writer Tony Basgallop loves to torture his characters, and combined with Ducournau’s penchant for horror of the psychological and body variety, we have ourselves a bang-up reintroduction to a world so bleak you can’t help but nervously laugh. We’re off to a banging start. – James Preston Poole
Episode Rating: 10/10
Season Rating (So Far): 10/10
Servant is now available to stream on Apple TV+.