Servant Season 2 review: Apple TV+ series fully embraces its dark comedy side in superior sophomore outing
If the M Night Shyamalan canon could be classified as a class hierarchy, Servant would belong to the smug upper-middle class.
This review contains no Season 2 spoilers.
Though Servant was conceived long before COVID and the lockdown, it speaks to some of our own housebound circumstances. The Apple TV+ series, now in its second season, almost entirely confines its characters and our own POV to a single setting: a posh Philadelphia brownstone owned by the Turner family. Technology offers the only window to the world outside. Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose) works as a local news reporter, and we watch her reports on the television in their living room. Her husband Sean (Toby Kebbell) is a consulting chef who works from home. When he needs to run an errand, he'll call in via FaceTime. Hip-hip to Apple product placement.
Dorothy and Sean lost their baby Jericho at 13 weeks. Their grief and trauma are imprinted onto the wallpaper and draperies of the house. The hallways, the staircase, and every corner of the house reflect their emotional state. The screeching and wailing strings make the atmosphere all the more punishing. The devil is in these details. Hiding their guilt and secrets, the house becomes a prison. It's in this sense of desolation — and all the bad decisions that come out of it — that Servant finds its piercing resonance.
Its horror comes from the catalysts feeding on the Turners' tragedy. In the first season, reborn dolls, poker-faced nannies and creepy cults left a breadcrumb trail to a larger puzzle that teased our imagination into theorising. Season 2 may not confirm your theories or solve the puzzle, but it will keep you coming back for more. By that measure, if the M Night Shyamalan canon could be classified as a class hierarchy, Servant would belong to the smug upper-middle class.
Speaking of the smug upper-middle class, the Turners were once a perfect embodiment of it. They enjoyed good food with good wine. (Lockdown sure would have gone far more swimmingly if we had access to their well-stocked cellar.) But their life falls apart on the sudden death of little Jericho. Dorothy takes it particularly hard, retreating to a torpor of denial. When a quack therapist gives her a life-like doll to manage her grief, she starts to believe it is her dead son. Sean and her brother Julian (Rupert Grint) humour her and enable her delusion. So, she goes so far as to hire a nanny: a mysterious young woman named Leanne Grayson (Nell Tiger Free). Things take a supernatural turn when the doll turns into a living, breathing, cooing baby. The engine driving the first season's mystery was Leanne's origins.
Seven episodes into Season 2, it still remains uncertain if Leanne smuggled in a lookalike, or if she performed some voodoo. What is certain at the season's start is Leanne's gone. So is the baby. With Dorothy delirious as ever, Sean and Julian must pool all resources to find them both. Similar to the first instalment, the second too manifests feelings of claustrophobic dread that will make the stuck-at-home audience gasp for air. But there's a more pronounced sense of humour underlying the macabre this time around to release some of the tension. In a madcap scheme to smoke out Leanne, Sean starts a pizza delivery service, which Julian suggests should be called "Cheesus Crust." Also adding to the comedy this season is Boris McGiver, who harnesses all the hilarious befuddlement he can as the ill-looking Uncle George. Dorothy's news reports help build the show's inner mythology. In a goofy scene, she reads the news like she were singing a comforting lullaby to Jericho in hope he is watching.
Lauren Ambrose unleashes a volley of unhinged melodramatics, taking us on a deeply unsettling journey down the rabbit hole of Dorothy's delusion. It's a scenery-chewing exercise in mental disintegration that echoes the tragedy of Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole and the frenzy of Nicole Kidman in The Others. Dorothy goes from being a danger to herself to a danger to those around her — and it is baffling that her family still thinks they are helping her. Toby Kebbell and Rupert Grint share a lively odd couple dynamic, torn between being accomplices to her delusion and putting an end to it once and for all. Another season of Servant should erase all memories of Grint once being Ron Weasley. Dorothy's relationship with Leanne enters what can only be called “Petite Dame Guignol” territory, as she torments the nanny to answer what we are all asking: What Ever Happened to Baby Jericho? Nell Tiger Free's inscrutable Leanne exists somewhere in an ambiguous middle ground of the nanny spectrum, somewhere between Victoria Pedretti in The Haunting of Bly Manor and Rebecca De Mornay in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.
Creator Tony Basgallop and his writing team remain determined to stretch the mystery of Leanne. The 30-minute episodes however give it a compactness. Despite the frustrations that come with information withholding, the runtimes streamline the narrative thrust. Leaning into its more absurd sensibilities, Servant has found its footing in Season 2. It sets the foundation for what is to come. Everything seems to be slowly clicking into place for a back-in-form Shyamalan.
Season 2 of Servant will premiere on 15 January, followed by new episodes every Friday.
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