Each week Terry and Joe review the latest episode of Apple TV’s Servant S2, alternating between our respective sites.
Spoilers follow for Episode 2.02 “Spaceman”
For S2 coverage, click here: Episode 1
Episode 2.02 “Spaceman”: With Natalie’s help Sean and Julian uncover disturbing details about the cult. Dorothy sacrifices her career reputation for her family.
Alright Terry, “Spaceman” picks up four days after Jericho has disappeared and the whole Turner household is grim. Julian (Rupert Grint) is sleeping in Leanne (Nell Tiger Free)’s room, Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) has sequestered herself to the living room where she watches endless footage of Jericho and Sean (Toby Kebell) is still desperately trying to get his wife to eat. This week’s “favourite” food: caramelized french toast. My stomach growled with envy just thinking about it.
Most significantly, however, is the sudden, completely unexpected return of Roscoe (Phillip James Brennon) whose vehicle has been parked in front of the Brownstone the entire time with no sign of the PI in sight.
Then he just miraculously returns one morning, with no sense of the missing time and a voracious appetite. And, in discovering the secret of his disappearance, Servant unravels a brand new mystery and sends S2 into completely unexpected territory.
I teased you last week, Terry, that Dorothy’s videotaped footage was going to play an important role this season. In reviewing our S1 reviews, I repeatedly highlighted Dorothy’s segments as mysteries to be solved, and while I don’t know that that ever truly paid off aside from the missing/roaming dogs in “Haggis”, it’s clear that this season a lot of the information we need to understand Leanne, “Aunt May” (Alison Elliott) and the Church of Lesser Saints has already been captured in the research that Dorothy did leading up to the Wisconsin fire back in 2011.
Sure this is a bit of a retcon because we never knew that Dorothy worked so intensively on the case back in the day, but that’s a minor quibble. We’re gaining some fascinating insight into why Leanne punished herself with self-flagellation back in “Cricket” and, more significantly, it fleshes out (heh heh) the show’s supernatural influence.
Because let’s be clear, the scene where Natalie (Jerrika Hinton) uses her kinesiology hypnosis skills to try and figure where Roscoe was for the past four days is terrifying. It’s a testament to returning director Julia Ducournau that she manages to generate tension and hair-raising thrills from little more than a simple Q&A in an unfinished basement. Between Roscoe’s tear-filled eyes, Natalie’s concern, Sean’s anger and – most significantly – Julian’s increasingly upset reactions, this was some real good shit.
And now all of the sudden we have an ominous new threat that the cult worships: “He.”
The one that “they’re on their knees for”.
The one they bleed for.
The one with a hook for a hand.
I’m spellbound, frankly. But I wanna hear your reactions to this amazing scene. Also: did you appreciate gaining insight into Julian’s inability to “believe” in anything except travelling to space? And what the hell is going on with the water issues in the Brownstone, up to and including those cracks in the basement and that creepy sludge?
Joe, when I realized that Servant was going to go on for not only a second season but, in M. Night’s estimation, potentially four seasons, I was worried. Obviously with a story planned out that long, they’d have to open up the universe, add mysteries and potentially change the implications and/or directions of the show.
But if this is how creator and episode co-writer (along with Nina Braddock who’s also known for The Sinner) Tony Basgallop plans to broaden the world…well, I’m here for it. Because “spellbound” is the perfect way to describe this perfectly paced 25 minutes of television.
It all begins with a fun little bait-and-switch delivery that we’re meant to assume is from “the ransomers”. Instead it’s a little spaceman suit that Julian (ironically the same person sending the “ransom letters”) ordered. I loved this scene partly because of Julian’s emotional and thematic payoff later in the episode, but mostly because of the way it’s shot by series Director of Photography Mike Gioulakis.
We’ve probably discussed him before in our recaps because his style is perfect and he’s known for shooting a wealth of beautiful films such as It Follows and Us. The way Gioulakis frames Julian and Dorothy together on the couch, top down through the circular staircase gives the impression of Dorothy in a kind of in utero pose: curled up in the fetal position against Julian’s lap, his muted dark blue shirt a stark contrast to the bright, blood-red staircase post on the opposite end. It’s a gorgeously composed shot and a good reminder that while the show does deploy a handful of DoPs, his cinematography defines the feeling of Servant…and that’s a very good thing.
Moving to the hypnosis scene, I was again surprised at what Servant could pull off with just a few lines of dialogue; a Q&A as you suggested. The way the scene unfolded was absolutely terrifying in such a minimalistic way. Combined with the footage Dorothy was digging through earlier of a naked man flagellating himself under the instruction of Aunt May, Roscoe’s explanation of the scene (and the hook!) did enough to make my mind fill in the picture. It both provided context and exposition, but also creeped me the fuck out.
Also: legit assumed he was dead last season.
I do want to dig into Julian’s reaction to the hypnosis, though. And I’m going to want your thoughts. In my notes, without really thinking about it, I wrote that Julian freaked out and stormed off after Natalie brought up near-death experiences. It was at the mention of those experiences that he finally fled the room and it made me wonder if Julian has had a near death experience in his childhood. Natalie, ever the fantastic partner, tells Julian she’s trying but that he needs to believe in something while he’s talking about his dreams of going deep, deep, deep into space to “bang on the fucking wall.”
His realization is that there might not be a wall at all…and it’s here I’m struggling to parse what he means by that, Joe. The immediate image I had in my mind was that he thought, as a kid, that the universe had to be finite and that pounding on that wall meant visiting heaven and seeing the “other side,” as it were. But that his realization that there might not be a wall means that the universe is infinite and that there is no other side. It makes me wonder if he had a near death experience that has caused him to not believe in, well, as Natalie points out, anything.
I thought about this as I was perusing my notes because the image of him, clad in blue, his sister sprawled out next to him and the red staircase post I wrote about above has to mean something. You don’t use those color choices in that particular tableaux to not mean anything. And I’m curious if it represents how close he is to fully believing the supernatural elements at play. On one side, you have the muted blue of an atheist. On the other, the bright, blood red post of the supernatural…and connecting them, in a fetal position, is his sister. And after this scene, he dresses the doll in the titular spaceman outfit, almost as if his unwillingness to believe might be faltering.
But that’s where I need your thoughts, Joe. Because I could also be reaching to find meaning in a scene that’s merely a cool color choice and, again, I’m not completely sure what his space/knocking analogy fully meant. Do you have thoughts on that?
I also didn’t address the cracking house even though it was a fantastic image that has continued from season one…but that’s also because I have absolutely no idea what it means! My only contribution is that it seems tied to Leanne’s anger at their refusal to accept The Truth and I’m wondering if the house will ultimately fall apart…but I don’t know. Do you have any ideas? Speaking of Leanne…we need to talk about her (Apple-sponsored) phone call and that great final shot! Also, what were your thoughts on Dorothy, her TV appearance and her subdued baby talk?
This is fascinating because reading your entry totally enlightened me. When I watched the episode, I took Julian’s words at face value: he’s an agnostic (like me) who doesn’t believe in religion or anything otherworldly. This made sense because of the way that Julian has always reacted to anything “unexplainable” on the series: he laughs it off; he rejects it; he storms off and/or refuses to engage.
I hadn’t ever considered that Julian had experienced something otherworldly – like a brush with death – that could have prompted this kind of resistance, but it would fit! Hell, Natalie even mentioned that Roscoe’s reaction is akin to a near-death experience, and Julian clearly mirrored Roscoe during the hypnosis scene.
Regardless of what informed Julian’s response in the basement, it’s the main reason why the scene works as well as it does. This is Julian, the man who believes in none of this, freaking the fuck out…about words. Clearly something about what Roscoe said (or experienced) connected to Julian and seeing a devout non-believer suddenly crack is scary.
This reminds me of something you wrote back in S01E06 when the basement crack first appeared: like everything on the show, it is both a literal and metaphorical rupture. In the physical world of the show, it’s icky and gross and portends something nasty. When placed in context with Julian’s reaction and his interest in space (a phenomenon defined by science and logic), the rupture symbolizes the slow cracking open of his closed world. The supernatural is real and it cannot be contained.
This, to me, is why Julian wraps the doll in the spaceman outfit at episode’s end: if the doll signifies all of Servant’s unknowable mysteries (Jericho, Leanne’s powers and the cult), then this is Julian trying to envelop – or contain – those mysteries in science, and logic, and rational thinking.
But that sludge is coming, Julian.
As for the backwards tracking shot: I love the idea of Leanne as a spectre who continues to loom large over the house. In “Doll”, she was everywhere and nowhere as the Turners tried to process her disappearance. Now here she is as a disembodied voice, making vague threats as the camera – her proxy – sweeps around the house. It’s a simultaneously dramatic and simple flourish and a delightful way to close out an unnerving episode.
Less unnerving, but still deeply uncomfortable: watching Dorothy baby talk on live TV. It’s so awkward because, of course, we understand what she’s doing (she told Sean as she flew out of the house), but to her co-anchor, she looks utterly ridiculous. I cringed so hard, Terry.
Thankfully that awkwardness was partially alleviated by a healthy chuckle when she acknowledged to Sean later that night that she would not be asked to anchor the desk any time soon. No shit, Dorothy!
Terry, I’m intrigued to know if I’ve convinced you about the meaning of the crack/spaceman suit? Considering that Roscoe seemingly never left, but was unquestionably “somewhere else”, could we be dealing with different planes or realities within the house (a la Poltergeist, a film that dealt explicitly with the abduction of a child?)? And where do you predict we’ll go next with episode 3?
Oooh. I like the idea of different planes or realties, Joe. That opens up fascinating story threads and implications. I also can see exactly what you mean about the crack and spaceman suit; with Julian so focused on holding onto his agnostic reality, it makes sense that he would try to contain the trauma and the supernatural elements within the spaceman suit. I like the idea of that metaphor.
I do still think it’s tied to Leanne’s powers because the cracks widen as she reprimands Sean. “Why is she looking for me?” she asks as the pipes creak and the crack widens in the basement. “Why haven’t you told her what she did?” It’s almost as if her anger is destroying their home, a place that has been both their respite and their torture chamber.
But your writing above also got me thinking about taking the metaphor of Julian in space, hoping to knock on the wall at the end of the “finite” universe into what is happening in the house. Unlike his little space allegory about hoping to find a wall to knock on, the basement where the cracks are zigzagging is a real place.
And one you can knock on…except this time, I would be afraid of what knocks back. It might have a hook for a hand and a zealous cult at its beck and call.
As for what happens next…I’m at a loss. I have no idea what twists and turns Tony Basgallop has in store for us. And Joe? That’s such a wonderful feeling.
We’ll be back at Gayly Dreadful for episode 3 “Pizza.” I’m sure it won’t be ominous at all…
Servant airs Fridays on Apple TV