Each week Terry and Joe review the latest episode of Apple TV’s Servant S2, alternating between our respective sites.
Spoilers follow for Episode 2.06 “Espresso”
Episode 2.06 “Espresso”: An unexpected visitor pushes everyone to their limits as Sean re-examines his past and Dorothy attempts to negotiate a delicate exchange.
I’ll confess, Terry, that I have put off trying to write this for several days because I’m legitimately flummoxed by “Espresso.” It’s not a lack of things to chat about, but rather how to go about this discussion?
The back half of Servant’s second season is a direct continuation of the last episode, which saw Uncle George (Boris McIver) barging into the Turner house, screaming for Leanne (Nell Tiger Free). “Espresso” picks up in the immediate aftermath, as the Turners alternate trying to coax George, in very disparate ways, to reveal the location of baby Jericho, while he lambasts them for foolishly bringing Leanne back to the house.
It’s an episode that’s filled with brief confrontations, Terry, and I immediately took note of how many of them occur on stairs. Besides paying attention to what hair and costumes say about characters, I’m a sucker for keeping an eye on framing. Distance between characters, as well as height, can be extremely informative, particularly in an episode like this where the characters are trying to assert their authority and gain the upper hand on someone else.
We see this first when Julian (Rupert Grint) blocks George from moving up the stairs – it’s one of the very first things to happen in the episode as the Turners try to maintain their position of power. Moments later Julian is joined by Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) on the landing as the siblings form a pact to not only physically prevent George’s mobility towards Leanne, but also tower over him.
When George rushes down into the basement, Dorothy remains at the top of the stairs – again maintaining her position of strength. At this point George is frantic, fretting about how long they’ve kept Leanne in the house (a week apparently) and quoting scripture at them.
Soon, however, he rushes past them to the window on the first floor landing and director Isabella Eklöf cuts to outside; it’s a high angle shot looking down, as though the audience is now an omnipotent God who is passing judgment on these people as George literally prays. Not coincidentally, this is also when the rain begins and the storm outside gains strength (“Espresso” is cleverly punctuated by lightning flashes and thunder booms, as if Nature itself is responding to the conflict brewing inside the house).
I’ll admit that at first glance “Espresso” seems like a bit of a mundane episode: it’s five characters having a number of arguments and discussions that seemingly never go anywhere. Upon reflection, however, not only is all of this conflict slowly building up anticipation for some kind of Biblical event (of which there are two: the roaches in the basement and the shooting at Leanne’s former residence), but the episode helpfully confirms the different ways that each character negotiates conflict.
Dorothy repeatedly rushes in, demanding George stop quoting scripture and hurling accusations at him about the importance of recovering Jericho. Julian is more serpentine, pausing to refill his drink between commiserating with his sister and plotting with Sean (Toby Kebbell) behind her back. Leanne is more manipulative, projecting calm with Sean while spitting venom at Dorothy.
And then there’s mediator Sean, who attempts to keep everyone at bay by agreeing with them, while never accomplishing anything. He is also on the receiving end of the episode’s flashbacks, which begins with his acquisition of the expensive Espresso machine and build to his acceptance of the judging spot on the cooking reality TV show that coincided with Jericho’s death back in 1.09.
I’m of two minds about the use of flashbacks here. On one hand, they seem less insightful than usual; they’re almost a perfunctory narrative device to break the tension in the present with a brief blip into the past. But they also reinforce that Sean has a habit of making plans behind Dorothy’s back, plans that he believes are in his/the family’s best interests.
Terry, are we meant to believe that Sean arbitrarily decided to pursue the reality TV gig without Dorothy’s approval? (We never see a conversation and Dorothy looks cluelessly happy in the flashbacks) Did you appreciate George’s hysterical proclamations reinforcing many of our theories, particularly about the foundation of the house? And was the shooting at the end of the episode a big enough “cliffhanger pay-off” for you?
Joe, this was one of those classic Servant moments where it killed me to not press play on the next episode immediately. Instead, I decided to watch it over again because my first attempt at watching “Espresso” amounted to me trying to scribble down all of the dialogue to parse it for meanings.
But even if I wrote every line of dialogue down, we’d be missing half of it because episode 6 is about as much left unsaid as it is throwing scripture and dialogue-driven conflict. It’s about the moments like you mentioned above, where the flashbacks are thick with unspoken meaning. The way it quickly and efficiently contrasts the joy that Sean gets opening the espresso machine box: he sits on the kitchen floor like a child on Christmas, digging into the big present as his childlike glee eclipses his feelings towards Jericho or the new mama.
His “I’ll bring you a macchiato” as a way of shooing her away is telling, yes. But when that flashback is contrasted by another one later of him trying to make an espresso while Dorothy loudly shouts in the background tells us more than a line of dialogue could: Sean wants away from his responsibilities. He’d much rather play with his new kitchen toys and so the opportunity to escape his responsibilities and become a celebrity head judge on a reality TV show is too much to pass up.
I, too, was immediately disappointed he wasn’t given as much of a meaty flashback through this slim episode, but the terseness of these scenes tells us all we need to know. It also keeps the emphasis on the quickly escalating tension back in the present. The brief flashbacks allow the barely 25 minute episode to really race towards its cliffhanger climax in a way that felt fresh and energetic, particularly after the relatively mixed preceding episode.
Another instance where Servant is about the things not said is the intriguing conversation between Sean and George where George prods him about who they are. George mentions that Leanne has always had a rebellious streak and wouldn’t participate in their “communal eatings” (I had to listen to the line multiple times because the plural on eatings is…well, an odd but seemingly purposeful choice). George tells him he should know who they are, to which Sean responds, “I have no fucking idea who you are” but George insists, telling him, “you do. You just pretend not to.”
It’s almost as if Servant is talking directly to the viewer, willing us to come to the realization on our own. Because even Sean won’t say it.
Consider the way George talks about his “community.” He says they are among us…but they try not to take up space. We see them on street corners and under overpasses. “We are the ones who have been given the second chance at life. And we use it to enact God’s divine plan. To help others.” To which Sean responds, “wait so you’re saying you’re a fucking–”
But before he can finish his thought, George continues to talk about how they can only help those they’re told to help. But that Leanne disobeys: “She has a bad habit of being headstrong. Of exercising free will.” And so while Sean can’t say it and Servant won’t say it (yet), I will:
According to George, they’re angels, Joe…
If you search for the Christian definition of angels, you’ll come across answers that fit completely in line with what George espouses. According to Wikipedia, the Christian angel is an intermediary between God and humanity, but they’re often described as “protectors” and have been given divine missions and activities. This explains Leanne’s placement in homes in need of some sort of salvation (whether that’s a religious one or a secular one is immaterial).
A perfect example of this mission is Leanne’s role in the Marino family: she’s where she’s supposed to be, providing services for a family in desperate need. And George is very anxious that she return to that family…that she return to her duty.
It’s obvious in the various conversations the Turners have with George that Leanne was not supposed to be with the Turners. That she, for whatever reason, broke with her divine mission and went to them. And that everything that’s happened since is, in George’s mind, a result of her “headstrongness” or her “free will.” With just a few conversations, Servant careens headfirst into a religious discussion of free will versus determinism.
And I’m not sure how I feel about that, yet.
Of course it’s also quite possible that none of this is true because Roscoe (Phillip James Brannon)’s hypnotism back in episode two presented a rather terrifying vision of this cult. And by the end of “Espresso,” Leanne seems positively terrified of Uncle George in almost the same way that George is afraid of her.
You brought up the foundation and it’s true, this episode reinforced a lot of our ideas about the importance of this house and its rocky foundation. One of the first things George says is, “Festering. Something’s rotten.” Whether that’s because there’s something evil in the house or whether it’s because Leanne is not where she’s supposed to be is up for interpretation at this point.
Wow. I feel like we’ve just skimmed the surface of this episode, Joe. I’m curious what your readings were on George and Sean’s seemingly important conversation. Were you, like me, ready to fill in Sean’s unspoken line that they’re angels? Or did you have a different reading of this episode?
What did you think about Dorothy’s admission that she definitely seemed to understand what she was doing to Leanne in “2:00”? Have you noticed how we’ve hit at least three Biblical plagues so far?
Finally, what are your thoughts on Leanne this episode, between her concession that Jericho might not be able to return to her fearful plea to be taken far from Uncle George to her look of horror when the news report comes in?
I 100% yelled “ANGELS?!” at my screen, so yes, I am on board with your hypothesis, Terry. It seems ridiculous that we didn’t consider the possibility before, but I was honestly so far down the “evil cult” garden path that something more divine never even occurred to me.
You’re right, though, that Roscoe’s statements under hypnosis in 2.02 complicate matters. If the “He” is God and this group are only here to help perform miracles, then why was Roscoe so scared? Nothing on Servant is ever that simple.
We have seen Leanne perform incredible feats, so there’s little doubt that she is something otherworldly. An angel makes sense and would go a long way to explaining her lack of understanding about the human world in S1.
What I’m less convinced of is George and the group’s role. Because Servant is intimately tied to the Turners’ point of view, the audience is more inclined to side with them. There’s also very little reason for us to trust George…or at least believe that he’s telling the whole truth.
My new guess? This group, and especially Aunt May, are abusing and holding Leanne hostage for their own nefarious purposes. And that’s why I think Leanne is so desperate for Sean to sneak her away where she can’t be found by them: she needs to get away from their influence because they are evil.
I’ll confess that the recent uptick in plagues has my interest piqued, especially since Dorothy literally addresses it when she asks George if that will be their punishment if they don’t return Leanne. I definitely chuckled because it’s like: “umm Dorothy…check out your basement and the weather outside. You’re literally living through plagues right now!”
The fact that the roaches begin swarming out of the hole near episode’s end was the most fascinating plague-related development to me: if we’re meant to believe that the foundation is festering (as George says), it *must* be important that the roaches emerge from where Leanne was buried. Is it a polluted site because Leanne was traumatized there? If that’s the case, why not in the attic where she was accosted by Dorothy multiple other times? I can’t put my finger on it, but it feels significant.
As for Dorothy, I don’t entirely agree that she knows what she did in “2:00”. It’s like she’s halfway there: she knows that she injured Leanne, but even when a horrified George asks if Leanne was in the ground, Dorothy looks confused – almost dazed. It’s as though she only partially remembers it. If there’s one part of Servant that isn’t quite gelling for me right now, it’s Dorothy’s behaviour in that episode. George demands that Dorothy must “surrender” and “own the role that she’s played” and for once I agree: she – and Servant – needs to come clean on this issue once and for all.
But let’s get into the real thick of it: what the hell was George doing with that “salve” for Sean in the basement? Is there a connection between it and the news item that precedes the shooting about “a peanut butter that’s giving you cancer”? And where the hell do we go from here?
We mentioned last week how “Cake” felt like a transitional episode, Joe, and “Espresso” feels like it’s setting plot points up as we head into the back half and climax of the season. The early episodes have set up such juicy world-building ideas that I hope we get payoff in episodes 7-10.
As of this point, Apple has been coy on the last three episodes which suggests we’re getting something grand in episode 7. I’m expecting a cliffhanger or a revelation that will lead us into the finale. So on that end, aside from the fact that we’ll presumably learn more about the Marino family (given the way “Espresso” ends), I have no clue where we’re going from here. I just hope that we get more hints about the monstrous figure with a claw for a hand.
As for the salve and its possible connection to the news item about cancerous peanut butter…I wouldn’t be surprised at this point. A part of me wonders if Uncle George has done something to instigate the Marino shooting as a way of trying to control Leanne. He ends the episode shouting “Look what you did!” as Leanne stares at the screen with horror. It feels abusive and manipulative and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a connection there.
The food news report, though…it wasn’t until you mentioned it but this isn’t the first time this season has introduced food and violence. Earlier in the season, Dorothy did a story about a restaurant and their chicken sandwiches, which is obviously a funny nod to our real life obsession with the chicken sandwich wars, but it’s a coincidence worth noting.
We have a plague of cockroaches. We have “leprosy” and boils with Sean’s hand. We have the death of the firstborn son as an inciting incident for the series. We have news reports of rising violence and poisonous food (literal and metaphorical). We have angels. We have a young woman who is able to do miraculous things.
Joe, I’m starting to believe that Servant is an End of Days-style drama about the apocalypse. And that “Uncle” George and “Aunt” May might in fact be angels…or fallen angels. Maybe this is a Good Omens-esqe story…except that an evil, devilish family has control over some benevolent force (Leanne) and have been using her for evil.
Wild conjectures, sure. And you never know what Servant will do as it continually spirals out is mysteries. Hopefully we’ll discover more mysteries or answers next week when we return to Gayly Dreadful for episode 7, “Marino.”
Servant airs weekly on Apple TV