Each week Terry and Joe review the latest episode of Apple TV’s Servant S3, alternating between our respective sites.
Spoilers follow for Episode 3.02 “Hive.”
Missed a review?
- S1 coverage: 1 – 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10
- S2 coverage: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10
- S3 coverage: 1
Alright, so when I said at the end of last week’s episode that I was hoping for something a little more “buzzy”, I swear this isn’t what I meant!
This is a really rough episode to stomach, Terry, because it’s built on cringe. The premise is simple: Leanne (Nell Tiger Free)’s continued paranoia inadvertently sabotages Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose)’s attempt to join a high-society “Mommies and Tots” group.
We can quibble with whether or not Leanne intended to force everyone out of the house in one way, shape or form, but regardless of what we think of her motives, it’s uncomfortable to watch as the nanny’s grip on the situation unravels over the course of the afternoon. It’s just a standard society event, but, like always, Servant manages to turn an innocuous event into a palm-sweating exercise in dread.
It’s paranoia meets cringe comedy and it’s hard to watch.
Last week, we spent a substantial amount of time debating the extent to which Leanne is imagining things. While we’re on the same page that she’s right to be concerned, particularly given the continued weirdness of incidents such as the goo in the basement and Julian (Rupert Grint)’s near decapitation, “Hive” effectively highlights how destructive her actions can be.
I won’t deny that the Turners’ inconsiderate approach to planning this event – combined with their patronizing comments – is maddening, but from their protected, privileged perspective, Leanne is definitely acting erratically (at best) or even dangerously (at worst).
If the first episode found Sean (Toby Kebell), Dorothy and Julian placating Leanne, “Hive” fully leans into the idea as the Turners install a $6,000 alarm system to make her feel safe. Naturally they do this while neglecting to mention the half dozen mothers who are descending on the house for an afternoon of singing and animal balloons courtesy of the alarmingly-cheery Mr. Smiley. While Julian and shifty Veera (more on her in a moment) look on from a monitoring hub that would look right at home in the 1999 remake of House on Haunted Hill, Leanne works to fight her escalating panic. Dorothy and Sean, meanwhile, pretend that everything is alright with smiles plastered on their faces and delicious looking ethnic dishes.
Like “Donkey”, the first half of “Hive’ definitely makes it seem as though Leanne is overreacting. This is evident in the scenes when she surveys the backs of the mothers for signs of scarring, or when she briefly conflates the security guy with the Society Hill burglar, and when she confuses the Mommies for her former cult family.
Despite knowing that Leanne is searching for signs that likely aren’t there, though, it’s impossible to disregard her fear and torment when she’s forced to play nice with the bourgeois mommies. If we thought the Turners were bad, the vacuous Mommies and their inane, but probing small talk, is the real horror. These last two episodes have truly been a showcase for Nell Tiger Free’s acting talent, especially how she solicits empathy, even when her character is maybe/possibly acting irrational.
Naturally things go to shit when the no good, very bad party is disbanded by a hive of wasps that falls down the chimney and swarms the Mommies and Tots group. It’s a moment of high comedy that quickly and efficiently breaks up the cringe and dread; seeing the harried society ladies and their strollers spill out of the Brownstone and into the street is a joy to behold.
Despite all of this, there is still no proof that Leanne’s concerns are, in fact, justified. If audiences were hoping for clarity on this subject in episode two, they’re in for a rude awakening. Servant S3 is clearly playing the long con because we’re nearly a quarter of the way through the season and there is no obvious threat to this family…except Leanne’s paranoia.
Which – maybe? – brings us back to Veera (Sunita Mani). We were uncertain what to make of the new character last week, but I’ll confess that her relationship with Julian is irksome, Terry. When Julian confides to his new girlfriend that he suspects Leanne is actually Jericho’s mother and that “There’s a price to pay for her [Leanne’s] loyalty”, it immediately feels like a bridge too far, too fast.
Julian has always been impulsive and quick to plot (one could argue that a lot of the first season’s conflict surrounding Dorothy can be attributed to his shenanigans) and I have no doubt that Julian has no idea how destructive this line of inquiry is. But it’s so inappropriate for him to confide such a monumental secret to someone who was only recently brought into the inner circle.
But Terry, I’ll turn it over to you: Was Julian out of line? Is Leanne’s belief that she and the Turners are “enough” for each other doomed to drive a wedge between her and Dorothy? Did you recoil when one mommy began questioning Dorothy about the incident during the summer with the ambulance? And, finally, would you eat goat-filled chocolate bon bons?
This is mostly a joke, but, truthfully, in some ways this episode was harder to watch than any pus-filled appendage, Joe. You nailed it by suggesting that “Hive” was a mix of paranoid cringe. The moment the women (and man) gather around the patchwork playmat, Mr. Smiley walking around them singing a telling bee song while the kids wail and climb and look around stupidly…well, I was in hell. My favorite moment, though, was after a woman is discovered seemingly scrounging around in Leanne’s room. Julian pulls Leanne to the side and barks, “This is rich Society Hill ladies. Do they look like they’re from some kind of cult?”
Uh, yes, Julian. They certainly do.
This Ishana Shyamalan written and directed episode fully embraces the madness that comes with rich, white and entitled mothers. “Hive” is full of these little contrasting bits of environmental storytelling as it dances around the subject. But it also uses these little moments to suggest that the Society Hill ladies (and man) are another form of a cult.
Consider a few moments that happen in the episode. The fact Dorothy had to get on an eight week waiting list and everything has to be just like so as the women (and man) descend on the Turner household mixed with Leanne’s brief hallucinatory sight transposing the women for cult members sets the tone. The ritualistic way that Leanne presents the courses to the group, followed by the searing image of a dead and skinned goat’s head placed almost ceremonially on the island suggests sacrifice. Hell, the goat’s feet are tied together, its head decapitated! Sean explains to Leanne how “Caribbean chefs use blood to thicken the sauce.” Dorothy’s pronouncements that she’s trying to find “a worthy community” for Jericho and, more tellingly, “these are our kind of people. They’re mothers, after all.”
That last part is ironic, contrasting “our kind of people” with the Turners insistence that Leanne is a part of their family. When you consider that, up until six months ago, Leanne’s “people” were cult members, “Hive” suggests that Dorothy’s attempt to find friends for Jericho might simply be the Turners trading one cult for another. The episode does try to tone down the framework by having Sean tell Leanne that “Motherhood can get lonely” and that sometimes people need more than just family. Deep environmental analysis aside, Dorothy is trying to find some kind of community and friends for not just Jericho, but for herself.
But “Hive” also suggests that these people can also be dangerous, such as the one woman’s insistence to tear Dorothy down by bringing up her brother’s substance abuse and The Event Dorothy Doesn’t Remember. You asked whether I recoiled at this moment and that’s exactly what I did. And as much as “Donkey” ended with Dorothy’s assessment that Leanne is so focused on pattern-finding that she sees patterns where they don’t exist, this moment brought into question how many of these women are associated with the cult. Aunt Josephine last season, and even Leanne before she fully joined the Turners, wanted Dorothy to remember the night Jericho died. Season Two almost ended with the truth coming to light. This one woman undoes everything “Donkey” set up: a happy family (excluding Leanne), trying to blissfully ignore the horrific events.
It’s telling that Servant likes to end its episodes on a haunting note and Ishana ends “Hive” with Dorothy looking fearfully to the side, as if everything is about to crumble around her. It’s a reminder that while the Turners might be through with the past, the past ain’t through with them. But the way the shot focuses on Dorothy’s face as she sits by herself also suggests that Dorothy truly is lonely and feels so completely alone in the home.
I am probably a bit more forgiving about Julian’s incredibly fast reliance on Veera because it has been three months since season two. He’s probably been in rehab that entire time, getting to know Veera in a mentally intimate way that he does feel okay around her enough to bring her into the fold so quickly. I would hazard a guess that through the therapeutic use of group sessions and the reliance on each other in a situation like rehab would expedite his trust in her. But that’s also an issue, considering Leanne’s warnings about how easily the cult can infiltrate. At this point, Veera is either a crafty red herring or she is going to betray Julian and the Turners in a horrendous way.
I will side with you, though, that Julian’s regurgitated “Don’t trust Leanne” schtick came back out of nowhere. This is a man who, after all, spent a good portion of the previous two seasons trying to suss out Leanne’s grift with the family. Julian has also always gone off, half-cocked. Season two began with him staging a ransom for their missing kid.
But as the season went on, he seemed to warm to Leanne to the point that he had sex with her. While “Donkey” began to walk that back for the two of them, it does feel like a bit of a leap to be back in the “Jericho is Leanne’s baby” waters. My only thought is that something might have changed with his near death experience. At this point, I think it’s pretty clear that Leanne is magical, the baby is a resurrected Jericho and to revisit this plotline feels a bit…redundant? I’m hopeful that something will nip this plot thread in the bud soon.
But let’s return to the titular hive, Mr. Smiley’s bee singalong, the bees’ incredibly quick deaths and Sean’s confusion over why he wasn’t stung, Joe. What (or who) do you think caused the explosion of bees? Is it a continued plague motif? Is it more natural in cause with the electricians possibly knocking it over? Is it the cult? Or is it Leanne? Do you have thoughts on the matter? As much as Leanne sets the “rules” for what cult members would look like, we also had Roscoe last season acting in cahoots with them…is it a bridge too far to suggest that one (or more) of the women were blackmailed into helping? Along that line…scars or no, can we talk about how creepy Mr. Smiley was in his scene with Leanne??
Considering that we’re coming right off an episode where a man clearly burgled the Turners household, and specifically targeted Leanne’s room, the sight of Mr Smiley deliberately ignoring Leanne’s pleas to stay away while holding kitchen shears is legitimately unnerving. Either the children’s entertainer was so confident in his ability to connect with people that he was unmoved by her outburst…or the man had ulterior motives. The quick response when he volunteers to take off his shirt is perplexing; that’s not the reaction that a normal person would have after being threatened with a sharp object.
But this is also what Servant does to us! The show has this innate capacity to turn us into the equivalent of Yellowjackets’ Citizen Detectives: we pour over every frame of the show, deconstruct every acting and directorial choice, looking for clues and premonitions. Is Smiley just a regular guy…or is he one of Leanne’s cult members? We play along because Servant never lets us completely off the hook.
The same can be said for the bees. There’s every indication that Leanne is at the very least connected to them, and possibly even summoned them. Consider that we first see one after Julian scolds her for confronting the mommy with the pacifier: it lands on her hand and she speaks to it as though it is Aunt Josephine. “I’m going to wait right here for them” she tells the bee, which suggests that they’re on the same page. And then the whole hive falls.
So was this Leanne…or was it just the technicians? I tend to favour the supernatural in Servant because that’s more interesting and, as you said, Terry, we have proof from previous seasons that weird shit goes down around Leanne and baby Jericho. It’s unclear if Leanne summons the hive because she’s upset about Mr. Smiley or if someone in the Mommies and Tots group was something more nefarious that outrageous class and privilege, but yeah…would I be surprised if one of these women turn up again in the future? No.
The reality is that we’re primed now, after two episodes, for some legitimate cult action. Servant and, more specifically, Leanne has cued us to expect them, so even if they weren’t present in this episode, they’re on the horizon…and if I know us, our eyes are gonna be fixated on anyone who matches Leanne’s (admittedly general) description.
But I’m curious, Terry, you mentioned that the one nosey Mommy undid the perfect fantasy in a matter of moments with her intrusive questioning, so do you think this will be the prompt that finally drives Dorothy to remember what happened to Jericho? Building on your plague prompt, is the family truly “cursed”? And answer the question about the damn chocolate covered goat!
I think this season is going to be an exploration of Dorothy’s past and culpability. It’s been hanging over the show since the beginning and with 18 episodes left in the entire show, I think they’re going to start unpacking that for her, as well as the audience. It’s not going to be pretty. I keep thinking back to that moment in Season 2 when she talks about hanging herself with a Hermès belt. It’s grim. The way the camera lingers on Dorothy’s face, it’s as if she knows there’s something she’s not remembering. It’s also a very sad note to end on, because this is the first time we’ve seen her genuinely happy, if slightly manic. And I’m afraid we’re going to see more of Season 2 Dorothy soon.
It’s hard to look at the Turner house and not think they’re cursed. They’ve had swarms of insects, power outages, earthquakes, black goo bubbling up in the basement and Season 3 opened with one of the outside architectural cornices, I believe it’s called, crumbling and almost crushing Julian. Is it because Leanne is where she’s not supposed to? Is it some ritual the cult performed? Is it something the cult left inside that we haven’t seen? Or is it more metaphoric, as if the Turners have defied fate and so the world is crumbling around them?
Will Servant ultimately end with the family coming to terms with Jericho’s death and living without him? These are the big questions looming over the series as it moves into its back half.
But so we don’t end on that cheery note, okay, Joe. I’ll bite…when I first heard Sean mention the goat bonbons, I immediately rushed to Google with a “is this a thing??” question. And I couldn’t find it anywhere. I could find chocolate bonbons with goat cheese inside, which sounds intriguing. But…honestly, I’ve only ever had lamb…does goat pair well with chocolate? I guess if Sean is serving it, it must.
I would almost certainly give one a try. I’m adventurous. And Sean seems like an exceptional chef, even though the series cinematography tends to focus on the grotesque side of food prep. So yes, Joe. I would absolutely pop one in my mouth.
Now what culinary delight will we discover next time, when we’re back at Gayly Dreadful for Episode 3, “Hair”?
Servant airs Fridays on Apple TV