Each week Joe (@bstolemyremote) and Terry (@gaylydreadful) discuss the most recent episode of Apple TV’s Servant, alternating between our respective sites — queerhorrormovies.com and gaylydreadful.com.
Episode 1.07 “Haggis”
Just when you thought that it was safe to return to the dining table, Terry, we’ve got yet another super tense meal. I joked on social media last week when our Servant recap of “Rain” went up that I am loving how meals and food are being used for dread and confrontation. Well, “Haggis” leans into that sentiment hard.
We’ve got another new character this week (funny how the first half of the season was basically a locked room mystery with three players and, thus far, the back half has been a rotating door of interlopers who threaten to bring the whole house of cards down). This week we welcome Natalie (Jerrika Hinton), Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose)’s kinesiologist, who apparently was an instrumental player in handling whatever went down. It seems she was a key player in lying to Dorothy and setting up the doll as a placeholder to keep things from falling apart.
The episode uses Natalie in a fascinating way. The kinesiologist is both an insider who knows the truth about what happened to the Turners, but she is also an outsider, in that she’s been kept in the dark about Jericho and Leanne (Nell Tiger Free). It’s a very smart development for the show: her appearance is keenly timed to both crack the mystery open a little wider, as well as ratchet up the tension. And, of course, it all happens over dinner as Natalie threatens to expose everything to Dorothy.
The set-up of this scene killed me. Sean (Toby Kebbell) employing Leanne as a hostess is a great inversion of their relationship and offers up a series of great reactions from Julian (Rupert Grint’s delivery of “We started trusting her when?!” is delightful). The plating of the haggis, replete with bagpipes on the soundtrack, is overly theatrical and that damn purple balloon in the center of the table – literally embodying the idea that these people are only seeing half of the picture – is genius. And when it pops? It’s a great comedy bit that simultaneously causes us to startle, anticipating the verbal confrontation with Natalie to come.
Oof, Terry. I was on the edge of my seat when it seemed like Natalie was about to lay the whole enterprise bare. She comes so close to telling Dorothy the truth about how Sean and Julian have been handling her, but Dorothy – typically so amicable and proper – stands up for herself with a hilarious “I am a lioness. I am She-Ra” monologue. Just like that, the truth gets shoved back down.
I’ve gotta say Terry – I’m almost at the point where I don’t care if Servant nails its landing. The way that the show slowly, confidently unfurls its mysteries – asking viewers to tag along patiently – feels refreshingly mature in a day and age when horror films insist on barreling ahead at 100 miles per hour.
I mention horror because “Haggis” feels like the most traditionally horrific entry in the series thus far. How did you feel about the use of feral dogs as threatening agents? Do you think Leanne set that dog on Natalie using the strand of hair she found in Jericho’s room? And do you have any new theories on what exactly Natalie helped to cover up? Julian’s confession in the cellar suggests something far more nefarious than our speculations about a simple car accident.
When you messaged me offline about the purple balloon, Joe, I didn’t know what to expect. So when it showed up at the dinner scene, obscuring their faces and forcing them to talk around it, I laughed so hard at the irony of it all. As you said, they’re only seeing half the picture with that damn purple balloon masking their faces. But it is also a hilarious way of slyly winking at Jericho, the elephant in the room that everyone is talking around without acknowledging. I also love how the camera is structured to always give just a piece of the table; a piece of our chess match between the four players. In a season of fantastic staging, this episode, directed by Alexis Ostrander (Light as a Feather), has some of the best framing so far.
Also, as an aside, “Haggis” dug into our characters’ mental states and the ways they try to smooth over (smother?) their problems instead of dealing with them. From Julian’s inability to sleep, eat or “get hard” to Dorothy’s kinestherapy to Natalie’s comments that Sean’s inability to taste could be tied to extreme stress, the episode lays bare the characters’ issues. Problems that can all be traced back to The Incident™. So when Leanne announced the purple balloon was filled with essence of Heather, I smirked because the Heather flower is typically used as a calming agent for loneliness and anxiety. It’s another way to care for the symptoms and not the cause. A bandaid, in other words.
Much like the doll that started this whole charade.
Moving on, though, I do think the feral dog was an inspired touch that directly tied into the episode’s news report on the dog problem in Philadelphia. I have to admit, Joe, that when I saw the mangy dog in the baby’s room, I gasped. But I also enjoyed how “Haggis” flipped horror conventions on its head and used the dog as a form of protection instead of one of infanticidal malice.
We chatted with Alex Wiggins on Twitter about last week’s episode and he mentioned that he thought that maybe Leanne’s family/cult had made a deal with The Devil. “Haggis” absolutely plays around with this horror convention. The feral dog feels like an homage to Damien’s protective rottweiler in The Omen and had me wondering…do we have the Antichrist in our midst? Or is the choice of a white dog–contrasted with The Omen’s black Hellhound–a signal that we have the rebirth of a Christ-like figure? It’d fit with the kind of immaculate (re)conception/(re)birth of Jericho.
All this to say that I do think Leanne used Natalie’s hair to summon the dog from the streets to protect the baby. It’s also why, when Leanne discovers that Julian murdered the dog, her face is full of anger…but also horror at her own culpability in sending an innocent dog to its death. Which, then, is also why she brought the dog back to life in a delightful twist that I’m dying (pun…slightly intended) to see play out next episode.
But let’s pop the balloon and talk about the thing no one wants to talk about. In an episode constantly on the edge of explaining everything, the most intense moment for me is when Natalie almost spills her guts to Leanne about what happened to Jericho. It’s telling that she says that Julian and Sean were “pissing themselves with fear” and that she had to “pull them together.” It’s so telling that I’m willing to lay my cards on the table: Dorothy killed Jericho. Maybe from postpartum depression. Maybe from some sort of accident. Either way, I think that Julian and Sean have been so afraid of Dorothy “waking up” because she somehow killed her baby. Which…oof, if true, is quite a heavy and oppressive weight to drape over the show.
What do you think, Joe? Do you have any new theories about The Incident or the feral dogs? Did the squid disembowelment gross you out (it did me)? What do you think about Leanne possibly being a Servant of God…or The Devil? Do you like the way the show has been slowly turning Sean from a skeptical and concerned outsider to a protective insider? And do you have any thoughts on the cracks that tore through the basement and seemed to terrify Leanne?
Gosh, you have given me A LOT to think about, Terry.
First: squid = calamari and I love ‘em, so the cleaning didn’t bother me for a moment!
Second, good pick up on the balloon. I was too busy being amused by the framing to give it a proper think through.
I’m intrigued by your reading that Leanne’s face is full of anger when she sees the dead dog. Looking back over my notes, I wrote “inscrutable” because I couldn’t figure out what she’s feeling. Based on how Nell Tiger Free plays Leanne, I often feel like I’m back at university, projecting meaning onto a blank face based on the circumstances of the editing and my own opinions. I imagine that for impatient viewers this is likely one of the more frustrating elements of the series: Leanne can be considered a blank figure, so how she’s feeling or what she’s thinking is often completely uncertain.
It would track, though, if we consider how responsible she feels for Jericho, that Leanne is the one who called forth the feral dog she saw on TV. I do love, however, that once again Servant refuses to confirm our speculation. We see Natalie’s hair on the ground and we see Leanne praying in front of the Bible and based off of what we’ve seen before, we can logically put two and two together…but is this a deflection or is it reality? Nothing on the show is ever certain.
All we know for certain is that Leanne has some kind of supernatural abilities. Whether she’s here for good or bad? Unknown (perhaps she has escaped from a Devil cult because she’s good and she believes that this immaculate child is important or worth saving? Speculation!)
Finally, you’re right that as we inch towards the end of S1 and (presumably) the big reveal about The Incident, my allegiance is shifting and moving with each episode. Servant has done a masterful job of shifting our sympathies between its core cast, but Natalie’s bombshell truly threatens to upend everything we thought we knew about the Turners. I’m inclined to agree with you that Dorothy was responsible and I’ll hypothesize one additional element: it was alcohol related. Consider how frequently we see Dorothy comment on her love of imbibing, or how frequently we see her with vino in hand. I bet she accidentally killed Jericho in some kind of drunken fall down the stairs in heels (remember how Sean keeps her upstairs in this specific episode?)
Ugh, Terry, it’s so grim! What do you think of my theory? I don’t have any blazing insight on the crack (I don’t believe it’s real; I think it’s metaphorical), but I wonder if you have any? Finally, given Natalie’s importance here, do you think she’ll return next episode…or will Servant pull the trigger and introduce George’s mysterious woman instead?
It’s funny, Joe. I, too, like calamari. But I guess it’s like sausage…I don’t want to know how it gets from that squishy thing to a perfectly breaded and fried delicatessen that I dip in sauce.
I’m not sure what to make of the crack. I mean, it’s probably a metaphorical hint that the facade the Turners (and, to some extent, Leanne) have built up around themselves is literally falling apart at the foundation. It probably foreshadows the fact that in an episode or two, we’ll know what really happened and it’ll break apart the lies and perfectly curated deception that Sean, Julian and Natalie have constructed. Speaking of Natalie, I’m not sure whether she’ll be in the next episode, but I think it’s fair to say we definitely haven’t seen the last of her…
As for The Incident, I think you cracked the case. Alcohol, particularly wine, has been a main fixture of Servant so it wouldn’t surprise me if it were somehow involved in Jericho’s death. Nice catch, by the way. Servant delights in putting things in front of us that, in hindsight, has deeper meaning. I didn’t even consider the way Sean stops Dorothy from going down the stairs. I took it at face value; Sean simply scrambling to find a reason to keep her upstairs. But I think you’re right. Another potential puzzle piece.
Have we solved the mystery? I guess we’ll see soon. We only have three episodes left and we’ll be back at Gayly Dreadful for next week’s “Boba.”
New episodes of Servant are available every Friday on AppleTV.