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 1.09 “Jericho”: The truth about The Incident is revealed.
I feel like I barely know where to start with this episode. “Jericho” is easily the best episode of Servant to date; it’s arguably one of my favourite episodes of any television show from the last year.
We finally know what happened to baby Jericho, Terry, and while we weren’t miles off with our guess of how Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) accidentally killed her newborn son, the truth is somehow so much more horrifying than a drunken fall down the stairs. It’s actually much simpler and sadder than that; an exhausted Dorothy, left to parent alone while Sean (Toby Kebbell) is off in LA shooting a Gordon Ramsey/Masterchef-style cooking competition (that IMHO looks generic as fuck), simply forgets her son in the back of the car during a 42C summer day.
She doesn’t even realize that he’s still out there: she pees watching videos on her phone; she breast pumps, she hangs pictures in his room and she falls asleep on the couch. It’s not until later on that night that she collects the body, and it’s three and a half days later – right before Sean returns – that she even realizes, after hearing a phantom version of herself and the baby on the monitor, that Jericho has been dead the whole time.
Oh my god Terry…it’s heartbreaking and just so, SO well done.
One of the reasons that “Jericho” works so perfectly is the way that the episode is structured. I’ve complained about the way the show ever-so-subtly shifts into flashbacks to such an extent that you can barely tell it’s happening, but here it’s incredibly effective as present-day Dorothy slowly seems to be gaining some kind of realization about what has happened. Her sick day – possibly a “pearl” related incident after last week’s episode…or just from the smell of fish on the first day of menstruation? – coincides perfectly with the extended flashbacks detailing the four days Dorothy cared for her dead infant while no one noticed or checked in on her.
I love how huge portions of “Jericho” are dialogue-free and how director M. Night Shyamalan uses close-ups of Lauren Ambrose (so wordlessly magnificent here)’s exhausted face. I was expecting that when the time came to reveal what had happened, it would be a histrionic affair, but the only outburst was from me, on my couch, as I realized in horror what had happened and began frantically yelling at my TV. Dorothy’s reaction, when she finally realizes her mistake – after the giant leg of ham (representing the baby) begins slowly decaying on the table – is to shake and cry soundlessly, but uncontrollably in front of the crib.
Oh it’s so horrible. But so fucking effective. And, again, just so well done.
Terry, how did you respond to the revelation about The Incident? Did it pay off eight episodes worth of expectations? Did you like the intermingling of the past and the present or would you have preferred all flashbacks? And what do you make of Sean and Leanne (Nell Tiger Free)’s “masterchef/sous-chef” relationship involving the omelette and the blowfish?
Joe, you asked me offline whether you were being hyperbolic with your praise, but the truth is I’ve been sitting here, staring at the white page for a few minutes, trying to figure out how to put into words all of the thoughts I was (and still am) feeling after this episode. Even though we’ve been hypothesizing for seven weeks about The Incident, seeing it play out in front of me was more of a gut punch than I expected. As you said, the simplicity of it is the most devastating. A fact that Sean comments on, saying it happens forty times a year.
“Could happen to anyone.”
M. Night directs this episode with such care and skill that he leaves, as you mentioned, the histrionics to the viewer. And fuck, Joe, I was screaming the moment she left the car, carrying her bags. And I screamed some more when something–the wind? Something more insidious?–closed the front door with finality. Sealing the deal.
The way the episode was framed was perfection. It kept the pacing strong–this was the most engaging episode for me that I didn’t even realize it was over until the credits ran–and kept me unsettled. It also synchronized Dorothy’s current mental state with the past to the point it sometimes wasn’t completely clear on my first watch which Dorothy (past or present) we were seeing.
It also further dug into Leanne’s very spiteful attitude. I absolutely believe Dorothy’s sickness was brought on by Leanne either eating the pearl or secretly adding in cayenne. And the shade she threw when Dorothy was trying on bathing suits ranked up there with some RuPaul’s Drag Race style reads: “Everyone knows you’ve just given birth. So they’ll be expecting you to carry a little baby weight.”
Leanne continues with her malicious streak by continually starting the car alarm, while Dorothy feverishly tears the house apart, looking for her keys. It’s a moment that brought Dorothy’s mental state back to the days following Jericho’s death. The way she walked up to the car, pressing the alarm button until she’s bumping the car with the key fob while people around her stare and point and film before it’s revealed that Leanne has had the keys the entire time…ruthless.
I had to watch the episode a second time because the first time I was so engrossed that I didn’t take a single note (I was also a scotch deep, so…), but on my second viewing I noticed two throwaway moments involving Sean. The first was when Natalie (Jerrika Hinton) presents him with the placenta (as an aside, sorry, Natalie but that placenta is not beautiful). When she cuts the umbilical cord from the placenta, Sean flinches. I just found it hilarious that the man who spent the previous 8 episodes de-gloving eels, disembowelling squids and making haggis would be squeamish about an umbilical cord.
The other, more interesting and pertinent throwaway, is when Sean places the leftover omelet in the freezer. What is going on with that? Does he think Leanne is poisoning Dorothy? Did he incorporate it in with his blowfish ceviche he served to Leanne? That ceviche scene was full of malice and menace, as M. Night chose to focus on Sean’s deeply craggy and dour face while he almost forced Leanne to keep eating.
Oof. So much going on this episode, Joe. What did you make of the ceviche scene and do you have any thoughts about the leftover omelet (placed next to the bag of placenta…as one does)? And what about the conversation between Dorothy and Julian (Rupert Grint) about the “meaning” (or lack thereof) behind Jericho? We also haven’t even touched on the ominous way the episode ended.
Yeah, there is a lot to consider in the omelette and ceviche scenes. As we have repeatedly discussed in the course of these recaps, the preparation and consumption of food is integral to this series. I, too, noticed how odd it is that Sean casually tosses the omelette down next to the placenta in the fridge. I read it like the preservation of two pieces of evidence, bagged and kept (figuratively) on ice – the placenta is tied to the beginning of this tragic tale and the omelette may well prove to be its undoing.
I’ll confess my mind immediately went to the idea that Sean is on to Leanne and he’s keeping the omelette so that can analyze it or wield it as evidence against Leanne later.
But I’m perturbed by the strange intimacy that’s growing between Sean and Leanne. We commented on it back in “Haggis” when Sean uses Leanne as his hostess for the dinner with Natalie and here he’s literally guiding her hand in the preparation of the omelette and, once again, using her taste buds to determine whether the ceviche tastes ok. There’s a strange element of guiding and educating; where you got menace, I wondered if it was Sean grooming or luring Leanne to his side.
Likely not, but there’s definitely a rift growing between Dorothy and Leanne. The end of the episode is a fantastic visual encapsulation of that. It’s the cherry on top of the bitchy way that Leanne plays into Dorothy’s body image concerns, which were already exacerbated by Isabelle, one of the younger anchors Dorothy complained about earlier in the season, who – naturally – looks great in a swimsuit and expertly executes a half-pike off the 10 meter diving board. The episode ends with Dorothy showing genuine love and affection for Jericho, sniffing his newborn scent and cuddling, until Leanne brusquely grabs the baby out of her hands. Leanne makes a fair point that Dorothy was just sick, but the way Dorothy sadly backs out of the room, Shayamalan’s camera pulling back to widen the gap between her and her son as Leanne coldly closes the door? Masterful without beating audiences over the head.
As for the name Jericho? I spent some time on that. Leave it to Dorothy to pick a name simply because she thinks it is “a great name”. Depending on how deep we want to go into the minefield, Jericho is a famed city caught in the conflict between Israel and Palestine – so it is a coveted piece of property that is fought over and contested. This certainly reads similar to the way that Dorothy and Leanne are battling for possession of the baby, and taps into the Biblical elements that the series has been circling around.
Any other thoughts on the name, Terry? Jumping back to the ceviche scene, how did you feel about Sean’s explanation to Leanne about why he stayed with Dorothy? And what are your predictions for the season finale?
Joe, you bring up a good point about Sean potentially grooming Leanne. Right before he asks Leanne if she has five minutes (again; this is the second time he’s said that this season), Dorothy makes the comment, “Used to ask me to taste your work.” She’s obviously feeling left out, particularly evident with the final shot of the episode, and Sean seems to be leaning into it. So maybe you’re right and it’s not a malicious gaze. Or maybe it’s both.
Continuing with this thought, the ceviche explanation…I feel like this scene is full of metaphors. He explains that you have to be careful when you prepare blowfish because you could get sick and die. The way this conversation segues into the question of why Sean stayed with Dorothy felt loaded. It’s obvious that their relationship isn’t good.
Both of them are passive aggressively mean when talking to each other. Barbs and pokes have been the status quo since the series started. I wonder if the reason he stuck with her is the conundrum of the blowfish: it’s a potentially poisonous situation that could go one of two ways. So he’s sticking with her because it could end badly if he didn’t. Typing that, I’m not completely sure the metaphor makes sense, but she spits it out and says she doesn’t like it. And Sean responds that he needs to know why she doesn’t like it. And it feels like a leading answer to the question of why he’s still with Dorothy.
One episode left, Joe. I still feel like someone is going to abscond with Jericho. Whether that’s Leanne who, as she says this episode, only wants “what’s best for the baby” or if it’s the mysterious Aunt who shows up and steals him, I’m not sure. But I have a feeling the season is going to end with a missing kid, at the very least. We’ll soon know, though, as we go back to Gayly Dreadful for the finale “Balloon”.
I, for one, cannot wait.
Servant airs Fridays on Apple TV. And keep an eye out for our next series, HBO’s The Outsider, which we’ll begin coverage of Monday, Jan 13.