Each week Terry and Joe review the latest episode of Apple TV’s Servant S4, alternating between our respective sites.
Spoilers follow for Episode 4.05 “Neighbors”
Episode 4.05 “Neighbors”: Sean and Dorothy host the new neighbors on Spruce with plans to finally get Leanne out of the house.
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Well Terry, I hope you’re down for an uncomfortable party, because Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) and Sean (Toby Kebbell) sure are! The self-described “worst detectives” elevate the stakes significantly when they receive a mysterious letter from the Church of Lesser Saints confirming that one of their three new neighbours has arrived in order to collect Leanne; they just need an “opportunity.”
The opportunity in question is a welcome party wherein Sean and Dorothy attempt to a) keep tabs on baby Jericho at all times b) use Bev (Denny Dillon) and Bobbie (Barbara Kingsley) to distract Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) and c) question the new residents of Spruce Street to determine who bought into the Philly lifestyle and who is “faking it.”
No wonder they manage to fail so spectacularly!
“Neighbors” is another cringe episode of Servant, Terry (in all of the right ways). While this isn’t much more substantial narratively-speaking than the last few episodes, the character developments feel like better pay-off. Director Carlo Mirabella-Davis opens the episode with a slow, extreme close-up tracking shot of Dorothy and Sean’s intertwined fingers where they lay in bed; it’s a pretty clear visual metaphor for their re-unification (to the point that Dorothy doesn’t really need to follow it up with “I’m so glad we’re on the same team again,” but…whatever).
With the married couple firmly in sync about doing whatever it takes to get Leanne out of the house, the party plans are put in order. Julian (Rupert Grint), however, does not agree: he’s quick to remind them of the last time they tried to remove the nanny from the house (shout-out to the lingering look & touch that Dorothy gives the now-painted bannister before trying the new wheelchair assist down the stairs).
In fact, Julian is so adamant that he even demands to know why Sean isn’t on drugs. In his defense, Sean is now saying things like Leanne “has a supernatural link between her mind and the rest of the world,” which would sound bananas to any rational person if they hadn’t witnessed the cacophony of unusual shit that has been going on at the Brownstone this last year.
It’s a bit wild that Julian tries to deny the fact that there is something going on with Leanne (or maybe he’s scared of his girlfriend, whom he jokes is being treated like a “Stephen King creation”). Either way, Julian’s gotta Julian: he eventually acquiesces to watch the baby while Sean and Dorothy play amateur detectives, awkwardly quizzing the three new couples on the block with a series of increasingly ridiculous and intrusive questions. My favourites (it’s a tie) were: “Thoughts on the NXIVM doc?” and “What’s your favourite flavour of Kool-Aid?”
Naturally none of this goes entirely to plan. I can’t say I was surprised when Leanne’s reaction nearly brings the house down, though I did yelp a little when the giant cracks appeared in the basement and the ceiling and Sean is nearly crushed under the chandelier.
Do I wish writer Kara Lee Corthron had continued to push the envelope and actually had the CLS abduct Leanne to force the narrative more? Yes…particularly since the appearance of a giant sinkhole in the middle of the street makes for a buzzy talking point, but doesn’t actually change much about how the Turners or Leanne feel about the other.
So, yes, while I appreciate that “Neighbors” dramatically ups the ante by placing everyone’s cards on the table, I did still hope for a touch more. I’m appreciative of the fact that 1) Leanne now implicitly knows Dorothy and Sean are in cahoots and aim to give her up to the cult, 2) Dorothy understands how much Leanne’s power has grown between the earthquake and the growing number of unhoused people living in the park and 3) Julian, presumably, has had his eyes firmly opened to how dangerous Leanne can be.
Not unlike “Boo” last week, there’s still an aura of table-setting here as the tension cranks up another notch and the conflict between the parties escalates. “Neighbors” held my attention more, but this level of damage isn’t sustainable; at some point, the war of wills have to break. And next time the collateral damage likely won’t just be an inanimate road.
Over to you, Terry: were you fond of Mirabella-Davis’ tendency to film from extreme low-angles? What did you think of the three pairs of neighbours being quizzed? And were you able to identify which of them attempted to abduct the nanny?
Seeing Carlo Mirabella-Davis return to Servant after giving us another episode with interesting character beats back in season 3 was a nice surprise, Joe. The director of Swallow gives us another stylish episode with fanciful camera choices and staging. He also understands visual language as a way of subtly foreshadowing events to come.
In particular, I loved the use of cake here. Ever the “extra” person, Sean whips up a cake in the shape of their home, complete with a street and bushes. It’s highly detailed, natch, but what made me laugh in retrospect by the end of the episode was the image of one of the guests taking a huge chunk of street cake. Even before the ending reveal, it’s a fun visual metaphor for the way in which their home is literally crumbling around them. By the time Leanne is standing with wide-eyed joy, staring down into the giant, gaping hole just outside the Turners’ home, I found myself laughing in retrospect at the street cake eater.
In fact, I found the camerawork incredibly effective this episode and made me realize how much I’ve missed it in the last few episodes where things felt a bit more static. You mentioned the way the episode begins, with the camera trained so closely on Sean and Dorothy’s clasped hands. It’s such a disorienting opening; I was trying to figure out what exactly I was looking at and I loved that the shot ended with clarity for both the viewer and also between the two leads who are now in sync with each other.
The little moments here worked incredibly well, particularly when Dorothy tells Sean, “you’re breathing on me” and when he turns away, she quickly adds, “you don’t have to stop.” A little bit later, while Dorothy is using the stair lift, Sean slowly walks behind her and says, “race ya,” forcing a laugh out of Dorothy. While I love the bombast and tension Servant unleashes, these quieter moments make me realize how much I’m going to miss this show when it’s over.
But the camera doesn’t stop there. We get a cool shot with the camera perched just under the front door, taking in Dorothy’s descent from her room before a letter gets pushed under the door. It gives the claustrophobic feel of the episode style and an off-kilter, Hitchcockian vibe to the paranoia that’s unfolding within the Brownstone.
Later, when Julian chases after Sean, lambasting him for not following the “bro code” and not standing up for Julian’s girlfriend, the camera is perched above them, looking down at them and turning to follow their movements. As Sean tries to convince Julian of how dangerous Leanne is, the camera slowly spins, adding to the tension.
On the surface, not a whole lot actually happened this episode…but underneath, there’s a fairly intriguing chess game being played. Dorothy begins “Neighbors” proclaiming that there’s a new sheriff in town and she and Sean are almost giddy when planning and carrying out their ploy. Leanne, meanwhile, knows something is wrong and floats through the house trying to get Sean to tell her what’s happening. “You really shouldn’t try to keep things from me, Sean,” she tells him.
A bit later, Leanne ups the ante with a passive aggressive threat. As Sean prepares the cake, Leanne takes a knife, commenting on how sharp it is before sticking the blade into her palm. “Isn’t it funny how something can be so dangerous when it’s in the wrong hands?” she asks, blood dribbling down her hand. “Why are you having this party, Sean?”
Leanne is so used to having the upper hand in the Turner house that this new normal is obviously upsetting her more than she’d like to admit. What I love, though, is the way she uses the knife to threaten violence, but then pulls back, telling Sean, “I love this family and nothing is going to change that. Nothing.”
Continuing the chess match, though, Leanne has a plan of her own that involves her disciples in the park. We get a glimpse of Leanne’s journal where she draws pictures that eventually come true (and generally inflict harm upon the Turners). The image of her ripping pages out of the book and handing them to her followers is actually chilling. Especially when you consider her comment about things being dangerous in the wrong hands.
I wasn’t expecting Leanne to completely turn the party against Sean and Dorothy, though, by having her followers break into the homes of the guests and look for Church of Lesser Saints evidence! We immediately know that at least one group of the neighbors are members of the church when they discover a creepy cross stitch picture depicting two people bound in red, bleeding from the eyes, with the words, “Wash my sins with blood / Anoint me with your spirit.” It’s a reminder that even though Leanne seems to be embracing a dark path, the people she’s escaping from are equally pretty terrifying in their beliefs.
Which does leave the question of which of the guests are members of the CLS. It seems obvious that the Costco shoppers might be part of the church. They have such a vacant stare and smiles that don’t reach their mouths. And the amount of the non-perishable goods sitting in their doorway when Sean meets them is alarming. The older couple, meanwhile, are too interested in Sean’s career and his sex appeal. The man, in particular, seems to have a scar snaking up from just under his collar. The only ones who don’t really give me much to work with are the lesbian couple, one of whom knows art while the other seems completely uninterested.
As for whoever tried to abduct Leanne…I rewatched that sequence a number of times and I don’t think they were any of the guests. Firstly, they came in from outside while everyone else was being ushered into the kitchen. And while the woman with the taser looked a little like the art hater, her hair was pulled back in a ponytail. The man, on the other hand, had different hair from the two male guests. So “Neighbors” left us where the episode began: not knowing anything about the people who’ve moved in.
You keyed in on the cringe factor of this episode, Joe, and I want to dig into that a bit more because Servant is oftentimes at its best when it forces everyone into uncomfortable situations. In a show that has given us awkward dinner parties before…where does this stack, to you? Which of these awkward neighbors gave you the most cringe vibes? The older man in the open relationship, maybe? Or the Costco couple who make their own, potentially shitty, wine? Do you have any thoughts on which of them are members of the CLS? Finally, Leanne says many times this episode that they are a family…at some point are Dorothy and Sean just going to have to give in and accept the status quo?
Oof, so many awkward dinners and parties on this show.
Season one outdid itself with two strong contenders: 1.06 “Rain” when Uncle George (Boris McIver) arrived for a suuuuper uncomfortable plain-AF dinner. Then – the very next episode – is 1.07 “Haggis” when Dorothy’s friend & Julian’s ex-girlfriend Natalie (Jerrika Hinton) tries to prompt Dorothy to remember what she did to Jericho is a strong contender. There’s also Dorothy’s disastrous bee-infested mommy and me gathering in 3.02 “Hive.” For my money, though, I still think 3.06 “Fish” when Leanne absolutely destroys Sean’s new minister Nancy (Carmen M. Herlihy) is the cringiest the show has ever been.
The element that makes “Neighbors” so uncomfortable to me is Dorothy’s forced frivolity while trying to stall for time so that Sean can turn off the fuse and throw the room into darkness. I would be mortified if I was at a random house-warming and they started to play this “finish the phrase” game; it made me want to hide in my apartment and avoid social situations for a good long time.
As for which neighbour pair came off worst? I feel like we’re meant to be creeped out by the open couple, but their reactions almost came off comical to me. The husband’s admission that he’s a photography professor and that he got a “vibe” from Leanne’s “French Wave” quality was hilarious. What a buffoon!
The young Costco couple definitely came off the most nefarious, but as someone with plenty of friends who stock like doomsday preppers (for the bulk deals, Terry!), I think they’re also red herrings. The homemade wine is shady, though.
No, my money is on the reserved lesbians. After all, we both know there’s a precedent in Hollywood texts when it comes to queer villains…
Finally, as for Leanne’s persistent claims that they’re family: I honestly don’t know if/when the Turners will accept it. When I was trudging back through plot descriptions on Wikipedia to recall which episodes had memorable dinners/parties, there’s mention of Leanne saying something to this effect all the way to early season one episodes. This isn’t a new refrain for her (it’s also wild to reflect on the lengths the Turners went to get her back when she briefly left to help another “family” in early S02. This show has traversed A LOT of ground over four seasons!)
It seems like the divide between Dorothy and Leanne has grown increasingly wide over the last two seasons, to the point where I can barely fathom the circumstances that would broach it. Despite crossing the mid-way point of this final season, I can’t say I have any idea of where the show is heading, though there’s a heavy ominous note to Leanne’s notebook scene with her followers in the park. Servant had led us down many false-starts, so this could simply be a different red herring, but if there was one take-away I plan to keep an eye on moving forward in these last few episodes, it’s that. After all, the drawings have not only predicted the future, but aligned with Leanne’s powers of resurrection, which ties back to Jericho and Dorothy’s repressed memories.
I think that’s the potential game changer, if it’s still Servant’s end game.
What do you think, Terry: where will the show go next? Is there a situation where you could imagine Dorothy and Leanne making up? And will Julian react differently to Leanne in the wake of this latest cataclysm?
Julian seems very invested in his situation-ship with Leanne to the point that I wonder if there will literally be lines drawn in the crumbling floor of the Brownstone between them. Julian has had a weird trajectory across the entire show, from someone who didn’t believe in the afterlife to someone who saw Jericho trapped in the afterlife. I’m not sure where he’s going to ultimately end up, but he seems to have taken the path of least resistance whenever any speed bump comes his way.
The endless turnstile of women Julian has dated to the way he embraced lying to his sister to spare her (and, to be honest, himself) the agony of her discovering what happened to Jericho to his relationship with Leanne…he’s an ostrich, plunging his head further and further into the ground. I could see him trying to leverage the cataclysm outside as further proof that they need to turn a blind eye to Leanne and accept their new normal.
Your discussion/question about family actually made me sit back and think about this season as a whole. Leanne seems so desperate to have a family and we’ve seen why countless times throughout the show. Her family life hasn’t exactly been the best, between her biological parents and the whole cult family thing. She clings to this idea of a nuclear family and when the family doesn’t live up to her expectations, she does things to, shall we say, influence everyone to get on the same page.
I don’t know how Dorothy could ever forgive Leanne for what happened in Season 3, but the repeated refrain of “we are a family” is the first time Servant isn’t dealing with the subtleties it usually operates in. It’s a bit on the nose, honestly, that it seems to be leading us in some familial direction by the season’s end. I just don’t know how it could get there authentically and honestly, given everything that’s happened.
Here is where I could make a dig that Servant needs a couple queer people to avert an apocalypse.
I think the show is going to start tying everything together now, though. The CLS knows that the Turners are on their side. They’re becoming more forward in their blatant attacks. I think we’re going to see the start of a war really soon…
Maybe we’ll get there when we go back to Gayly Dreadful next week for Episode 6, “Zoo.”
Servant airs Fridays on Apple TV