Each week Terry and Joe review the latest episode of Apple TV’s Servant S3, alternating between our respective sites.
Spoilers follow for Episode 3.08 “Donut”
Episode 3.08 “Donut”: Isabelle threatens to uncover Dorothy’s past.
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RIP Isabelle (Molly Griggs) – you were a goner as soon as Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) caught wind that you were investigating Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose). While it was hardly a surprise when the young blonde reporter died on air during an armed shoot-out, the slight smile Leanne reserved for a concerned looking Dorothy when she looked back at the nanny she’s grown terrified of was an absolutely perfect moment.
As predicted, Terry, “Donut” is a tense affair. Everyone is walking on eggshells to avoid Dorothy’s wrath and the woman of the house has taken to carting Jericho around in a baby Bjorn full-time. She’s also turning down stories from Channel 7 because she “doesn’t have child care” in addition to refusing to acknowledge Leanne and making Sean (Toby Kebbell) sleep on the couch. And we very quickly learn that this has been going on for three weeks!
We all knew that Dorothy wasn’t going to let anyone off the hook, but, yeah, Dorothy is definitely holding onto that anger.
As everyone except Leanne either avoids or tries to make amends to Dorothy, Isabelle is doing a shit job of investigating what’s going on in the Turner household. It was clear during “Tiger” that Isabelle wasn’t simply taking an interest in Leanne: she was digging up dirt. That continues when she spots Leanne crying in the park and, after making fairly obvious attempts to befriend the nanny, she arrives at the Turner household armed with donuts and prepared to pounce. This might have all been fine if Isabelle had done a better job of hiding her career ambition during the coffee date; it does legitimately seem as though Leanne is interested in having a friend closer to her own age, but the moment that Isabelle begins opening up about Dorothy stealing her story, the ruse is basically up.
Or perhaps I’m not giving Leanne enough credit because she clearly saw enough of Isabelle paying off the EMTs to inquire about it of her devotees at the park, who have begun collecting information for her like she’s Varo on Game of Thrones. I think Leanne was willing to give Isabelle the benefit of a doubt, but as soon as the ambitious young reporter drops the guise that she was interested in anything beyond the story, Leanne effectively orchestrates her death on live TV.
Now maybe I’m a jaded critic but I started the countdown clock on Isabelle’s death as soon as she ran off in the street. It was pretty obviously a case of when, not if.
Pulling back, however, I’m intrigued by what Isabelle uncovered. Apparently there are death records for Jericho, so to the outside world, that baby is dead and Dorothy is carting around someone else’s baby. I wonder, Terry, does this throw a wrinkle into our discussion about the Jericho doll and Leanne’s proximity?
But perhaps I’ll throw it over to you to discuss the reappearance of Kourtney with a K (Katie Lee Hill) and Mr Pearce (Todd Waring), who serves up a healthy dose of shitty parenting when he tells Dorothy she hasn’t been “strong enough” in dealing with Leanne.
Oh, and I’m sure you have plenty of thoughts about Julian (Rupert Grint)’s infantilization (the milk!), Dorothy’s plan to institutionalize Leanne (!!) and her specifically-worded questioning of Sean “What does she have on you? Or over you?”
Last week, Joe, you ended our recap with a fear that Leanne and Sean would become intimate and there is a moment in “Donut”, set to the dulcet tones of Vivian Dale/Saleka Shyamalan, where that fear felt palpable. Preceding this, Dorothy asked the question you posed above which not-so-subtly posits that he has been, in fact, “fucking the nanny” (to borrow a phrase from Dorothy).
Ironically, Leanne does kind of have something on all of them…but it’s not something sexual; it’s the truth none of them want to face. But directly after this scene,“Donut” switches to the attic, where Leanne sits in the corner, listening to music. Sean sticks his head in to ask if she wants to go to the Gourmet Gauntlet set tomorrow, and that’s when the dread-filled words are spoken:
“Do you want to stay?”
And while Sean sits near the doorway, very physically removed from Leanne (kudos to director Dylan Holmes Williams and cinematographer Gabriel Lobos for the way this scene is staged), Leanne confidently strides over to him to sit down. And he doesn’t move. She’s providing the proverbial shoulder to cry on while his life is disintegrating around him. Dorothy is struggling with repressed memories stemming from trauma while feeling gaslit and believing that everyone in the household is against her. Sean is back to working triple shifts shooting Gourmet Gauntlet and sleeping on the couch. And Leanne has already proven adept at manipulating (?) people (more on that in a minute) and is obviously nurturing a crush on Sean (can’t blame here, tbh).
So when Sean says, “I just want to hold her”, I cringed because it’s the perfect and classic setup to spiral into the very thing you feared would happen, Joe.
But let’s go back to the infantilization of Julian. The scene (and the episode as a whole) is very horny and dripping with desire. At first, the way Leanne commands Julian feels very kink-forward: “get me a glass” followed by “pour me some milk” and ending with “to the top.” But the music blares with ominous intent and Julian seems unable to stop pouring the milk, until it spills, not to be too graphic, like a lake of semen on the floor.
The tension is hilariously cut by Dorothy entering at that very moment and, without saying a word, her body language basically suggests the house has gone mad and she doesn’t have the patience to deal with…whatever is happening in the kitchen. When Leanne heads back upstairs, Julian says he’s going to go and she responds with, “if that’s what you really want.”
Is she controlling him at this moment? Is his libido on fire? A combination of both?
The way Leanne has been leaning into her powers in the middle part of the season feels quite different from the powers she utilized in season one. Looking back at the times she did flex her magic, it was always punitive. As if she wanted the Turners to be the good, wholesome family she thought they were. So when one of them did something bad, she course-corrected them by taking away Sean’s ability to taste, for example.
We’ve explored before how Leanne has grown through the seasons, from an almost toddler to the college-bound teenager she appears now and her use of her powers has changed, as well. Now they feel more cruel. I don’t think the Leanne we first met could kill a person on live TV like season three Leanne. To quote Rocky Horror Picture Show, I think Leanne has tasted blood and she wants more (more, more, more).
Complicating matters further as we head into the final two episodes of the season is the reappearance of Frank and my personal favorite…Kourtney with a K! When I heard Dorothy say her name while on the phone I legit cackled and realized how much I missed her vocal fry. I was surprised Frank had stayed with her, honestly. He doesn’t seem like a long-term relationship guy. But his appearance marks a shift in tone because, with his apparent wealth, he seems like someone who has made people disappear before.
Which brings me to your question about Jericho. I don’t think what Isabelle found invalidates our thought process from last week. We know Jericho died. With the ambulance involved, there’d have to be a death certificate. But I think the question comes down to three possibilities:
- Jericho is Leanne’s/the cult’s baby
- Jericho has been reborn
- Jericho is still dead and Leanne’s proximity makes the doll human (or an illusion of one)
Based on the evidence, I’m still siding with the third option. At the very least, Julian saw Jericho when he briefly died last season. In last week’s episode, when Leanne was outside the house she either willfully, or by lack of proximity, spirited him away. It’s much too fast for someone to have swapped Jericho for the doll…and where would they have hid him? And when she comes back into the house, Jericho appears back in the crib where they left the doll.
All of this to say that Leanne is either forcing Jericho’s spirit into the doll and animating it or she is able to make the doll appear to be human to everyone interacting with it.
But you don’t seem so sure, Joe, so I’m curious where you stand as of right now with the mystery of Jericho? What did you make of the increasingly bigger caravan, the almost ritualistic balloon ceremony and the way Leanne has been using them? And we have to chat about the wine cellar…
No, I am in agreement with you because I think it’s the option that the show is most firmly pointing us towards. We discussed offline that Servant has entered a new phase this season – likely owing to the fact that because it’s into the back half of the series, the time for introducing new mysteries has passed in favour of starting to explain them.
Whether we’re correct in this assumption remains to be seen, but Servant definitely seems less interested in “how” Leanne is doing this and more about “why”. As a result, the answer to the mystery of how Jericho is a baby – and not a doll – now seems to be “just go with it”. I get the impression Servant would rather us accept it and focus on the other, more tantalizing stories it’s telling.
And that’s Leanne’s burgeoning authority within the Turner house, and how she’s learning to play on (and play with?) these men. I’m glad – and worried – to see that you see the raising of the stakes in her relationship with Sean; I’ve always seen the attraction, but it feels like we’re now seeing movement and that can only mean bad things for the tension between Leanne and Dorothy. Because if she’s controlling them…and amassing, yes, a cabal of followers primed and ready for celebration (balloons and all!), then the only person standing in her way now…is Dorothy.
What will happen with the people in the park is definitely a lingering mystery. They’re clearly unafraid to murder for her; now we know they’re spying for her. Every indication suggests they will do whatever she asks them to do. If Leanne is moving towards the dark side, or at least embracing her teenage impulsiveness by acting out and demanding what’s hers, this eighteen year old now has a group of people willing to do anything and everything to make that happen. Having this kind of power at such a young age, when you maybe don’t even know what you’re capable of? We’re building up to a powder keg scenario, Terry.
But there is the quickly decaying nature of the house to contend with, as you point out. Despite the facile appearance of a repaired basement (rock solid work!), Sean immediately discovers a new infestation of maggots among the wine bottles. Whether we’re still contending with plagues, or if these are physical manifestations of Leanne’s will, or merely byproducts of the bad ju-ju seeping through the house, this foundation (both literal and metaphorical) is crumbling around the Turners. Again, this could be very bad news.
With two episodes left, I foresee disaster. Now last week I predicted the return of the cult, but thus far, there’s no new signs. Am I wrong, Terry, to think that that’s not the danger anymore; but rather that the threat is (to quote our love of slashers) “coming from inside the house”? Do you think we’re overdue for a violent act, possibly at Leanne’s “will” or via this crumbling Brownstone? And what else do you predict in the penultimate episode of the season?
Those are all excellent questions and the truth is, in typically Servant fashion…I don’t even know! The penultimate episode is named “Commitment” which has a very ominous sound, particularly when you consider the “commit” part in relation to Dorothy’s plans for Leanne, but also the word as a whole in relation to Sean and Dorothy. I wonder if this is a moment that will test their rather fractious relationship even further. From the very beginning, the Turners’ relationship has been on thin ice and there have been subtle suggestions that maybe they used the idea of a child to keep what little remained afloat.
That obviously failed spectacularly, by the way.
I don’t think we’re going to see the cult at all in these next two episodes, unless they show up at the very end. Ironically, for all of season three’s forays into the world beyond the Turner household, it’s inside the house that things are simmering. I started this season marveling at the changed opening credits which suggested an external threat, and to a degree it’s true.
For all of Dorothy’s platitudes, Leanne remains an outsider; the titular servant. And the previous seasons’ opening credits would always frame her in darkness. Here, she’s still somewhat framed in that same darkness, but she’s more grounded and visible. She’s still a presence that reminds Sean (and nags at Dorothy’s memory) of their perceived failings as parents and I think that is going to come to a head in the next two episodes.
Not a whole lot to go on, except that a confrontation is definitely in the future for Leanne and Dorothy. The question will be how much will Servant tip its hand?
Hopefully we’ll find out more when we head back to Gayly Dreadful for “Commitment.”
Servant airs Fridays on Apple TV