Each week Terry and Joe review the latest episode of Apple TV’s Servant S3, alternating between our respective sites.
Spoilers follow for Episode 3.06 “Fish”
Episode 3.06 “Fish”: Sean’s dinner party goes south when Leanne is rude to a guest. Dorothy uncovers frightening details from the block party.
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- S2 coverage: Episode 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 9 / 10
- S3 coverage: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5
Well Terry, you said you wanted another eventful dinner sequence and lo and behold “Fish” delivered just that.
I have to admit that this episode was not at all what I expected. We spent a great deal of time last week discussing Leanne (Nell Tiger Free)’s attack and what it all meant and while “Fish” does ultimately reveal what happened with the two cultists in the park, the flashbacks seem less revelatory than the events happening in the present as Leanne discovers her agency and Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) slowly comes out of her “Sleeping Beauty routine” (as Rupert Grint’s Julian describes it pointedly to Toby Kebbell’s Sean at one point).
The focus of the episode is on Nancy (Carmen Herlihy), the Liberty Unitarian minister that Sean has been secretly going to, and her eventful dinner visit. Naturally she’s coming at the worst time: Sean is dodging Dorothy’s repeated insistence that he accept the Gourmet Gauntlet gig that ‘Taylor – Producer Lady’ keeps calling about, while Leanne silently processes her trauma (her need for a winter jacket on a sunny Spring day clearly indicates she’s in shock).
When Dorothy happens upon the blood-stained overalls that Leanne wore to the street fair and checks the security footage, we finally get the (too-brief) found footage horror film you’ve been wanting, Terry. In fast forward, via high-angle, ceiling-mounted cameras we see Leanne once again chased through the house by the man and woman and the shift in focus and sped-up version is haunting in a completely new way.
I really appreciated that it doesn’t take multiple episodes for the truth to come out, and while Dorothy fails to confide in Sean (which might have mitigated *some* of the discomfort that follows at the dinner), it’s a relief to see that Dorothy immediately inquires about Leanne’s safety and begins locking all of the doors and windows. We’ve talked on and off about Ambrose’s prickly performance and how fine a tight-rope she’s walking. This is another low-key stunner for the talented actress: she’s sunny and entitled at the beginning, protective and concerned after screening the surveillance tape, bitchy and quippy at dinner about Nancy’s credentials (that burn!) and then stunned and tearful as she “wakes up” watching the finale of Gourmet Gauntlet at episode’s end.
Of course that’s nothing compared to the show that Tiger Free is putting on. We spent a fair amount of time in S2 and the early parts of S3 exploring Leanne’s arc as that of a child to a teenager. As a result of recent events, Leanne is definitely heading into more mature territory: she appears to take delight in confronting Nancy and, later, standing up to Sean. A lot of it is Tiger Free’s performance, as well as the framing of the episode, which begins as a series of fairly brief vignettes before settling in for an awkward dinner for the ages composed of extreme close-ups of characters’ faces and medium shots capturing reactions.
The confrontation between Nancy and Leanne is pretty epic and it’s all the more powerful because of the lack of background lighting on Nancy. As Leanne begins to tear away her niceties and her religious defenses, Nancy stands up, the camera focusing almost exclusively on her tear-stained face with a nearly blacked out background. The editing makes it seem as though they are far closer to each other than they actually are (it’s easy to forget that they’re on opposite ends of the table), which makes everything that much more intense.
I would also wager that the framing and lighting kind of resembles a confession – the very kind that Nancy claims isn’t something her Church supports because she “doesn’t believe in guilt.” It’s an interesting statement to make considering what we eventually learn about her abuse of her mother (thanks Reddit!), but also how it reflects back on Dorothy’s similar evolution over the course of the episode. It’s easy for Dorothy to be aloof and bright until she realizes Leanne was assaulted and she’s blacked out most of the fall following Jericho’s death. Spring may have sprung, but all of this rebirth has come at a cost.
But Terry I’ll turn it over to you: what are your thoughts on the heavy religious elements of the episodes, from the “prayer-like” perspective when Leanne and Dorothy are gardening to Sean’s comment about pride before the fall…then he literally falls? Did the slow reveal about what happened with the cultists and the homeless teens work for you? And how did you feel about Julian in this episode: from the lack of Veera all the way through to teaching Leanne to smoke marajuana?
Oh boy, Joe. After this episode, there are four episodes left in the season and ten episodes left in the final season and “Fish” suggests we’re moving closer to the end game. As you mention, this episode is drenched in religious elements, including pitting the family against each other. Most importantly, it pits the believer Nancy against the quickly unbelieving Leanne.
“Fish” does everything in its power to make us initially believe that Nancy might be one of the cult members. The way it frames her face, full of focus mixed with moments of intense lifelessness when she looks at Leanne, for instance. Or the impeccable climax you discussed above, with Nancy’s face framed in darkness. Even the way Nancy reframes lines that the cultists who attacked Leanne said: their “you must reunite” versus her “return to him.” While two episodes ago, I casually dropped a thought that Jericho might actually be the antichrist, I’m starting to think that’s not the case anymore.
I think Leanne is.
It was actually in her flashbacks to the block party attack that got me thinking about it, Joe. I appreciated the way Amy Louise Johnson’s script drip-fed us information and tied it to moments of duress and PTSD for Leanne. It felt innately tied to the way she processed her trauma throughout “Fish.” The flashbacks end with the brutal murders of the two cultists, as the youths slit their throats. Afterwards, the one played by Joshua de Jesus falls to his knees in front of Leanne, as if in deference to her.
On the surface, these teens seem just like Leanne. They’ve broken from the cult and have made a sojourn to Philly. But it’s telling when she says, “I’m not like you” and they respond that they know. It’s this separation that, though they have been through similar situations and have escaped the cult, there’s still something different about Leanne. Of course, it could just be that she has powers and they don’t…but why?
Granted, I could be misplacing my anti-christness and it is, in fact, Jericho. But the show is called Servant, afterall, and as you brought up, these three seasons have taken Leanne from a child to a willful teen to “college”, as Julian teaches her how to smoke marijuana and she becomes more self-assured in her identity. It’s as if we’re following someone coming into their own and Jericho is merely the MacGuffin. Over the course of working through her trauma and PTSD of the block party attack, Leanne has suddenly come to a kind of revelation: “I’m not scared anymore. I’m just not ready yet.” And, most tellingly, when Sean confronts her about Leanne bringing Jericho back through Him, she responds, “God didn’t bring back Jericho.”
“Then who did?”
You could take her non-response as an implicit statement that she brought him back on her own. That it was an innate power that brought Jericho back. But the statement feels a bit more ominous than that. If not God…then Satan?
This seems to be supported by the way this newly self-assured Leanne lashes out this episode. The venomous way she attacks a person of faith, for example. When Leanne answers the door for Nancy, she leaves it open a crack and leaves her there in the wind. As Nancy enters, the door slams behind her. The wind? Naw, that was all Leanne, showing her displeasure.
Then, at dinner, Dorothy offers Nancy a coat because she looks like she’s freezing. But it isn’t the physical cold that’s bothering Nancy, it’s the figurative one someone gets standing in front of something terrifying. Because while Leanne says she can see “the rot” inside Nancy, I think Nancy at least unconsciously understands that she’s sitting around the table with someone (something?) potentially nefarious.
Finally, the way Leanne tears into Nancy’s past discretions…these aren’t things a “good” person would do. They’re mean and spiteful. They’re meant to hurt. And finally, at the end of the episode, the way Leanne slinks over to Sean and whispers, “Take the job, Sean. It’ll be fine” feels more like a deal with the devil than divine providence.
Even Sean’s “pride before the fall” comment seems like doublespeak; the Devil has been biblically described and portrayed throughout media as both “prideful” and a “fallen angel.” Time and time again we’ve discussed how the events happening in the Turner household feel apocalyptic and that the house seems to be a microcosm representing a kind of macro apocalypse. Put together and it certainly feels like, to me, we are witnessing the growth of the antichrist, who is, in Leanne’s own words, not scared anymore but also “not ready yet.”
Without a doubt this episode really worked for me, Joe. The only negative part for me was actually Julian (and to a lesser degree Veera). Not that Rupert Grint isn’t great at lashing out with amusing statements or giving it his all, but he feels rather one note this season. Julian shows up with pithy remarks (“is God Lady here?”), slurps some spaghetti (“priming”) and reemphasizes his atheistic nihilism.
He’s also been making up so many excuses for why Veera isn’t here. Last episode, she had something to do. And this episode he outwardly doesn’t even care. “I’m not a mind-reader”, he snips as to why she’s not here. He’s always been somewhat of a side character, but he hasn’t been given the best material to work with in season three. And Veera has been non-existent after being pointedly introduced as a confidant for Julian’s schemes.
Pull me back, though, Joe. What do you make of the youths in the park and their deference to Leanne? Am I once again going out on a limb with my assessment of Leanne or do you also see something dark inside? I’m curious, also, whether you think Grint has been given enough to work with this season.
And can we talk about that deliciously awkward dinner? You and I just discussed the cringe comedy of manners in Speak No Evil and I was curious if Nancy’s politeness reminded you of this type of humor? Finally, you mentioned Lauren Ambrose’s impeccable acting in this episode and I’m curious if your stomach dropped when she watched Gourmet Gauntlet on her iPad. Also, am I obtuse or did you also just realize why Sean didn’t want to take the job? And keeping with that thought and Ambrose’s performance, did you notice the way “Fish” explored/contrasted both Leanne and Dorothy’s PTSD?
As with most episodes of Servant, there’s just as much left unsaid as there is being spoken aloud. I really appreciated the dual perspectives on working through PTSD: Leanne is finding her agency by becoming more angry and directing her emotions outward, whereas Dorothy has buried her trauma internally so that it constantly threatens to boil up like the sludge in the Turner basement. I’d argue that Servant is making it clear that neither response is particularly healthy, but that would suggest there is a “correct” way of processing what these women have been through.
I’ll confess that I hadn’t considered your argument about Leanne as an antichrist. Part of me instinctively wants to shut it down, but that’s primarily because following that thread would require reconfiguring the narrative that I’ve been building in my mind about what story Servant is telling. My approach has always been that Leanne is an agent of good: the naive waif who will ascend into her power to defeat evil. Your reading is the inversion of that, so while I can’t discount it, it’s definitely confronting!
The reality is that somehow we’re three seasons into this show and we still don’t have a clear sense of what story Servant is telling. Unlike other (arguably more bombastic shows like Lost and Yellowjackets), this quiet little series is really adept at keeping the cards close to its chest. We always know that something terrible is happening, that it has a tenuous tie to religion (both organized and not), but not what roles any of our characters will play.
Season 3 has unsettled this more than ever by zeroing in on Leanne’s journey and associating her with the park teens. Is it possible that their idolatry of her is anything other than misplaced (or redirected) worship that they left behind when they stepped away from Aunt Josephine and the cult? Every depiction of religion on the show has been corrupted or perverted in some way, but since we know so little about their motivations (or Leanne’s, except to protect Sean and Jericho), we’re left in the dark.
So yes, thank goodness for the slight comedy to take the edge off. The dinner is hella awkward, from the little digs that Dorothy and Julian make at Nancy, to Leanne’s all out assault. Hell, even Sean’s introduction of each course is painful (and reminiscent of his performativity that we have seen and heard on Gourmet Gauntlet). Servant just loooooves a dinner sequence and while this doesn’t carry the same ominous threat as previous sequences, the cringe factor has been ratcheted up about a billion notches instead.
As for Dorothy closing the episode watching GG…I’m mixed. We’ve been down this path a few times; Servant plays like Dorothy is about to remember what really happened with Jericho on that hot summer day and then walk it back. So while I definitely felt dread as she realizes she’s forgotten a substantial period of time, I’m reserving judgment until we finally get confirmation that it’s real this time.
Which brings me to Julian. I’m in agreement with you that I don’t think the series fully knows what to do with him. I haven’t loved the way his addiction has been handled (50% serious, 50% punchline) and a relapse seems inevitable. The weird use of Veera (and really, all of Julian’s romantic partners) feels so tangential that it would be disappointing if nothing more came of it, but considering Grint’s best scenes tend to involve Julian’s relationship with Leanne, perhaps it’s all for the best? I’m on the fence, is what I’m saying. Hopefully these remaining S3 episodes will help in that regard.
So Terry we’re now officially into the back half of the season. Is this the last we’ll see of Nancy? Do you have strong feelings about the depiction of Leanne and Dorothy’s PTSD? And where do you hope the series will go next?
No, I think you hit the nail on the PTSD head, Joe. I love the way in which Servant uses Leanne and Dorothy to explore different aspects of femininity and female identifying characters. Throughout the previous seasons, they’ve been foes, they’ve been friends, and they’ve been pseudo mother and daughter foils for each other. Their different approaches to dealing with trauma, whether subconsciously or not, is just another fascinating layer in their relationship.
I did want to address your comments about Leanne and the antichrist, though. Because I’m with you that I don’t necessarily want to see that end for her. Her internal conflict has always been one between secularism and spirituality and it’s been intriguing to see this play out in tandem with her learning to control her powers. I think her potential parentage popped in my head because I’ve been thinking of Good Omens, the novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett that imagined a world where the antichrist was given to the wrong family and wasn’t raised to be evil. This idea struck me as an intriguing thematic device here, where you could potentially have someone who was meant to bring the apocalypse not quite wanting to go along with the plans.
Or, more intriguingly, what if the antichrist had free will?
While I’m still mulling over this possibility, I don’t necessarily mean that Leanne is doomed to be some kind of agent of evil…what if, because of her time with the Turners, she actually averts the crisis? Again, wild and completely gratuitous and unfounded conjecture. But it’s what has been tinkering in the back of my mind and this episode certainly didn’t do anything to dissuade me, even if it focused my attention on a different character.
As for the more concrete aspects of the episode, I don’t think we’ll see Nancy again. It’s possible that she actually is a member of the cult and will show up in the finale as a kind of “gotcha!” moment (add Veera to this, if this is a possibility) but I think she was just another innocent victim of the Turner household.
In these final four episodes, I think we’re going to see a showdown between Leanne and Dorothy. We’ve talked before about how last season Leanne seemed to be becoming a metaphorical teenager and now we’re seeing her take the steps into adulthood. What typically happens when teenagers start heading towards adulthood? They leave the house.
And with the power struggles between Dorothy and Leanne, I think it’s only going to come to a head as Dorothy wants to return the household to its former status. As much as the Turners says Leanne is a part of the family, they treat her as the titular character. The most telling moment is that when Dorothy confronts Leanne about the surveillance footage: her first worry isn’t Leanne, it’s “What if Jericho was with you?” Sure, she follows it up with concern for Leanne, but her first worry is her flesh and blood son. This is followed up with Dorothy locking all of the windows of the house, presumably to keep Jericho safe. For Dorothy, I believe, Leanne has overstayed her welcome.
Regardless, we should learn more when we go back to Gayly Dreadful next week for “Camp.”
Servant airs Fridays on Apple TV