Each week Terry and Joe review the latest episode of Apple TV’s Servant S3, alternating between our respective sites.
Major Spoilers follow for Episode 3.10 “Mama”
Episode 3.10 “Mama”: Dorothy makes a desperate final plan.
Missed a review?
- S1 coverage: Episode 1– 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10
- S2 coverage: Episode 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10
- S3 coverage: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9
Well Terry, you called it: not only does the season three finale of Servant feature the unexpected return of Boris McGiver’s Uncle George, but it features Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose)’s nearly fatal three storey fall down the narrow passage in the center of the Turner’s spiral staircase. We’ve been clocking the “decay” (as Uncle George describes) of the Brownstone for the entire season and it pays off here in spectacular fashion.
If I didn’t know better, I would have thought you watched ahead because you even predicted that Roscoe (Phillip James Brannon) would be doing the cult’s bidding! I’ll confess that I never saw it coming, despite those gloriously threatening chiaroscuro external shots of the Turner house in extreme long shot. It simply never occurred to me that the men having the clandestine meeting in the middle of the deserted street in the middle of the night would be this pair. Call me foolish, but I was shocked.
Naturally Uncle George’s return is loaded with vague signifiers. He appears out of the shadows, walking with a cane in the aftermath of his near fatal (car) accident, to deliver this monologue:
“Her story begins. It feeds on darkness; it grows stronger each night. Things are decaying. The house is filled with parasites.”
After he chokes, Uncle George asks Roscoe: “Do you smell the rot?” When Roscoe asks what happens now, the answer is simply: “the end”.
Now the easy interpretation of this is that Uncle George is referring to Leanne (Nell Tiger Free), whose corrupting influence we have talked about plenty in the back half of this season. But what if, Terry, this is actually about Dorothy? While yes, Leanne makes more sense given her relationship with Uncle George and how she’s slowly been turning increasingly to darkness, Dorothy’s story isn’t so different. It’s not a coincidence that Dorothy’s actions – her attempt to run away with Jericho in the middle of the night – instigate this entire turn of events. It’s darkness; the house has been decaying and filling with parasites since Jericho, etc.
<insert cricket sound>
Alright, even I’ll confess that I don’t buy my own line of reasoning. But it’s a fun detour to consider because this is so clearly Leanne’s villain origin story. In an episode filled with motherhood and rebirth (how many times do characters bathe and/or reference a “fresh start”), this is the episode when Dorothy finally proclaims herself not to be Leanne’s mother and they cannot be a family.
Leanne’s response? She grabs the baby and allows the banister to break, plunging her once surrogate mother figure and self-proclaimed family member into a fall that will result in what I can only assume will be significant paralysis in the fourth and final season.
Terry, I’ll turn it over to you to fill in the gaps. What did you think of Dorothy’s attempts at reconciliation with the “two idiots” under Leanne’s sway: Julian (Rupert Grint) and Sean (Toby Kebbell)? Did you want Sean to force the issue that Dorothy had, in fact, already hurt their son when she told him she would never forget the look in his eye? And, since you’re so damn good at speculating the truth: who was driving Dorothy’s get-away vehicle?
“Holy fuck,” is what I wrote you right after finishing this episode, Joe. I sat there in stunned silence for a few moments, letting the credits run out because, while I did predict some things, I could not have predicted the way this season would end. I guess, in hindsight, creator Tony Basgallop and his stable of excellent writers have been leading up to this moment from the very beginning. As you said, we’ve been anticipating the rot in the house to do something but I don’t think any of us had “make the banister crumble and send Dorothy hurtling three stories” on our Bingo cards.
A few thoughts keep churning in my head. The first is also an answer to your question about reconciliation. This entire episode felt like Dorothy’s long goodbye and that, in and of itself, made me worried. Her calendar on the bed kept proclaiming “Bed Rest!” over and over again until the day she finally got herself out of her room with purpose. The way she began reconciling with the idiot men in her life, apologizing to Sean and then spending one last night with him. Cooking the dinner Sean made the week they first moved into the house. Breaking open the $24,059 a bottle of Romanee-Conti wine “on a Tuesday”. The way she caressed an older picture of her and Sean, younger and so happy. All of this made me worried because it brought back memories, not so long ago, of when Dorothy talked of hanging herself with a Hermès belt.
Instead, her discussions of “fresh starts” and “putting the past behind us” were about a literal fresh start of Dorothy fleeing her crumbling estate and starting life anew. It seemed almost slightly planned out, too, since she had a duffle bag full of cash. What I like about this inversion of expectations is that, looking back on this season, we’ve seen Dorothy gain agency. She’s spent most of the season fighting back, whether quietly or loudly, against Leanne’s encroaching presence.
Considering where Dorothy began the season, almost catatonic and understandably shocked from the death of her son…this new Dorothy feels renewed. And while the season is ending with Dorothy at possibly her lowest moment, at least she’s fighting – unlike the two knuckleheads who continue to watch, from a distance, as the two women play a game of fencing.
The other thought percolating in my brain is tacking onto what you said about Dorothy and Leanne’s journeys being similar. I think we’re meant to see the connection between the two of them and how they are the flip side of the same coin. This really came into focus this episode with the choice words screenwriter Ryan Scott uses to describe them. When Leanne rushes to Roscoe to ask him if he’s found out anything about Milo and Roscoe says there’s nothing new, she responds that the cult did this to hurt them and “I will not suffer injustice.”
Then, a scene later, while Sean and Julian discuss Dorothy’s changed attitude, Julian recalls a memory where Dorothy punched some asshole kid for making fun of Julian and then, instead of writing him a letter of apology, she wrote him a note saying he deserved it. He ends his assessment by saying, “My sister isn’t one to suffer injustice.” They’ve been on a collision course this entire season; two cars aimed at each other, waiting to see who would budge.
Speaking of cars, my prediction about who was in the car waiting for Dorothy is that it’s Roscoe simply because – out of this cast of characters (aside from maybe Veera?) – I don’t know who else it could be? It’s also been awhile since we’ve seen him on a stakeout, but the black vehicle looked like the SUV Roscoe used to drive.
Finally, the conversation he had with Uncle George felt telling: “I’ll be able to do what we need.” What the cult has wanted and needed since the beginning, I think, is to get Jericho away from Leanne and make Dorothy remember what she did. So I personally believe Roscoe was planning on kidnapping Dorothy and Jericho to bring them to the cult.
Finally, I want to turn this question back to you as well because I wanted to know if you were silently screaming at Sean to tell Dorothy about what happened. Servant brought back Dorothy’s calendar and she scrolled through an incredibly empty September on her way to October 6th, when Leanne joined their unhappy family. It was a telling moment because I didn’t realize just how soon Leanne came after the death of Jericho. For some reason, I had thought it’d been a few months but no, it occurred almost immediately after Dorothy’s break from reality.
So with such a big secret hanging over this season, in particular, were you disappointed we’ve gone another ten episodes without Dorothy knowing the truth? While I’ve been documenting the ways in which Leanne’s story seems to be connected to the antichrist/apocalypse, I’m curious if you’re on board and how you read Leanne’s news anchor job? And speaking of things that seem to be ticking time bombs, do you have any thoughts on Aunt Josephine’s trivial ending?
As yes, Aunt Josephine disintegrating in a pile of ash. What a fitting end to the woman who brought so much pain to Leanne – locked out of sight in the walls and reduced to the contents of a dustbin, thrown out like so much trash. I love it!
Admittedly, however, if we read this as a visual symbol, it’s pretty telling that the moment Leanne literally throws out Aunt Josephine’s remains, Uncle Boris re-appears on the scene. It’s as if by attempting to put one member of her past behind her, Leanne opens the door for another.
This also speaks to the disappearance of Milo, who, as we’ve bemoaned, is barely a character (and an unnamed character until this most recent episode). The reality is that while Leanne has emerged as a major villain on the series, her actions – at least in her mind – are in response to the threat of the cult and her repressed trauma. We’ve talked a great deal these last few weeks about how Dorothy’s paranoia is real and the same is true of Leanne. In both cases they’re shouting into the void about the very real dangers threatening their respective “family”, but with the reappearance of Uncle Boris, Roscoe’s (potential?) duplicity and Milo’s disappearance, the threat of the cult and He continues to loom large over Servant.
Still, it’s hard not to look at those as hypothetical threats when we have ¼ of our central cast allowing another quarter to nearly fall to their deaths. I’m fascinated by what Dorothy’s “accident” will do for the narrative as we head into the final ten episodes, so while yes, I was definitely disappointed that we’ve wrapped another season with Dorothy seemingly unaware of just what happened to Jericho, I’m making my peace with it.
It’s reached the point where I’m uncertain if we’ll ever truly see Dorothy understand and accept responsibility for what happened; between Sean and Julian’s belief that Dorothy must be protected from herself and the threats of suicide, Servant has laid the foundation that this is a mental block that Dorothy cannot overcome.
As for the job possibility that Leanne dangles in front of Dorothy earlier, when the latter acquiesces to visit the park and mingle with Leanne’s disciples, I’m…intrigued? It’s moments like this that make Leanne such a fascinating character; she truly doesn’t see herself as a villain, or a threat, or even an obstacle in Dorothy’s life. It’s clear that Leanne believes she’s acting in Dorothy’s best interests, to the point where she sometimes has more unflappable belief in Dorothy’s capacity than the redhead herself.
The news anchor gig is a small detail in an episode with much louder talking points, but it is fascinating, Terry. This is everything Dorothy has wanted for three seasons: she’s always been a career-focused professional. It’s why Isabelle was such a threat to her. It’s why she reacted so strongly to Sean’s gig on Gourmet Gauntlet and it’s why her onscreen humiliation in 3.04 “Ring” hurt her so badly.
Dorothy has always wanted more and she’s often upheld an entitled attitude about what she’s owed. Then along comes the literal embodiment of her desires, presented on a silver platter, but because of who is offering it, Dorothy can’t pursue it; in fact she claims she wouldn’t even be considered. We’ve only seen Dorothy’s confidence falter one other time, which was in 3.05 “Tiger” when she threw herself into the Block Party planning in an effort to forget what happened the episode prior. Perhaps not coincidentally, that’s also when Isabelle first latched onto the story that Dorothy was abusing Leanne and began her investigation…
All this to say that in another version of this show (perhaps a light-hearted family comedy/drama), we would see Dorothy accept Leanne’s help, seize that news anchor job and the family would be united and happy. Instead it’s clear that part of the reason Dorothy can’t even fathom the idea of this gig is because she’s already got the getaway car and bag full of cash packed in anticipation of her escape.
Which is what makes me so deliciously eager for season four. We’ve had nearly ten episodes of watching Dorothy unravel in her attempts to escape from Leanne’s oppressive definition of a perfect family. How will Dorothy cope if she’s bed ridden, or paralyzed, and unable to move? I’ve lauded Ambrose’s acting chops repeatedly over these three seasons, but especially in the last few episodes, and I am now salivating at the opportunity to see her distill all of her anxiety and fear into top notch eye and face acting (cue the Hitchocockian thriller comparisons!)
But since we’ve reached the end of another season, I suppose we should give these ten episodes a rating, right Terry? While I’ll confess that at times I bemoaned the lack of memorable horror set pieces and the cult-y threats, in hindsight, season three’s masterful exploration of Leanne and Dorothy’s battle of wills was expertly crafted and meticulously cranked up over these last ten episodes. Throw in “Tiger”, which is in my top three episodes of the series, and this was a memorable, albeit different, season of Servant. I’m giving it a B+.
What about you, Terry: what are your predictions or hopes for the fourth and final <sob> season? Are there any characters or storylines you would like to see return? Is there any hope for Dorothy’s relationship with Julian or Sean after this? And, finally, what is your rating for season three?
Now that we’re entering the end game, Joe, I really expect Servant to embrace its end-of-times/antichrist storyline. Yeah, I’m still holding strong to the belief that either Leanne or Jericho (firmly in the Leanne camp) is the antichrist. This episode more explicitly suggested that Satan is on the agenda with the devilish offering Leanne gives Dorothy. “Give into temptation and I will give you everything you’ve ever dreamed of.”
A few episodes ago, she gave Sean his dream job and now? Riches and success beyond your wildest dreams…if you give your soul over to Satan. So, yes, as we move into these final episodes I truly believe the show is going to lean into this internal struggle inside of Leanne between literal heaven and hell.
In terms of returning characters and storylines, I’d really like to see a more concrete explanation of Roscoe’s duplicity. Back in season two, Servant dangled a tantalizing idea of a hooked monstrosity in the cult. Part of me wants them to keep the supernatural elements grounded, but another part of me really wants to see the thing that terrified Roscoe so completely. Otherwise, bringing George back into the fray will be awesome but I hope the show continues to keep the attention on the Turner household and not rehash characters just for the sake of bringing them back.
I’d be perfectly happy if we continue to simply follow our foursome because, outside of the cult and Kourtney with a K, Servant doesn’t really handle side characters very well (see: Veera or any of Julian’s love interests, the homeless youth, etc).
The crux of the show is now hinging on your last question, Joe. Can Dorothy forgive Sean and Julian? I don’t think she can. We’ve seen how close they’ve been to a divorce since the beginning of the show and season three ends with her attempt to flee her family. Dorothy only cares about Jericho at this point and I think this obsession is a subtle suggestion that she knows, somewhere deep in her subconscious, that she is culpable in Jericho’s death.
Dorothy is holding onto him so closely because, somewhere in her tortured psyche, she’s afraid he’ll slip away again. His safety is the only thing that matters to her at this point and she’s cut ties to anyone who could take that away.
I don’t think we’re going to have a happy ending when all is said and done. It’s going to be as messy as the characters.
As messy as this season was, Joe, it’s important to remember that M. Night’s original intent was six seasons, but when the show was renewed for season three, suddenly the series was truncated down to four. I can’t help but think that the shortened show has affected the creative team’s storytelling. Gone were the more mysterious and intriguing mysteries; these were replaced with more pointed storytelling as the characters began to set up the end game. As such I don’t think we had as much meat to really dig into this season since most of the episodes were focused on plot and getting things ready for the end.
It was a little jolting to go from more measured, mystery and horror-themed episodes where the show played with technology and created little creepy moments to more plot-specific ones. I do think something was lost in this uneasy transition because the mystery is always more intriguing than the eventual answers.
So no, I don’t think this season was as strong as the first two because it had to be a transitory season. There were some incredible highs, from the fantastic camerawork in “Tiger” to the gasp-inducing ending of “Mama” but it felt like Servant was missing that certain something from the previous two seasons.
It’s still an absolute treat of a show and one of the best shows I’ve watched recently, though. I’m also circling the B+, and hoping that next season really brings us home.
Servant has finished airing S03 on Apple TV. It will return in January 2023 for its final season.