Each week Terry and Joe review the latest episode of Apple TV’s Servant S4, alternating between our respective sites.
Spoilers follow for Episode 4.01 “Pigeon”
Episode 4.01 “Pigeon”: The war between Leanne and the Church of Lesser Saints reaches its peak.
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Well Terry, here we go: it’s the final season of Servant, the show that we’ve built a substantial part of our lives around for the past four years. I would be sad that this is the end of the line, but considering how strong “Pigeon” starts the fourth season, I’m mostly just excited to jump back into this world with you.
Almost immediately after watching the premiere, I messaged you to say that this is the equivalent of a 25 minute version of the chase portion of “Tiger” – a stand-out episode from last year when Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) was attacked during a block party. I may have also dropped the word apocalyptic because this feels like some kind of divine showdown in the streets of Philly as Leanne spends the better part of this no-good, very-bad-day trapped in a car under assault, prompting her to call down some unholy forces of her own in the form those titular pigeons.
I’m always intrigued by the first episode of a season because they have to set the stage for the season to come. S01 gave us the glorious house porn that we’ve come to know and love; S02’s Julia Ducournau-directed entry gave us Sean (Toby Kebbell)’s epic hand trauma; and S03 was a bit more slow and contemplative.
By comparison, “Pigeon” is an all-out adrenaline rush for most of its runtime. It’s an action sequence from the moment that Leanne steps outside of the brownstone to discover that a) her followers in the park across the street are gone and b) the door to the house is ajar. As usual, I love how Servant makes the most innocuous details vaguely (or completely) threatening: a vendor pushing a hot dog cart down the sidewalk, two near collisions as Leanne crosses the road, and a random jogger all become sources of fear.
Let’s not undersell the carnage candy we’re getting throughout this sustained attack. Leanne sticks a pen in the hot dog man’s neck and he later gets an eye pecked out by a bird! Leanne slams the car door on the jogger’s hand and crunches the fingers of another in the sunroof! She nearly dies from the fumes of the parked car! It’s basically all-out war, spread across a single block of suburban Philadelphia and none of the neighbours seem to notice.
That’s a testament to the unusual supernatural activity that has gone unaccounted for over these past four years, though, right? This sleepy little suburb turns into a battleground for half an hour and by the time the ambulance delivering Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) arrives after the (supernaturally ordained?) rain has washed away the smoke, all that remains of the conflict is a burnt cake in the oven.
It. Is. Wild.
But Terry, I’m sure you have thoughts about all of this action and violence, which is shot by Dylan Holmes Williams, the director of S03E04 ‘Ring’ and S0308 ‘Donut.’ I was particularly impressed with the sequences set in and around the car, including the zooms through windshields, and the 360 degree pan that revealed the vehicle was surrounded but did so aurally before confirming it visually. It was so tense, but also kind of playful, which helped to ensure I could easily follow the action while still keeping me on the verge of a heart attack.
Besides the action, though, this is very nearly a Turner-free episode. Sean is glimpsed on TV doing his best Gordon Ramsey impression on the Philadelphia version of Gourmet Gauntlet, and Julian appears briefly on a video call, but the siblings and the chef don’t physically appear until the final minutes of the episode when Dorothy is wheeled in, looking every bit the diva in a scarf, sunglasses and a withering look at Leanne.
What are your thoughts on the absence of the Turners for most of the runtime? Who is the tall man (and those creepy twin girls) who threaten Leanne when she’s in the car? And did you get apocalypse vibes or zombie vibes from the shots of the Church members in the smoky street?
One of the small yet thematically important things I look forward to each season of Servant, Joe, is the opening credits. Every year, it has suggested what the season is about as the motif changes to reflect different locations in the Turner household. We’ve gone from a bedroom to the attic to the backyard to…well, the Turner home is looking more like a fortress in this opening, don’t you think?
And perched on the pulpit, surveying her kingdom, stands Leanne, holding the baby. But unlike previous seasons, we don’t see her face turn toward us. Instead, it’s the baby’s face, pretty much clear as day staring at us.
Also changed, albeit slightly, is the score which has an ominous bass sneakily thumping underneath and a swell of violins adding to the creepiness. And reflected in the puddles? The city of Philadelphia, primed for the taking.
We’re back, Joe. And I couldn’t be more excited.
“Pigeon” is a difficult episode to recap because while it is action packed and has some stunning cinematography and pacing, it is pretty slight on the plot side. It begins to creep out in the end, but keeps us at arms’ length about the Turners as a whole, focusing completely on Leanne, and snipping out the rest of the family for most of the runtime.
At first it seemed like an odd choice, but from the moment Leanne stepped outside to her cleaning up debris and throwing the cake in the trash, I was hooked. I didn’t even care that “Pigeon” didn’t even try to answer any lingering questions left from the season three finale, like what is life like in the Turner household after Dorothy’s fall?
Servant is gleefully coy, but the visual language the show is known for is working overtime this episode. We only get a few snippets of information, like the fact that Julian has completely embraced alcohol again, swigging from a flask while FaceTiming Leanne. Or the looks that Sean gives Leanne when he’s back at home; looks that suggest fear, annoyance and some slight disgust, maybe? We also see the stairlift on the curved staircase and the falling red leaves tell us its fall, so it’s probably been about six months since season three began. But other than that, we don’t have a lot of new information to go on. Instead, “Pigeon” is focused on giving us an incredibly tense showdown that’s been three seasons in the making.
Will this be the first salvo in a season-long battle? Or will the show settle back into exploring the apocalypse through the splintering Turner household?
I’m hoping for a mix because, as you stated, the incredibly tall Lurch-like man and the two twin girls have me intrigued. One complaint I do have about the series as a whole is that it introduces creepy elements about the Church of Lesser Saints, but denies us any real information. Think waaaay back to Season Two when Roscoe was hypnotized and talked about a “Him” with a hook for a hand, as a teaser of the cult that hasn’t been paid off, yet.
So these three characters are intriguing, as is the potentially ghostly visage of the veiled woman who brings to mind Aunt Josephine. Who are these cultists? As much as Leanne is leaning into the Devil period of her growth, it’s hard to think of the cult as good.
One thing is for sure: Dylan Holmes Williams pulled out the visual stops in the confrontation between them. The way the camera panned, revealing the stoic and almost unmoving cultists, the fog pouring by them, was so gothic and Hammer-esqe in its striking simplicity. They both seemed like animated bodies filled with fury and a single-mindedness that evoked zombies, particularly the way the two of them just started banging on the windows, snarling in impotent rage.
But from the flock of the titular pigeons to the eventual cracks extending from the Turner household, “Pigeon” is leaning into the apocalypse like never before. While it didn’t answer any questions or move the plot forward, no one can say this episode wasn’t a fantastic and welcoming invitation to the end times.
Speaking of the visual storytelling, I’m curious if you clocked Leanne’s new fashionable, yet still servant-y new duds. We’ve explored how each season has shown Leanne at different developmental stages, so I’m curious if you have thoughts on this new, capable version of her? Did you notice that we also didn’t even see Jericho this episode? And what are your thoughts on the ending of “Pigeon,” as the lights flicker and the camera swoops to the basement?
I agree with you, Terry, that this seems like the start of an all-out war. The visual metaphor of the basement crack returning isn’t subtle (oh, you thought you could just patch over this conflict? Think again!).
The same can be said for the cracks extending to the road. The battle is no longer contained to the Turner household; it has moved – as you suggest in your analysis of the new credits – to include the greater Philly region.
As for Leanne’s new duds, that’s an interesting choice. Leanne has become increasingly more fashionable over the seasons, which reflects her personal (and sexual) maturation. This feels a bit like a step back, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s the girl’s attempt to acquiesce to Dorothy. The outfit screams: “Don’t worry, Dorothy, you’re still the lady of the house.” But there’s no discounting who wields the real power.
At least until the redhead returns home. I must say, Dorothy looks regal and completely in her element, bossing people around and making both Sean and Julian kow-tow to her desires. Sean’s almost apologetic look to Leanne in the hall when Dorothy refuses to acknowledge her tells volumes: he’s still the mediator between the two women…but he won’t stick his neck out for Leanne anymore. That’s why he goes inside the bedroom and closes the door, effectively shutting Leanne out.
Back to you Terry: any other observations from this opener? And where do you think we’re going next?
My one note about Leanne’s clothes is that she looks high fashion (that criss crossed neckline!) but still demure. But she also seems incredibly in control of the household and stalks around the house as if she owns it. This isn’t the meek girl we were introduced to in Season One. This is a woman who knows everything about her home and is able to make a cake while chatting with Julian. That is until Dorothy arrives and we get that all-too-familiar light fixture pulse suggesting Leanne’s annoyance.
Last season, Dorothy initiated plans to remove Leanne from the household and they backfired horribly. This season, I think Leanne is probably going to exact some retribution, particularly given just how annoyed she was by episode’s end.
Another curious point for me, though, is Julian. He seems completely oblivious to the drama unfolding between the Turners and Leanne. It makes me wonder if he’s blissfully unaware of how Dorothy’s traumatic event unfolded, because he’s acting as he always does: the put-upon brother who sighs and sneers things like, “long goddamn day” not knowing the horrors Leanne just went through. He might still be the only somewhat friend Leanne has in the house.
As for where we’re going next, I do think Leanne is going to torment Dorothy. She wants to be in the family so bad that she’s willing to do whatever it takes to make it so. With Dorothy’s cool demeanor, her power fashion and months of time to think about what Leanne did, I think we’re going to have a very chilly household that will continue to push Leanne’s supernatural buttons.
All I know, Joe, is that it’s good to be back in the crumbling Brownstone and I can’t wait to see what Tony Basgallop and crew have in store for us.
We’ll switch over to Gayly Dreadful next week for episode two, “Itch.”
Servant airs weekly on Fridays on Apple TV