Each week Terry and Joe review the latest episode of Apple TV’s Servant S4, alternating between our respective sites.
Spoilers follow for Episode 4.03 “Séance”
Episode 4.03 “Séance”: Dorothy hires two live-in nurses to help speed up her recovery–and protect her from Leanne.
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Well Terry, you asked me last week what I thought of Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose)’s new nurses, Roberta (Barbara Kingsley) and Beverly (Denny Dillon) and I said I needed more information.
Fast forward a week and having spent more time with “Bobbie and Bev” and their weird New Age therapeutic practice…I still don’t entirely know what to make of them.
Their arrival shakes up the whole Brownstone in “Séance”: not only does it reveal a new space we never knew existed (the income suite), but it upends the house’s dynamic. Everyone is given gifts and books that the two women believe will suit them, including a “love languages” book for Sean (Toby Kebbell). Suddenly we’re burning scented candles and sage, and all of Leanne’s belongings have been reorganized.
It’s very intrusive, which makes sense considering writer/director Ishana Shyamalan shoots a lot of the episode from Leanne (Nell Tiger Free)’s perspective. That results in a ton of Dutch angles and low angles to make things seem off and/or weird. The two women notice it, too: they badger Sean into telling them “what [they]’re missing” because there’s a hostile energy in the house.
Naturally they’re not wrong. Neither is Sean when he admits that they’ve faced a lot of grief and that the family “doesn’t handle it well” (I’ll confess that that got a chuckle out of me because…no shit Sean).
In an effort to combat what Bobbie and Bev perceive as resistance and to restore Dorothy’s hope after she suffers a fall, the house opts to come together for the titular séance.
And it’s fine?
I don’t know if it’s simply because we’re seen a) so many séances in horror films or b) there have been so many wilder developments on Servant, but the events of this episode came across as surprisingly low-key. That’s a brash statement to make considering Leanne physically attacks Bobbie, ripping off her shirt to see if the old woman bears the scars of the cult on her back, but I honestly expected a bit more.
Perhaps it’s because there’s nothing inherently supernatural OR revelatory about what comes out of this. The information about the three visitors tied to each offering – the box for Uncle Robert, the watch for Dorothy and Julian (Rupert Grint)’s mother, and the ceremonial dagger that is aligned to a dark evil or the spirit of Jericho – fail to tell us much new about these characters. We know that Sean and Julian are still eager to keep Jericho’s death from Dorothy, just as there is clearly something dark brewing in the house (hence the cracks in the foundation and all of the pests).
It’s not bad per se; I just thought that ¼ of the way through this final season we’d be closer to the series’ endgame. Right now this feels like a regular season, but with each new episode, the number of opportunities to wrap this story up decreases. Where is this all heading and why does it feel like Servant is resisting getting to the endgame?
I’m impatient, Terry! As much as I loved the final image of Leanne sleeping on her surrogate mother’s bed just like Dorothy used to as a child…we’ve spent a lot of time on this unhealthy “familial” relationship. I need something else as we move into the middle part of the season.
But over to you: do you think my expectations are getting the better of me or are you eager to move this along? What did you think of Bobbie and Bev, particularly their super creepy speaking-in-unison intro at the top of the episode? Is it telling that Leanne sees a version of Bobbie’s vision – with a dark storm cloud in the window – in her nightmare? And did you get a good laugh out of Julian’s “horrible” experience with the tickle trunk?
It’s funny, Joe, because I often forget that, among many other subgenres, Servant is often a dark comedy. I get so focused on the cult, the horror and the psychological/sometimes psychosexual drama that when an episode like “Séance” happens, I’m often taken aback and surprised. Because episode three is an uncomfortable comedy that takes the “odd couple” humor style and applies it to a family under siege.
In this case, the odd couple is the tension playing out between Bobbie/Bev and Leanne. I did love some of the reveals, such as the note on Leanne’s bed telling her she needed an upgrade to the Social Skills for Teens book that elicits an immediate “fuck you!” from Leanne (maybe she does need that book…) to them giving Julian a, based on the description, Marie Kondo book to get his life in order.
I also love when Servant builds up something to be a big reveal, only to subvert expectations and give us a box of sex toys. Yes, I laughed.
In a different season, I would actually be happy to see Bev and Bobbie, particularly as they get a full introduction at the top of this episode that plays out like a vaudeville act. The way they start with a “hello, bonjour to our new family”, their schtick plays out incredibly well for some of the household (excluding Leanne, natch).
But it absolutely got under my skin to the point that I made reference to the Shining twins before Julian did. “We want to take care of you, Dorothy. Forever and ever and ever,” I actually imagined them saying. And from there they are in everyone’s business, as much of a nuisance as the bed bugs were, just last episode.
As you said, Ishana puts us in Leanne’s shoes for the entire episode and the result is that the nurses come across as exaggeratedly annoying. We’re seeing them the way Leanne sees them, not Dorothy or Sean. And we’ve been trained to expect that an interloper in the Turner household is either up to no good or won’t be around very long. So the way “Séance” leans into that expectation did make me smirk more than once.
It’s a funny episode that upsets the status quo so much…but, Joe we are, as you said, over a fourth of the way through the final season and it doesn’t feel like it. Servant has been teasing us for over three seasons now with the ultimate reveal for Dorothy about what happened to Jericho so by the time the titular séance happened, I sighed.
I love this show and I love the measured pacing of its overarching narrative, but this moment has happened a bit too often now, thirty three episodes into the show. So I think that might be where some of the fatigue is coming from, Joe, particularly with your thoughts on this lowkey moment. We’ve seen this thing done better…in Servant no less! I am absolutely ready to move this on. Season 4 opened with a bang that suggested a rollercoaster of a final season and this episode turned down that tension to below a simmer, which is unfortunate.
I’m still not convinced they aren’t part of the cult, though. At the very least being used as part of the cult. During the séance, Bobbie has a vision of the house, except that the paint is peeling and the floors are rotting. She sees a dark shadow and she mentions that it’s tethered to the house and has attached itself to the family.
This could be another way in which the cult is trying to isolate Leanne and force her from the family. Because right now, that ice cold shadow Bobbie sees feels a lot like Leanne. Particularly when mixed with the cries of Jericho: “he’s desperate. No one’s coming to help him. Why won’t they come!” Since the beginning, the cult has been upset with the way Leanne has allowed Dorothy to live in delusion about what happened to Jericho. And this seems like another way in which they could force that divide in the family. A last ditch effort to cut Leanne off.
It might have worked a bit, too. Julian storms after her and demands how far she would have gone if Bobbie had scars on her back. “I would have fucking killed her,” Leanne retorts. Right now, Julian is the only ally Leanne has in the household and she’s on thin ice with him, as it is. Julian began the season wanting a way to extricate himself from his relationship with Leanne, even though he’s often powerless to stop it.
Which leads us to Leanne’s nightmares. She has two this episode. The first is an apocalyptic vision of the streets outside the Brownstone and a crow perched on one of the bed bug beds. She awakens with a gasp and this potential vision of the future hangs heavy on the rest of the episode, culminating in the final dream sequence in which something (either snow or, more concerning, ash) floats down from the sky and a shadowy cloud swirls into a being inside the home. This could be a vision of the future, or it could be something that the cult is doing to get inside Leanne’s head. But it does paint an ominous picture for the final seven episodes.
I am curious what you think of the relationship between Sean and Dorothy this season, but particularly this episode, Joe. We’ve only received glimpses of what life was like for the Turners before Jericho’s death and the tension between Sean and Dorothy is at its tightest now…do you think this is a full circle moment for the Turners? Do you think Sean will be able to salvage their marriage through food? Finally, you mentioned both the new addition to the house and the surrogate relationship between Dorothy and Leanne, but I want to dig into that more.
Were you surprised that Servant had another area of the house hidden in its sleeve? Did you notice that Julian seemed incredibly trepidatious to enter it? What happened there? And does the final shot of the episode suggest reconciliation is possible for Dorothy and Leanne? And can we talk about Toby Kebbell’s arms?
OMG those arms. You may have messaged me about how distracting Kebbell’s enormous muscley arms were in this episode and I have to agree. Either Sean has gotten into fighting shape for Gourmet Gauntlet, or he’s prepping for another kick at a superhero franchise (RIP Fantastic Four) because those guns are distractingly enormous!
But yes, I was surprised that there were still new spaces to explore in the Turner home. We probably shouldn’t be surprised, considering how enormous the house is, and the fact that – as you mentioned – we’ve uncovered a new space each season. This definitely seems like a “lost” space, though; similar to the way that the attic was filled with Dorothy and Julian’s mother’s possessions, the income suite has a mothball aura. The fact that we haven’t seen it the whole series makes me think it’s a space where junk is stashed and then forgotten about; someplace not often visited.
You’re right that Julian seems hesitant to visit, though I can’t help but wonder if that’s an issue with the space or simply a reaction to Bobbie and Bev. As we see, they’ve already set up the area in perfect grandma chic by the time he enters (it’s as though the 70s and 80s threw up in a tornado). The sing-song duo have already struck an unusual note by this point in the episode, and Julian doesn’t trust easily at the best of times, so it may just have been his hesitancy to discover more secrets from weird women.
But considering this is an episode where we’re actively seeing shadows and dust storm people gathering, the reveal of a new space that could contain more ghosts and memories feels important, doesn’t it? I’m curious to see how much more of the income suite we’ll see in episodes to come. That would require Bobbie and Bev to stick around and I’m also unsure how long they’ll last as Leanne spirals out of control.
Hopping over to Sean and Dorothy’s relationship: I’ll admit that I feel a genuine sense of relief when Dorothy begrudgingly admitted she was tired of pudding and dives into that delicious-looking plate of blueberry pancakes. Sean’s love language has always been food, and he’s been on the record about Dorothy’s support of his professional career as a chef for the entirety of the season, so it makes sense that cuisine would be the way they come back to each other. Selfishly, I’ve also been missing the show’s signature food porn so I’m happy to see Sean back in the kitchen, whipping up delicacies.
Of course nothing is ever that easy, so I’ll throw it back to you for your thoughts, Terry: is this an olive branch or a speed bump? Do you have a different reading on the basement space? Does Leanne’s nightmare suggest that she has an awareness that she’s succumbing to darkness? And where will we go next in episode four?
I can’t help but think that there’s darkness in the future because of the way the dynamics between Sean and Dorothy are right now. Before the narrative began, tension between the two of them was incredibly high. In flashbacks, we got to see Sean’s attempt at TV fame explode in their faces with the death of Jericho. I can’t help but see these early Season 4 episodes as a recreation of the events that ultimately led to the drama that’s unfolding.
Sure, Sean is now local and not across the continent…but have we even seen him with Jericho? We’ve barely seen Jericho this season and, when we do, he’s a piece in a giant chess match between Leanne and Dorothy. So while Sean is physically here, mentally, he seems almost (if not just) as distracted as he was in those flashbacks leading up to Jericho’s death.
To me, it’s feeling like a full circle moment that could end the series in a number of ways. It could be a redemptive arc for the Turners as maybe later this season they’ll start to actually heal and reconnect with each other. It could be a bleak arc that leaves the Turners as bereft as before, but with a bitter understanding, this time, of the trauma they’ve unleashed. Or it could be somewhere in the middle as a bittersweet little jab.
Obviously I’m just pontificating at this point since we literally do not know what is going to happen in the next seven episodes, but the way Sean and Dorothy are acting right now, it suggests that history might be repeating itself.
I don’t really have a different reading about the basement space, though I will echo your sentiment that it feels like a “lost” space that feels important to memories. I do wonder if it’s tied, somehow, to the events following Jericho’s death. Each room/area reveal pushed the plot forward up to now and, considering that Dorothy is unable to view the room yet…will her body mend (because of Leanne’s powers) and will her entering the room trigger some memory? Again, just a bit of theorycrafting, but I do think the room is significant.
As for where we’re going in episode 4…gosh, I have no idea. I can only imagine that the tension between Leanne and Dorothy/the twins will continue to tighten and I’m curious when and if Leanne will snap. She’s already seethed with a warning, “haven’t they heard what I do to people who threaten me?” this episode. And considering they have inserted themselves into the roles that Leanne typically performs (caring for Dorothy, providing for Jericho, being a, well, servant), I can only imagine how much anger is boiling under the surface…
I guess we’ll find out when we go back to Gayly Dreadful for episode 4.04 “Boo.”
Servant airs Fridays on AppleTV