Servant heads to the park and Julian hunts for DNA in an unsettling new episode of the Apple TV+ series about a mysterious nanny and the broken family she’s trying to help.
This week, Leanne’s paranoia takes a backseat to Julian’s, who’s convinced he has to take steps to protect his sister Dorothy from the cult, from Leanne, and from herself. Guest director Carlo Mirabella-Davis finds a host of new notes to play this week, separating him from his peers in all the right ways.
Servant recap: ‘Hair’
In the episode, titled “Hair,” the gears are grinding in the Turner household. Julian’s (played by Rupert Grint) girlfriend Veera (Sunita Mani) has been let in on the family’s secrets, and she has questions. Namely, what happens if Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) leaves and takes Jericho with her again? Is Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) just going to enlist her husband Sean (Toby Kebbell) and Julian in her quest to get her son back for the rest of her life?
It gets Julian thinking that maybe it’s time to run some DNA tests on Leanne and Jericho, to give them some idea about the legality of this very illegal arrangement they’ve got going. The longer Leanne’s paranoia stays front and center — and based on a short walk to the park, it’s going to — the longer Sean and Dorothy are going to wonder if they’re making the right choice.
Julian sets about trying to get DNA samples from both Dorothy and Leanne to see what grounds they stand on. If the kid is Leanne’s, maybe they can talk her into transferring custody to the Turners. If it’s Dorothy’s (somehow), then they don’t need to.
Just a walk in the park
Turns out he grabs the wrong hair sample anyway, so his test proves inconclusive. Leanne knows he’s up to something but she’s half-distracted because Sean has started feeding homeless teens at the park and she suspects they’re spying on her.
Dorothy, being Dorothy, decides the kids are newsworthy. So she heads to the park with a camera crew to interview them. The two kids who’ve been interacting with Sean balk at being interviewed. But when he shows up with food, they start talking, so he becomes the story.
Leanne starts making predictions about Sean becoming a star. And, though the Turners don’t hear anything evil in it, we know enough about Leanne to know that when she starts making predictions, they might come true. Julian finally tries telling Dorothy about the delusion she’s been living with, but the truth doesn’t take. After years of lying about her life, it’s going to take more than one conversation to crack that surface.
I’m not steppin’ foot in that house
As mentioned, Carlo Mirabella-Davis, director of genre hit Swallow, directs this week’s episode. And, as when Julia Ducournau took over last season for a few episodes, I find their work more compelling in this smaller, grimmer framework. In particular he handles an opening dream sequence splendidly.
Servant brought him in, I presume, because Swallow is all about a woman awakening to the fact that she doesn’t feel comfortable in her life. This episode is all about Leanne’s perception of the world, and realizing how scary it is out there now that she doesn’t feel of a piece with some greater part of it.
When Sean gets her to take a walk in the park, it’s pure sensory overload. The colors are bright. (Servant is a very dark show, in a good way, so it’s very obvious that the beauty of the outside world is meant to be shocking.) The sounds are loud. When Leanne crushes flowers in her hand, the wet mess in her palm feels alien and gross, like she’s killed some large insect.
A great directorial pick
The camera captures Leanne’s POV — and her frayed nerves and darting attention — with care. Mirabella-Davis uses high angles very well, treating the characters like little animals.
Servant’s palette is so well-defined it can sometimes be a hair difficult picking out directorial stamps in the color scheme or lighting. But executive producer M. Night Shyamalan and show creator Tony Basgallop appear to be extremely giving showrunners when it comes to directors. As long as you get the feel and the clinical precision, you can be yourself.
Knowing Mirabella-Davis made the episode keyed me into the things he would have insisted on. And that made the half-hour even more enjoyable to look at. I half-suspect they invited him to direct because Dorothy spends the first third of the episode dressed like Marilyn Monroe. That’s a touch that would be right at home in the world of Swallow, a movie about perfect housewives who no longer want to be any such thing.
I’m now even more excited to see who else will sit down in the director’s chair for upcoming installments of Servant.
Watch Servant on Apple TV+
New episodes of Servant arrive on Fridays.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.