Servant, the most joyous and unhinged show on Apple TV+, returns for its fourth and final season this week. The saga of the Turner family and their live-in nanny can’t help but disappoint, just because it’s going away. Never mind whether it wraps up its plot threads or not.
A show unbound from ordinary televisual constraints, both dramatically and visually, Servant serves as a vivid representation of its creators’ raging id. As such, its first three seasons became one of the most wonderful pleasures on television. Let’s see how M. Night Shyamalan and Co. are set to send off this family of arch-weirdos.
Servant recap: ‘Pigeon’
Season 4, episode 1: For those who shamefully haven’t been watching Servant like it was the first moon landing, a brief recap. Philly daytime news personality Dorothy Turner (played by Lauren Ambrose) and her husband, chef Sean (Toby Kebbell), lost their first child, Jericho. Dorothy’s mind couldn’t handle the reality of the situation, so she began treating the reborn doll she’d been given as if it were Jericho.
Because of the Turners’ busy schedules, Dorothy hired a weird nanny named Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) to raise the baby. A short while into her tenure, the doll suddenly sprang to life. No one knew why or how this happened.
Some things became clear in the aftermath of this “miracle.” Leanne came from a religious cult whose leaders are wanted by the FBI, and turning dolls into babies was not the extent of her magic. Long story short, Dorothy finally decided she’d had enough of Leanne and her sorcery. She tried to flee her own house with Jericho, but Leanne would not let the “family” separate — and possibly engineered a back-breaking fall for Dorothy.
Catching up with the Turners
When we rejoin the Turners for this week’s Servant season four premiere, entitled “Pigeon,” Sean is enjoying a second wind as a television personality. And Dorothy is on her way back to the Turner household after weeks in a hospital and rehab facility. Leanne’s sometime-boyfriend, Dorothy’s brother Julian (Rupert Grint), is returning with his sister.
A group of Leanne devotees now live in a park across the street from the Turner’s rowhouse, ready to come to her aid whenever she signals she needs anything. (She became famous to them after becoming the first person to successfully defect from the Church of Lesser Saints.)
But as the homecoming approaches, something odd happens. The police blow through the little tent city and clear out Leanne’s followers. Julian’s private detective friend Roscoe (Phillip James Brannon), who’s secretly working with church official Uncle George (Boris McGiver), also gets caught in the sweep. And it occurs just in time for some church officials to try to break into the Turner household and abduct Leanne.
It’s the Church of Lesser Saints vs. Leanne
Leanne seeks shelter in the Turner’s SUV while things calm down and a fog rolls in. She waits a long time before she chances even getting out of the car. But she should have waited longer, because a man tries to grab her when she does.
She stabs him in the neck with a pen. Then a jogger comes to the man’s aid, but she is working for the church, too. She throws a jar full of something at Leanne’s face. The nanny only just manages to get into the car again before they grab her and/or before the liquid’s effects start to wear on her.
An eerie old car pulls up behind Leanne as she tries and fails to start the Turners’ car. (Having been raised by witches in the country, she has no idea how to operate it.) And then out steps a huge man who tries to coax Leanne back into the church’s arms. She rebukes him, saying she’s more powerful than she was before and that no one will stop her. As if to prove her point, a bunch of pigeons appear and start pecking the eyes out of her attackers’ heads.
Of course, if Leanne was dangerous before she found out she can will biblically apocalyptic scenes of torment from the ether, imagine what she’s going to be like now. The only adversary who’s going to be any kind of a problem now is Dorothy, whose approval Leanne needs in order to fulfill her own desire: Keep her family together.
Servant is a horror show with style and substance
British short film director Dylan Holmes Williams steps behind the camera this week and takes to the Servant playbook like a fish to water. He orchestrates a host of eerie tracking shots and pans to hammer home the paranoia with which Leanne lives.
There’s a wonderful shot of her getting something from the trunk of her car that then dollies up the street ahead of her to show the front door of the house is open. Then Leanne goes into the living room to turn off the TV and, when the screen suddenly goes dark, there’s a stranger in its black reflection waiting to attack her. Marvelous.
The magic Williams works when the time comes for the cult to emerge from the fog and attack Leanne proves breathtaking. The sequence contains nods to everything from Stephen King to Alfred Hitchcock in its four or five minutes.
Not every episode of television sends me screaming obscenities at the violence and the wit and verve with which it’s served. But then, Servant isn’t every television show. No, from the start, this was a special and ominous thing, a journey into darkness that’s fully aware of its place in horror history, without stooping to tout its own cleverness.
Servant is great. And after its fourth and final season, it will be sorely missed.
Watch Servant on Apple TV+
The season 4 premiere of Servant arrives January 13 on Apple TV+.
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.