Apple TV+’s Servant takes a trip to a backyard zoo this week. The show about the world’s scariest nanny and her burgeoning mystical powers finds the Turner family in the middle of a circus of violence, vomit and vengeance.
The cult members haven’t run out of ideas about ways to get Leanne back, even if Dorothy has. Plus, Sean and Julian have a brutal heart-to-heart. And Bev has a bone to pick with Leanne.
The episode, entitled “Zoo,” is another marvelously unhinged half-hour of television from the best crew in the biz.
Servant recap: ‘Zoo’
Season 4, episode 6: The Turners’ Philadelphia neighborhood is still a mess after Leanne (played by Nell Tiger Free) opened a sinkhole in the street with her mind last week. And ever since Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) and Sean (Toby Kebbell) started to take a more proactive approach to getting Leanne out of the house and away from their family — preferably by giving her back to the cult she fled, the Church of Lesser Saints — things have been … tense in the Turner house.
At this point, Dorothy and Sean are thoroughly aware that Leanne is in charge. This is her house now. But Sean thinks they still have a play left. Dorothy’s brother Julian (Rupert Grint) is still in something like a relationship with Leanne. Maybe the witchy nanny will listen to him if he suggests that she loosen her grip on the Turner family?
As it is, Dorothy is miserable. Leanne throws a birthday party for Jericho’s half birthday and invites a few confused guests, an animal wrangler (Eoin O’Shea) and a woman (Tanya Davis) dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz to try and make peace. However, Dorothy hates it (and wants to spite Leanne), so she acts like a stick in the mud all day.
Snakes, vomit and a knowing goat
Leanne is also having a bit of a day. The animal wrangler’s snake tries to bite her, and the goat eats her dress. When she goes upstairs to change, she hears something upstairs and goes to investigate. There’s a crying kid in the bathtub. As she investigates, three members of the cult spring a trap on her.
Initially, it looks like they’ve got her good and hogtied. But Leanne manages to get the upper hand and dispatches them, sending her helpers to clean up the crime scene. She then tries to salvage the party, but the goat gets loose and breaks into the house. It almost like it’s trying to hurt Leanne … like it knows something.
Dorothy and Sean both try to talk Julian into helping them in their crusade to get Leanne out of the house, but he won’t hear it. He cares about her too much and is too sympathetic to her plight and rough upbringing. He and Sean get into an argument about their priorities. And Julian pushes back very hard when Sean asks for his help (and suggests Julian should examine his own addiction and personality issues). The two wind up engaged in a physical fight in the living room.
Can things get worse? Yes they can.
Back at the party, the Dorothy impersonator gets drunk and throws up all over some of the guests. Then her dog gets loose, biting Leanne and knocking over the crates containing all the other zoo animals. Bev (Denny Dillon), one of Dorothy’s live-in nurses, takes Leanne to the basement and offers to dress her dog bite. But then she drugs the nanny.
When Leanne wakes up, she’s tied up and Bev is flagellating herself to the sounds of Lipps Inc.’s “Funky Town.” She lights a fire to get her sacrificial knife red hot, and the smoke winds up in the chimney in the living room, breaking up Julian and Sean’s fight.
Julian runs downstairs and finds Bev paralyzed by the fire, holding the scalding hot knife, and dying of some kind of bizarre allergic reaction. They call the police, who take Bev away. Bobbie (Barbara Kingsley), the other nurse, swears she had no idea about the cult affiliation — but resigns anyway.
Get control of your animals
Celine Held and Logan George direct this week and use a lot of whip pans effectively, from the chaos of the party to the violent confrontations on every floor of the house. I loved the absurdity of Sean and Julian having it out (two fancy fellows trying to have their best imitation of a fistfight) while Bev’s downstairs playing disco and preparing to sacrifice Leanne to her god.
The atmosphere on Servant is usually of sustained dread broken up by pure strangeness and absurdity, so it was very fun (stressful, but fun) to see the show go for pure insanity from start to finish in the blocking and action.
It’s all great: the animals biting Leanne all the way through, the drunk Dorothy impersonator, the bloody fighting, the stunningly weird Bev reveal. And — my personal favorite — Julian rushing to save Leanne from Bev only to discover that Leanne has it taken care of.
The most unhinged episode of Servant yet
Julian now must see what Sean and Dorothy are talking about when they say how dangerous Leanne is. It’s a little silly that he didn’t believe them to begin with, but this show isn’t set in your reality or mine. The reality of Servant is a beautifully deranged topsy-turvy world of coincidence and magic.
The question of what the approach to Leanne will be remains open, and I’m also not at all sure what to make of the reveal that when Dorothy was younger she covered a child beauty pageant and happened to meet a young Leanne, who was in competition. Curious. Like much on this show, it could just be weirdness for weirdness’ sake. That’s fine by me, but I’m anxious to know if it is going somewhere.
“Zoo” was a great episode of my favorite thing on TV.
Watch Servant on Apple TV+
New episodes of Servant season four arrive every Friday on Apple TV+.
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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.