M. Night Shyamalan returns to the director’s chair for the penultimate episode of Apple TV+’s Servant, his show about a nanny terrorizing a Philadelphia family in their brownstone.
Leanne has Dorothy all to herself — and Dorothy can’t help but notice. A last-ditch rescue attempt is scuttled after Dorothy insists on hearing some hard truths from Sean and Julian, who may not have the upper hand when they’re done.
Though unnerving and quite upsetting, “Awake” stands tall as one of the greatest episodes yet of this outstanding show.
Servant recap: ‘Awake’
Season 4, episode 9: Dorothy (played by Lauren Ambrose) and Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) are alone in the Turner household now. It’s just them and Dorothy’s baby, Jericho.
In case you forgot, Leanne incapacitated Julian (Rupert Grint) and Sean (Toby Kebbell) fell on a knife in last week’s harrowing episode. Those two are gonna be out of commission for a while. Their injuries came as retaliation for trying to turn Dorothy over to Uncle George (Boris McGiver) and the rest of the crazies at the cult she escaped, The Church of Lesser Saints. That plan got botched spectacularly when Leanne killed everyone, then sent Sean and Julian to the hospital.
This week, Dorothy calls Sean to see how he’s holding up. He says he’s sending his assistant, Tobe (Tony Revolori), over with some food in the morning. Leanne calls Sean to threaten him directly after Dorothy’s call.
The next morning, the food shows up, but there’s no sign of Tobe. Someone else is standing a few feet away, though, and they talk to Dorothy in secret while she pretends to talk to Tobe on the front steps. Leanne doesn’t see this little ruse because she’s avoiding Tobe, having broken up with him for Julian.
Dorothy tries to escape from Leanne’s clutches
Dorothy, aware she’s being observed, agrees to watch The Wizard of Oz with Leanne. But a few minutes in, Dorothy says she isn’t feeling well. Could Leanne put Jericho to bed? The nanny agrees to do it, and then Dorothy tries to make a break for it.
The walker she’s been using (after the fall last season that almost completely paralyzed her) is too noisy, so she has to walk down three flights of stairs without it. And every creak of the house and noisy footfall could be the one that alerts Leanne to her escape attempt. (There’s great sound design during this part of the show. The score of scraping violins adds even more to the tension.) Dorothy gets her coat, goes outside, slips out the back, walks around through the alley, and out front are Julian and Sean in a car.
Julian and Sean ask Dorothy to accompany them somewhere else, but she won’t leave. Not without Jericho, whose cries she can hear on the baby monitor in her pocket.
Now, about baby Jericho …
Still, they need to tell her something. When Sean first went to California to make his cooking show, Dorothy was on her own in the house with Jericho. Dorothy called Julian for help with something, and he didn’t answer because he was high. She doesn’t have any memory of this, but Julian plays her the voicemail.
During that time, Jericho died. The first Jericho, that is. Dorothy left him in the car and the baby died of exposure. She brought Jericho’s body into the house, not seeming to understand what had happened. She was warped by the experience. She could not make sense of what she’d done. So they replaced Jericho with a doll for therapeutic reasons.
When Dorothy hears the story and remembers it all, she starts screaming and attacks both her husband and her brother. It’s only because she can’t walk that they’re able to stop her from fleeing the scene. Then Leanne notices Julian’s car and comes downstairs to meet them.
Julian and Sean try to get Leanne to admit she’s a fraud in front of Dorothy — after all, it might help fix Dorothy’s perception of herself and her situation — but Leanne won’t do it. The nanny’s cunning. She tells Dorothy she can have anything she wants — Leanne says she can make it happen. She has the power to do anything. She, after all, brought Jericho back to life. So what’s it gonna be, Dorothy?
M. Night Shyamalan returns with a vengeance
Bringing M. Night Shyamalan back to direct (I presume) the final two episodes of the show is terribly exciting. He and his photographer Mike Gioulakis wield their camera with scientific precision. The shot of Dorothy walking down the hall is a great little move. We start on the floor and follow the walker, which is making too much noise. Then the camera shoots up to see Dorothy’s reaction to it, points up above her head to indicate Leanne upstairs watching Jericho, then comes back down to look at Dorothy as she puts the walker back. Backward, up, tilted, back down. A little short film.
The stuff with Dorothy in the car is this week’s real showstopper, though. Shyamalan films most of it from Dorothy’s POV, or to emphasize her experience when we look at her. Julian starts crying at one point (Rupert Grint is so good here — maybe the best he’s yet been), but we can’t see it because Dorothy can’t fully see it. We hear it, and know Julian’s head is down, but we have to wait for Grint to look to camera to get the image.
And when the big revelation is coming upon Dorothy, the camera starts across from her in the back seat where Sean would be sitting, then just tracks in on her until her face is dead center of the frame and taking up most of the space.
That’s exactly how you do it. What a show. What a director. What a tragedy Servant must end soon.
Watch Servant on Apple TV+
New episodes of Servant season four arrive every Friday 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.