Amid a torrent of rain, in the dead of night, a yellow taxi pulls up to a townhouse. Inside, Dorothy Turner is tending to her doll in its crib. She hears the doorbell ring and hurries down to answer, wondering out loud if this is the girl. Her husband, Sean, impatiently tells her to answer the door and find out. They open, and standing there in the pouring rain is Leanne Grayson, their new nanny.
Within minutes, Shyamalan’s unmistakable imprint is all over Servant. His deliberate pace is familiar to anyone that knows his work. A healthy dependence on stationary angles where characters are stepping in and out of frame gives it away. The copious panning shots between dialog exchanges are further proof. This observation shouldn’t be taken as criticism, merely a nod to those in the know. If you can recognize M. Night’s work at the first awkwardly tight close-up, you’ll know the pace of things here.
I want to note that while M. Night gets directorial credit for the first episode of Servant (and a second), Tony Basgallop is the show’s creator, writer, and producer. With that said, I expect Shyamalan’s familiar style to endure throughout.
At its core, Servant is a mystery — every scene deals in further enwrapping the viewer in the strangeness of the situation — the impetus for the doll, the mysterious waif living with them, the surplus of splinter related mishaps. It’s all quite peculiar, but if the right balance of answers is met, it’ll counter the stack of mysteries, and make a fan out of me.
Regarding dolls, I’m not particularly fond of them. Baby dolls to be specific; I don’t find them offensive; I just don’t like them. What with their oversized unblinking eyes, or worse yet, the ones that do blink, and those tiny holeless ears, their curiously weighty cherub heads–who likes these things? I assume children don’t either, but they’re just kids, helpless to the charade that corporate machinations have set upon them.
So I don’t like baby dolls, and Jericho, the doll is creepy. I’m finding it difficult to discern if the effect is entirely practical or if there are some CG enhancements thrown in, but in close-up shots, its skin is a touch translucent. It’s gross. At proximity, it looks like a pale-faced, jellyfish chimp hybrid, and I rather not.
Dorothy Turner is a fascinating figure in the house. Overbearing and overconfident, we learn that she’s re-entering the workforce as a local news reporter. We get glimpses of her segments throughout Servant. They’re well-done, but perhaps a tag overacted, although I suppose you could argue that this spurious persona comes part and parcel with the job description. Dorothy, of course, has some more pertinent issues to deal with. Namely, her consuming attachment to her jelly-faced doll, Jericho.
Sean, on the other hand, seems to be at least partially rational, albeit overly critical and petulant. He is a bon vivant. He makes a living, creating and selling recipes to restaurants. Narratively, it helps keep Sean at home where strange shit happens, so we’ll take it. He’s aware of the Jericho farce, but so desperately wants his wife back that he tolerates it.
The nanny-waif is the real enigma of Servant. Leanne Grayson is meek and pious. She keeps to herself and has a propensity for handweaving crucifixes, much to Sean’s chagrin. Because of Dorothy ‘s circuitous nature, she dominates most interactions, which hides how little Leanne has yet to reveal about herself. One thing is for sure, she is resolute in her dedication to Jericho. More facets of her personality will eventually come to light, but her intentions are still unclear.
For all the familiarity with Shyamalan’s work that I mentioned above, ironically, the most shocking aspect of Servant is perhaps that it managed to surprise me with an actual twist. Certainly, some of you have already watched the trailer, so your mileage may vary, but I’ve taken to avoiding trailers as much as I can, and I did not see it coming.
This is the enigmatic Servant. These are the principal characters and their primary mysteries, and I am intrigued. I haven’t even delved into Rupert Grint speaking with an American accent. It’s rare for me to follow a show to completion these days, but for Servant, and its raft of questions, I will take the journey in hope of some answers.
New episodes of Servant are available each Friday on Apple TV+.