Equal parts frustrating and brilliant with the promise of big things to come to keep viewers hooked.
- ▪️The Turner house and its many floors/rooms really elevate the horror.
- ▪️The matter-of-fact instructional video guide.
- ▪️Strong performances from the small ensemble.
- ▪️An intriguing final scene that sets up Season 2.
- ▪️Some of the almost reveals are frustrating rather than tension building.
- ▪️Sean being conveniently out of the way during the climactic fight is hard to believe.
- ▪️Julian's absence was definitely felt as Rupert Grint does add some much-needed levity.
This post contains spoilers for Servant.
Constructing an effective mystery story is a delicate balance between revealing enough pieces of the puzzle and keeping the audience guessing. If you spill all the secrets too early then it doesn’t leave much space to carry on, but if too many loose ends are left dangling with more questions raised than answers given it can lead to a frustrated audience bailing early. M. Night Shyamalan has previously said he envisions Servant running for 60 episodes (it has already been renewed for Season 3), which could explain why Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) still does not know what really happened to her son on that fateful hot August day. What we are left with, is a finale that once again utilizes the Turner brownstone effectively to deliver a sense of impending doom, even if some of the overall pacing this year has been patchy.
“Maybe there’s nothing wrong. Maybe this is who I am,” Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) says out loud to no one (maybe God) at the end of the finale. Over the course of the 10 episodes, more details about the young nanny and the church she is a member of have been dished out amid the overarching mystery. The real Turner baby died in a tragic accident five months prior, but Dorothy has no memory of the incident beyond mysteriously waking at two o’clock every night (the time she realized he was dead), and the odd flashbulb image from the enduring nightmare. The season begins with Dorothy desperately searching for her baby and the missing nanny, and ends with a full-circle moment. After promising to bring him back, Leanne works her magic (quite literally, perhaps) and this Christmas Day ends with a joyous reunion. The events preceding lack festive cheer, and the finale delivers a horror-packed line-up.
In the penultimate episode, Christmas dinner ended with Julian (Rupert Grint) snorting so much coke in the downstairs bathroom he collapsed. This spiral has long been coming and Julian revealed the source of his shame to Leanne in “Loveshack.” He ignored his sister’s desperate pleas for help with her infant while Sean (Toby Kebbell) was out of town because his dealer had scored some high-quality drugs. His guilt at not being there is one reason why he has been going to extremes to keep the baby charade going. Julian is a sweaty mess in his attempt to play party games with his dad’s new girlfriend, which he is doing for the benefit of Dorothy. He also ignores his ex’s calls while making his excuses to go to the bathroom (he is also avoiding Leanne after they slept together in a storyline that I find as unsettling as Julian does). He is found without a pulse and all hope is lost until Leanne shows up and does a form of CPR that isn’t taught in first aid classes. She hits his chest and kisses his mouth, which does the trick. During the time he wasn't breathing, Julian claims he saw “him” and that he seemed okay, which we are to infer is the real baby Jericho.
Wheeled off in an ambulance, Julian is absent in the finale beyond Sean trying to call him – surprisingly, he doesn’t pick up. Rupert Grint provides much-needed humor dripping in darkness so this levity is missed. Even though he essentially died, the lack of Julian in the finale is a misstep. Perhaps, the writers thought there was enough going on during these 30 minutes (and there is) but even so, the episode suffers without Dorothy’s brother delivering a droll response to the unusual situation. I can only imagine what he would have made of Aunt Josephine (Barbara Sukowa) and her veiled widow get-up.
She is late to this deflated Christmas bash, but Aunt Josephine still arrives with a gift in hand that no one has asked for. The Church of the Lesser Saints might be the only organization to still use the obsolete Betamax to record an instruction guide, and this kind of detail feels like an attempt to slow the narrative even further. The justification here is that even a VHS player is still readily available and Aunt Josephine’s entrance is predicated on this gift for Leanne. However, flourishes like this turn have a habit of turning suspense into resentment directed at the glacial pace — a generous theory is perhaps the Betamax is used to make it harder for non-members to access this material. The contents of the tape are a doozie though, and it almost makes it worth the wait to see a tutorial as terrifyingly matter-of-fact as this one. Stiff and awkward similar instructional videos are something most of us have endured at work, though it is unlikely that those corporate guides go to the same lengths as this cult.
Leanne is terrified of Aunt Josephine and asks Sean to stay — he does not — and the tape’s contents reveal why. Before she gets down to business with her ‘niece,’ she talks to Dorothy, first calling her a “warrior” before giving her the onesie Jericho was wearing when he died. She offers a vague missive that this garment is the truth, which leads to Dorothy’s muddled recollection. She hears crying and constructs another noose — in the previous episode she made one in the wine cellar as a contingency in case Jericho doesn’t return — before Sean intervenes. Instead of remembering what really happened, she thinks that “they” have killed him. Whatever or whoever
While this crisis is occurring, Aunt Josephine explains to Leanne what the “reunion ritual” is via the Betamax recording. Uncle George (Boris McGiver) was unsuccessful in his attempts at the invocation and the consecration stages in “Love Shack,” which aims to bring a lost member of the church back to the light. Leanne’s great sin is coveting Dorothy Turner and her refusal to forget this woman is when this episode dials up the terror. The ritual involves blinding and stabbing before culminating in the body being burned in a prepared pyre as part of the emancipation stage. George turned the sinkhole into a firepit, which is helpful to Aunt Josephine who kicks the whole thing off by throwing something corrosive in Leanne’s face.
The impressive Brownstone is perhaps Servant’s biggest asset and this is no more clear than in the finale that sees characters trapped in various rooms. Temporarily without sight, Leanne uses her knowledge of the layout to grab a knife from the kitchen before ending up in the basement. Unable to escape via any of the locked doors, she seeks refuge in a room that is often utilized to hold someone captive. Of course, Josephine tracks her down and almost finishes the task before Dorothy swoops in to save her. Evidently, Sean talked her down but his absence and his wife’s choice to go and find him is a convenient plot hole that allows Aunt Josephine to strike again. Never assume the unconscious villain is actually unconscious! Luckily, Leanne was heating up the knife when she is struck again. Pulling of the veil to reveal Aunt Josephine’s burn scars gives Leanne the chance to deliver a zinger (“vanity is a sin”) before plunging the knife through her eye. By the time Dorothy returns with Sean (who she found in the snowy garden), the fire is out and only embers remain.
Jericho’s return was promised after Dorothy saved her nanny, but Sean reads the empty basement as a sign that Leanne has left again. As he edges closer to telling Dorothy the truth (which seems like a bad idea considering Dorothy’s mental state), they are interrupted by the baby monitor. Following the nursery rhyme singing, they discover Leanne has not left and she is also cradling a real baby dressed in festive plaid. A miracle of sorts has occurred and the family Leanne has been craving is now within reach. She interprets Dorothy saving her as the act of a mother, forgetting that she was recently tortured by this woman.
While the Turners celebrate Jericho’s return, Leanne kneels in her bedroom and contemplates the consequences of her actions. Defiance and fear swirl as she comments on the dark thing inside her and the war she has started. A shot of charred remains stashed in the wall space is the cause of this predicament, but for now, she feels satisfied being part of this family unit. Lights flicker before going out and the whole street goes dark. It is eerie and despite any frustration at the lack of answers, it is a tantalizing cliffhanger. Of course, many questions arise from this finale including Leanne’s resurrection skills (can she turn a doll into a real baby?) and how she managed to burn Aunt Josephine and lug her remains upstairs in the time it took Dorothy to find Sean in the garden. Despite my reservations about the pacing and drawn-out mystery, Servant is still incredibly rewarding and bolstered by its cast, setting, and direction. The threads left dangling in this final scene reveals the truth isn't the biggest threat after all.
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