Review: AppleTV+’s Servant

There is nothing more tragic than for a parent to lose a child.

Thankfully, the closest I have ever come to such a scenario is my son briefly going missing in a department store. He decided to play hide-and-go-seek in the clothing racks without telling anyone.

Those fateful minutes were a nightmare as all sorts of gruesome scenarios that no parent wants to think about but has to all the time played out in my frantic mind.

The Turners in Apple TV+’s new series Servant know this feeling all too well. Sean (Toby Kebbell) and Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) suffered a devastating loss when their infant son Jericho unexpectedly passed away in his crib one morning with no explanation as to why.

Unable to deal with the tragedy, Dorothy’s mind fractured. She became despondent and catatonic.

The only thing that brought her back to the land of living, back to her centered state of mind, was the introduction of a substitute for Jericho: a realistic baby doll.

Being able to rock, bathe, take care of the doll as Dorothy would a real baby brought a sense of normalcy back to the Turner household with Sean and Dorothy’s brother Julian Pearce (Rupert Grint, Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films) reluctantly playing along.

Nell Tiger Free in Servant. Courtesy: AppleTV+.

Things go insanely overboard though when Dorothy, a successful television news reporter, decides to hire a nanny to look after “baby Jericho” when she is ready to go back to work. It is no surprise at all when we learn that soft-spoken, polite, demure nanny Leanne Grayson comes from a strict religious upbringing. Leanne is played pitch perfect by Nell Tiger Free (Myrcella Baratheon in Game of Thrones). She is the true star of Servant because he could have easily over played her role but instead she gives a measured performance that makes us wonder what, if anything, is beneath her prim, proper, modest exterior. Is there more to the nanny than meets the eye?

Ever mindful that Dorothy’s sanity weighs in the balance, Sean meets with Leanne alone giving her the complete low-down. Sean tells Leanne that she just has to go through the motions when Dorothy is around until they figure out what to do and for that she will collect a decent salary. Despite being totally absolved of her obligations Leanne continues to dutifully do her job looking after Jericho as she would a real baby even when Dorothy is at work or away.

Then, comes the big twist which flips the entire script. One morning, the Jericho doll inexplicably becomes a real, living, breathing baby complete with dirty diapers and all.

While Dorothy of course continues as if it is business as usual in the Turner household, Julian and Sean are astonished. They are determined to not only get to the bottom of Leanne’s secretive background but find out how an apparent miracle happened in the first place and if there is a rational explanation behind it all.

Lauren Ambrose in Servant. Courtesy: AppleTV+.

Those mysteries are at the heart of why Servant is such a masterful psychological thriller. As more layers are pulled back with each episode our minds are engaged in trying to put all the pieces together ourselves, often jumping to the wrong conclusions.

To light the fuse on the already volatile and potentially explosive drama that’s playing out, the stress and tension on everyone involved begins to rise as Dorothy becomes insistent on taking Jericho to work and having him christened in front of friends and family at the local church. We realise as do Sean and Julian, that if Dorothy takes these steps, there really is no turning back no matter how the Jericho Pinocchio act was pulled off.

Of the current slate of Apple TV+ offerings, Servant stands out from the rest. That’s not only because of executive producer M. Night Shyamalan’s involvement, although his advice and guidance obviously played a decisive role in how the series was produced, but Tony Basgallop’s story is portrayed so well note by tragic note by a small cast. The showrunners have given them the room, the space, to bring the virtues and flaws of their complex characters and the peculiar, puzzling story to life.

Like most of M. Night Shyamalan’s more successful projects, Servant expertly messes with your heart and your mind especially if you are a parent who understands the effects the joys and sometimes the miseries of being a parent has on one’s mind and one’s soul. The series has already been renewed for a second season giving Shyamalan and Basgallop the chance to roll the dice again and torment us even more with the deviously clever mind game that is Servant.

Top Photo: Rupert Grint and Toby Kebbell in Servant. Courtesy: AppleTV+.

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