Halloween comes early this week on Servant, the Apple TV+ saga of a family increasingly held prisoner by the mystic nanny who once threatened to save them from themselves.
On the prowl for zealots, Leanne discovers that the violence inside her can be used for more than necessary evil. Julian and Sean are starting to lose the illusion that they have any kind of control over her, and are beginning to agree with Dorothy that it’s time for the nanny to go. It’s another excellently creepy outing for the Turner family.
Servant recap: ‘Boo’
Season 4, episode 4: In the episode, entitled “Boo,” Dorothy (played by Lauren Ambrose) and Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) find themselves navigating separate crises. Leanne confesses to the mannequin in her room that she’s begun treating people like the forgotten maternal figures she left behind at the cult (or killed when they came for her). She’s starting to enjoy wielding her powers and the malevolent glee she gets from hurting people.
Dorothy, meanwhile, remains bedridden, watching old clips of her past Halloween broadcasts. When Sean (Toby Kebbell) finds her in this state of aggressive self-loathing, he tries to lighten the mood to little avail. He decides to deck out the house in Halloween decorations to see if that will cheer up his troubled wife.
Leanne tries to be proactive as well. She goes to her homeless followers living in the park by the house and gives them instructions to be on the lookout tonight. With the whole neighborhood in masks, it’ll be easier than ever to get close to the Turner household. So she wants to go on the offensive.
Then she goes home and gives herself a hell of a makeover. Julian (Rupert Grint) is impressed, but his admiration is tempered when she grabs the first kid she sees, pulls her in the house, and says, “If you eat too much you’ll become a fat little worm and no one will love you!” Julian is aghast. Leanne innocently muses that you’re supposed to scare kids on Halloween.
Trick or treat
Sean eventually wears down Dorothy a little. He gets her excited about the idea of him taking Jericho out trick or treating. Everything seems to be going well, except Sean sees someone staring at him in a ghost costume from across the street. And then the ghost promptly vanishes.
It’s unsettling for sure, but Sean is determined to make Halloween a smash, so he soldiers on. Feeling high on Dorothy’s approval being ladled out for the first time since her accident, he makes a decision: If Dorothy wants Leanne out of the house, he’s going to make that happen.
While he’s mulling this, Leanne uses the neighborhood’s open doors as a pretense to start searching local residences for members of the Church of Lesser Saints. She runs into Tobe (Tony Revolori) in the street. He wants badly to tag along with her, as he’s nursing a long crush that’s only excited by her doll costume. Leanne tells him to go home, and he does, but then someone dressed identically starts following her around the neighborhood.
She kicks him down a flight of stairs and snaps his arm against a wrought iron gate. The kid then says he was just trying to scare her. Turns out the knife the kid was wielding was plastic. He really was just a kid trying to scare her. To put it mildly, it didn’t work.
Panic on the streets
Intoxicated by her own violence, Leanne finds a little girl in the street and asks if she’s frightened of her. The little girl doesn’t answer. So Leanne uses her mind to snap a power line, which sends the whole street into a panic.
Uncle George (Boris McGiver), the man from the commune who’s been watching over Leanne these last few months, and Roscoe (Phillip James Brannon), Julian’s private detective friend who’s been helping Uncle George, see this and start freaking out. Uncle George knew a Lesser Saints prophecy foretold someone gaining too much power and destroying the world. What he (and everyone else) was blind to was that that someone was Leanne. Now it might be too late to stop her.
Sean tries nicely to ask Leanne to leave when she gets home. But, meek soul that he is, she runs right over him.
“You made your choice, Sean, now be an adult and live with it,” she says.
Maybe they’re going to need to use violence of their own to win this. Otherwise, Leanne is going to get everything she wants.
Are you frightened?
I think part of why I so enjoy Servant is because no one involved with the show does press. That means a million quotes from the stars and directors and writers about what it means don’t find their way into the social media echo chamber, diluting the dreadful momentum of the show’s awesome death spiral.
Executive producer and showrunner M. Night Shyamalan apparently learned his lesson about talking to the press when he had a good thing going. Now he appears to have imparted the “less is more” strategy to the Servant team, because I don’t know what anyone involved with the show thinks they’re doing.
And I’m so much happier not knowing.
A delightful homage to classic horror
I say this because in an episode like this, which has little cribs from the likes of Carrie and The Fury and Halloween, I get to intuit all that myself. But also, the homage is never so stark that that’s all I’m thinking about. I want to see the next image, the next gory sight. I want to hear the next awful sound. In short, I want more, and there’s nothing whatever between me and the show.
This team (Dylan Holmes Williams directs again this week), this cast, this writing staff … week after week they drop us into hell for a half hour, where we laugh and wince and cover our eyes. (I screamed “Jesus Christ” like Graham Chapman in Holy Grail when Leanne gave that kid a compound fracture).
And then, just like that, it’s done. To me, it’s never enough. But I’d rather suffer through that each week than have the show overstay its welcome. Servant is just perfect TV.
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.