Servant Season 2 (Apple TV+)
Written by Tony Basgallop, Nina Braddock, and Ishana Night Shyamalan
Directed by Julia Ducournau, Ishana Night Shyamalan, M. Night Shyamalan, Lisa Brühlmann, Isabella Eklöf, and Nimród Antal
Servant is a show that confounds me at times. Its premise is an intriguing one: a married couple hires a nanny to care for a reborn doll and find that their child is suddenly restored to life. Just in that one sentence, we can explore grief, relationships under stress, what it means to be alive, and a big supernatural hook to boot. Yet, I always engage with the show having some hesitation because of M. Night Shyamalan’s involvement. I have a complicated history with the director’s body of work because I started out loving what he was doing only to watch him go off the rails most spectacularly. He’s not the main creative force behind Servant, that would be Tony Basgallop, but there is an evident influence from Shyamalan in the aesthetics and plot beats of each episode.
Season 2 begins almost immediately after the conclusion of Season 1. Jericho, the resurrected infant, is gone, and so is live-in nanny Leanne (Nell Tiger Free). Sean and Dorothy (Toby Kebbell & Lauren Ambrose) immediately want to get the baby back, though Sean is more resigned, beginning to believe Leanne used supernatural means to conjure up a baby, that it was not, in fact, their Jericho. Dorothy still hasn’t come to terms with Jericho’s passing & the circumstances around it but instead jumps into trying to get her child back by printing up missing posters of Leanne to hang up around the neighborhood. In a bid to “help” her, her brother, Julian (Rupert Grint), in a bid to “help” Dorothy, sends a fake ransom note telling Sean it will give her some hope. Through a convoluted series of circumstances, Leanne does end up back in their lives, and they learn more about her upbringing and the possible cult she is involved with. By the end of the season, a wish has come true but presumably at a hefty cost.
This second batch of episodes definitely leans more into the dark humor of the premise. Sean & Julian, in particular, get themselves into all sorts of ludicrous situations that provide both comic relief and manage to ratchet up the tension of scenes. Dorothy is even in on them, including creating a fake pizza restaurant so they can get inside a gated mansion where Leanne might be. There are moments where the line is definitely crossed from dark humor to outright ridiculousness, and it does hurt the tension of the story. If you grew tired of the slow-burning nature of season 1, then this second season will be a refreshing treat because, from episode one, the plot keeps up the momentum.
Rupert Grint gets some more room to stretch, and that could be as equally a turn-off as a selling point for some viewers. I found him to stand out so oddly in the first season, but I think he is made a bit more sympathetic here. We get more depth out of Julian and get to watch him hit his lowest point yet. Alternately, Nell Tiger Free has a lot more to do as Leanne this season. In the first season, she was relegated to being an object of mystery, but here we get to see her emotional range. She has moments of pure terror being confronted by people who know more about her than the audience does. However, she musters up a level of strength by the end of the season that is not necessarily comforting.
This is undoubtedly a heightened reality, characters behaving in irrational ways that make sense due to their fragile emotional states and seem a bit out of left field. There’s an instance where Julian has to silence a semi-unconscious man in the kitchen while Dorothy & Sean run interference with a police officer in the dining room. It plays as funny in specific beats, genuinely tense in others, and eye-rollingly dumb in some. It’s not enough to disinterest in me in the third season, which has been greenlit. I worry with that premise being set up at the end of this season that the show will become something more straightforward and lose some of its charms. Here’s hoping a balance is found to keep it feeling surprising and interesting.