After the death of her infant son, Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose) struggles with not just moving on, but consciously grasping the fact she no longer has a child. As an attempt to cope with the loss, a creepily life-like doll serves as a replacement baby. A young nanny by the name of Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) moves in to take care of the “baby” and she perfectly plays along by treating the doll as if it were alive...
...Husband Sean (Toby Kebbell) does not trust the nanny and the mystery surrounding the young girl continues to grow and events become even more bizarre when the doll becomes replaced with a real baby. Where did the baby come from? And who is the servant?
Created by M. Night Shyamalan, episode four of Servant, "Bears", sees Nimrod Antal (Predators) take over as director and treats us to a significant amount of backstory. Instead of attempting to answer some of the questions from previous episodes, the director focuses much more on character development and less on plot. Focusing on the mother’s perspective, we see the happiness and pain of pregnancy as well as the struggles the post-partum Dorothy goes thru to re-find herself physically and mentally.
The episode starts with a flashback to the announcement of the pregnancy and we witness the utter happiness the couple exudes as they speak of the arrival of “Harry”. Curious first choice for a name, but we assume Dorothy was just pitching ideas for the baby. Only later in the episode do we learn Dorothy became pregnant several times, only to miscarry all of them. However, due to some torturous inclination of hers, she named every single pregnancy as soon as she received a positive test. The pregnancy tests became labeled with the name of the possible child, only to be later discarded in a nightstand box. In another flashback we see a “Jericho” pregnancy test tossed in with the never born Harry, Sam, Chloe, and others. Through flashbacks we gain a deeper understanding of the debilitating grief and guilt Dorothy experienced after the death of Jericho. The dead infant did not just mean loss of motherhood and the life of a child, but actually represents all of Dorothy’s failed pregnancies.
In present time, Sean ventures inside the walls of the house to spy on the suspicious nanny. Both the husband and the brother-in-law find the whole situation unsettling, but still feel they lack enough evidence to successfully convince Dorothy or perhaps the authorities. The wife’s fragile disposition leaves her vulnerable to extreme shocks and perhaps the men in her life feel the less she knows the better they can protect her. Perhaps Sean underestimates his wife’s mental health or perhaps the husband discovered his own coping mechanism by infantilizing his wife. Either way, instead of addressing the issue the husband chooses an incredibly creepy approach as he secretly monitors his barely legal house guest from the comforts of her bedroom.
Even though Dorothy holds no lasting memory of the death of her son, the relationship with her husband continues to follow a strained trajectory as if they are recovering from a loss. The only open and intimate location where the spouses share their true feelings occurs in the bathroom while Dorothy bathes. And while they share their frustrations, she will not share her body due to lack of confidence. The death of Jericho consciously or subconsciously wreaks havoc on their minds, but the birth of the child physically altered Dorothy. And therefore, the lack of intimacy irritates Sean and creates further tension between the couple.
And on top of everything already happening with the baby, wife, and nanny, Sean’s taste buds (and therefore his livelihood and passion) are failing. He can no longer enjoy the meals he creates, nor can he even tell if his work meets his standards which just adds further items to the long list of current disasters in Sean’s life. However, the inability to properly prepare his fish-centered dishes does seem to take precedence over his family. He knows he lost his son and watches hopelessly as he loses his wife, so any solution for his cooking issues allows him some sense of control. He cannot fix his family, but he can find a better way to prepare lobster ice cream.
The episode ends with a reminder we still have no idea why Leanne came to the Turners, but we do learn her decision to do so stems from an encounter several years prior. As Leanne enjoys her private time, a music box style soundtrack plays in the background. At first the simple notes add an innocent quality to the nanny, but quickly turn ominous when a secret about Leanne (and Dorothy’s) past becomes revealed.
Servant is a 10-episode season and with the half-way point quickly approaching, the lack of progressing storyline gives the impression we are all trapped in the house with the Turners. While episode four does not do much to answer any of the questions and only adds to the current mysteries, we learn more about the relationship between Dorothy and Sean and see where they used to be and how they struggle to get back to it. Now, character development is important for such an emotional and limiting story (architecturally speaking, that is), but hopefully we can expect more plot advancement in the coming episodes.
Don't miss episode 5 of Servant when it drops on Apple TV+ on December 13th.
By Amylou Ahava