Servant (Season 4)
Updated: Mar 31
The culmination to the wobbly, but winning Apple TV horror series
M. Night Shyamalan was one of the big “signings” by Apple TV, when it first launched its streaming service in 2019. The American director made his first foray into TV by helping create the psychological thriller Servant(2019-2023). The gimmick in Servant was that the entire series would be confined within a single home. This was fortuitously prescient, as the one location and small cast allowed Servant to continue an uninterrupted shooting schedule through the COVID-19 pandemic. And as surprising as it is, Servant has already reached its conclusion with its fourth and final season.
Servant, season four, is the ending of the story of Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) and the Turners. This season kicks into high gear with Leanne’s supposed biblical reincarnation and powers, while also delivering a conclusion to the original series set-up of a mother, Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose), living under the delusion that a doll is her dead infant.
Shyamalan and series creator Tony Basgallop have done well to keep their series constrained within the Turner household, never making this concept feel forced, and allowing the claustrophobia of the story reflect its setting. As with any Shyamalan project, this fourth season is perfect from a technically standpoint. Shyamalan is a true heir to Hitchcock’s visual devices to create tension, and just as with the British auteur, one would be able to watch a Shyamalan film with the sound turned off, and still follow the plot perfectly. However, Shyamalan’s biggest weakness has usually been his writing, and in Servant this is made apparent.
Servant season one began with a creepy and mysterious concept of whether there was a real baby or not in the house. However, as answers have been revealed and as different writers and directors have come to imprint their own take on each episode (among them Shyamalan’s daughter, director Ishana Shyamalan) the series has opened itself up to inconsistencies. Here the role of Basgallop as a creator is crucial to maintain a constant narrative, but as seasons progressed the show got wilder and inexplicably supernatural. This culminates in season four with an attempt to bridge narrative gaps and provide feasible explanations. This inevitably is delivered anticlimactically and unconvincingly. Only an extremely strong penultimate episode (directed by M. Night Shyamalan himself) brings a satisfying culmination to a core plot point, delivering a much-needed payoff.
As with many of Shyamalan’s other projects, accurate casting proves to be crucial to the project’s success. In Servant an array of promising yet criminally forgotten performers is given their chance to show off again. We are graced with the winning Toby Kebbell, the scene-stealing Rupert Grint, and the subtle Tiger Free. However, Servant, from its first season, has been stolen completely by Lauren Ambrose, whose infallible performance as Dorothy grounds the entire affair. You feel that her incredibly challenging character is somehow too small for her talents. Ambrose’s face will be the image that’s conjured up in viewers’ minds when thinking of Servant.
Servant does have a silly and unnecessary twist ending that Shyamalan somehow feels obligated to provide, yet the wild build-up is largely carried out to a safe landing thanks to technical expertise, an insuperable cast, and a particularly strong penultimate episode. Overall, Servant will be remembered as one of the better horror shows of recent years, and an important and valuable milestone in Apple TVs nascent lifetime.