Thursday, November 28, 2019

REVIEW: 'Servant' - Sean and Dorothy Turner Hire a Young Nanny to Care for Their Newborn Son in 'Reborn'

AppleTV+'s Servant - Episode 1.01 "Reborn"

Leanne, a young nanny, is hired to care for baby Jericho. But all is not as it seems.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of AppleTV+'s Servant.

"Reborn" was written by Tony Basgallop and directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Servant opens with a thud. It's the literal noise made during Sean's first interaction with his baby. That is the first visceral moment of this premiere. Before that moment, it's clear that something about this world isn't quite right. It's an intimate setting where Sean and Dorothy Turner are eager to make a good first impression on the young woman they've hired to be their new nanny. And yet, there is a shroud of darkness that lingers over the frame. The camera is tilted off to never quite give the impression that this is a story the audience is suppose to be seeing. It's strange and unusual. It's aided by a score that teases to the audience immediately that something sinister lurks up in the baby's nursery. And then, that moment with Sean comes. That is the big reveal of what's truly happening in this household. He holds his son up by his feet and lets his head hit the rail on the crib. It's such a startling moment. The viewer may not even be expecting it. The premiere conditioned the audience to expect some grand twist to occur. That is always a given in any project where M. Night Shyamalan is involved. However, it's so upsetting before everyone realizes that the baby is nothing more than a doll. That too is such a strange image. Everything about this narrative revolves around this baby. And yet, the child presents in different ways to different people. Sean believes he has the rational explanation. He shares that their actual son died in the middle of the night. Replacing him with this doll was the best way for Dorothy to cope with that loss. Of course, it doesn't really seem like she is mourning. Instead, she has become fixated on the idea that her son isn't actually gone at all. She is still dealing with the physical changes that come from being a mother. She still has to pump. She is in agony over a clogged duct. Those are real issues for her. She has to pay attention to them and receive help when she needs it. She believes that it's all of service to a baby in the next room. She views the child as still very much alive. That is the reality she has created. It's easy for her to buy into it. She struggles with the idea of returning to work even though everyone agrees that it's something she needs to do. Sure, that decision may still cause stress. Sean is upset when she returns later than expected and the dinner he made is no longer served how he perfected it to be. He is at home all day acting as a private chef basically promoting recipes and techniques online. That is his profession. It seems very elite for a task that could be perceived as artificial. He has the ability to find work in this profession. He is simply choosing to stay at home. Again, that may not be a bad idea given this couple has just had a baby. But he operates within the truth. He knows that his son has died and a doll is occupying his space. He's simply curious why the new nanny, Leanne, plays into that narrative as well. When she enters this environment, the couple have already embraced their new realities. Meanwhile, Leanne walks in embracing a different truth that doesn't seem possible. That is strange and alienating. And in the end, it leads to a remarkable change. When Sean is all alone in the house for the first time, that's when a baby truly does present in the nursery once more. It's miraculous and impossible. He has mourned the loss of his son. He has focused on his work. He was wondering just how much help his wife may need in order to deal with the psychological ramifications of what has happened. And now, his whole world is upended. The narrative frames it as almost religious with Leanne being devout in her faith and even placing symbols in the nursery. That could present all of this as a miracle somehow. But there is also the reassurance that the truth is much more nefarious than that. It may not have required all the time offered in this premiere. It does feel like it slogs along after awhile to the point where the audience can sense what's going to happen. That's not effective. It also means the thud earlier on is the more shocking moment even though the later twist gives the show a much more engaging premise in the long term.