Servant’s finale was uncomfortable, confounding, and perfectly fitting
Endings are hard. That’s particularly true for serialized mystery box TV shows, ones where plentiful juicy secrets hook viewers but the answers often fail to satisfy them. Putting a final bow on a story like that is a unique challenge. That’s part of what makes Servant, the Apple TV Plus psychological thriller helmed by M. Night Shyamalan, so interesting. Whereas many of these shows seem like they’re making it up as they go, Servant had a specific ending in mind. As Shyamalan told me ahead of the most recent season premiere, “The story wanted to be four seasons.” The show has been weird, confusing, and frequently nonsensical. But at least there has been the promise that it’ll all make some sense eventually.
So now, here we are at that ending. It has been, it’s an understatement to say, a strange journey — one full of “reborn dolls,” obsessive cults, plague-like afflictions, and quite possibly, a quarrel with God. People have died, and others have been brought back to life. And through it all, the core question at the center of the show — just who or what is Leanne (Nell Tiger Free), a nanny who is the titular servant — has remained unanswered. In the finale, someone finally comes out and asks outright, “What are you?”
The answer, as you can imagine, is a little complicated. But at the very least, Servant goes out on its own terms — which is to say, the finale was equal parts uncomfortable and confounding but in a way that fit the story perfectly.
Note: this review includes spoilers for all four seasons of Servant, up to and including the final episode.
Okay, so first, a little setup is required. The new season started out with a bang, and since then, forces have been conspiring against Leanne, which, in turn, has unleashed her full might. Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose), who Leanne views as a sort of mother figure, lives in fear of her nanny and wants nothing more than for her to be gone for good. Dorothy’s husband Sean (Toby Kebbell) and brother Julian (Rupert Grint) are now fully on her side. Leanne is still living in their home, taking care of the family and their child Jericho, but she’s incredibly isolated (aside from the cult of devotees who worship her in the park across the street).
In episode 8, a full-on Category 2 hurricane descends on Philadelphia as a physical symbol of Leanne’s simmering rage. She yells at the swirling winds as if they’re locked in a battle. (Presumably, she’s actually speaking to God.) She also learns an important truth from her former cult, the Church of the Lesser Saints: since no one is strong enough to kill her, the only way to end all of this chaos is to kill herself. “You should not exist,” her former cult leader Uncle George (Boris McGiver) tells her. Leanne, naturally, does not agree.
Another very important thing happened in the lead-up to the finale. Way back in season 1, the show began with a tragedy: Dorothy, sleep-deprived and alone, left her child, Jericho, in a car overnight one summer, and the baby died. Dorothy’s inability to cope with this horrible experience led to the therapy involving a reborn doll, and when Leanne came aboard as nanny, the doll miraculously came to life (though it also switched back to a doll at several points throughout the show). The big problem is that no one in Dorothy’s life, in particular, her husband and brother, could summon the courage to tell her what really happened — partly because they were scared and partly because they didn’t want to ruin whatever magic Leanne was working.
If Servant ended on a neat and tidy note, it wouldn’t be Servant anymore
But in episode 9, the penultimate one, amid the chaos of the powerful storm, they finally have the conversation — and it’s brutal. The camera pulsates like a heart as it slowly zooms in on Dorothy’s horrified face. It’s a heartbreaking scene, one that sets Dorothy up with a difficult choice: does she accept reality or change her mind to side with Leanne in hopes of bringing Jericho back yet again? Part of this decision-making process involves Dorothy finally asking Leanne just what she is. “It doesn’t matter,” Leanne tells her. “I’m yours.”
In the end, we don’t actually learn much new from the finale. And honestly… that’s fine. Ambiguity works for what Servant is. It’s clear that Leanne is some kind of supernatural force, one with a darkness inside of her — her moods can impact the weather, bring people to life, and inflict bodily harm — but whether she’s literally a demon or angel or something else is never explicitly explained. Instead, the finale focuses on something much more personal.
Despite her late-season grasp for power, Leanne really only wants one thing: a family. She thought she found it in the Turner home, a place where she could be a help and a comfort for a family struggling with terrible loss. But her inability to control her powers made life difficult. And when Dorothy ultimately decides that she needs to live with the pain as an expression of her love for Jericho, Leanne finds herself without a purpose. She makes a decision of her own: in order to end the destruction her power has brought, she decides to take Uncle George’s advice and end her life. And she does so in the most dramatic way possible, burning down the Turner house while still inside. The scene is beautiful in a tragic kind of way, like a literal interpretation of that one John Mayer song, before becoming truly horrifying.
The finale reminds me a bit of Lost’s controversial ending. Both are narratively frustrating, leaving lots of unanswered questions and details open to interpretation. But they’re emotionally satisfying. If Servant ended on a neat and tidy note, it wouldn’t be Servant anymore. Instead, it ends the only way it could: with a bizarre, terrifying, and confusing sequence that completely encapsulates the last four seasons. Even if the show had all the answers, it would be out of character to tell you all of them.