Servant season 3, episode 1 recap: Is the cult coming for Leanne?

Lauren Ambrose and Nell Tiger Free in Servant, premiering January 21, 2022 on Apple TV+.
Lauren Ambrose and Nell Tiger Free in Servant, premiering January 21, 2022 on Apple TV+. /

Everyone’s favorite gripping and weird supernatural thriller series, Servant is finally back! The Servant season 3 premiere doesn’t waste time introducing new mysteries while following up on some disturbing plot developments that unfolded toward the end of season 2.

We pick up three months after the events of the season 2 finale. Leanne is a paranoid, nervous wreck after murdering Aunt Josephine and starting a war with the Church of Lesser Day Saints. She is convinced that it is only a matter of time before cult members arrive at the Turner household to harm her or the family.

Sean and Dorothy think Leanne is overreacting, or they’re in denial. All they care about now is Jericho’s return. After finishing a stint in rehab, Julian is doing his best to be a better person, including drinking green juice and working out incessantly. He’s got a new girlfriend, Vera (Sunita Mani), who he met at the treatment center.

Servant season 3, episode 1 recap: What’s the deal with the donkey?

Titled “Donkey,” Servant season 3, episode 1 draws an interesting parallel to a bible story featuring a man named Balaam, a talking donkey and a sword-wielding angel of the lord. Let’s take a second to discuss this as it’s pertinent to this specific episode and potentially this season’s theme as a whole.

In the story, Balaam is regarded as a false prophet who dismisses the word of God to do his own thing. Even his donkey is more aware of God’s will than Balaam. While taking his donkey on a walk, the animal continues to stop because it sees an angel of the lord (invisible to Balaam).

Balaam punishes the donkey every time it veers out of the angel’s path until finally, the donkey starts to speak and asks Balaam why he is being punished. Only then does the angel become visible to Balaam. The story has many meanings, but the main takeaway is that sin always has consequences. You can learn more about the story and its interpretation here.

Why am I mentioning Balaam and the donkey? A painting depicting the biblical scene is shown in close-up in the episode. If you conduct a Google image search of the story, you’ll see many versions of the painting that contain the same elements as the one shown hanging in Leanne’s bedroom.

In Servant season 3, episode 1, we find out that Leanne’s resuscitation powers are no longer working. She keeps finding moths in her bedroom, and every time they die, she collects them and stores them in her bathroom cabinet with the hopes of bringing them back to life.

Why is this important? The moths are emanating from Josephine’s burnt corpse, stuffed between the walls of Leanne’s bedroom. We see them crawling out of a hole in the wall meticulously placed directly above the painting. I doubt that’s a coincidence. It would appear that we’re now seeing Leanne’s punishment for ignoring God’s will, something the cult did warn her about multiple times last season. Murdering Josephine seems to correlate with her loss of power or potential manifestation of a new, more destructive ability, but more on that later.

As is the case with many things on Servant, this story is very open to interpretation, especially because Leanne is seen holding a dagger a few times. She now sleeps with it under her pillow as a precaution. When she holds it, Leanne looks very similar to the sword-wielding angel from the bible story and shown in the painting. By the episode’s end, that dagger is stolen from her. Does that mean God has abandoned Leanne?

Servant season 3
Lauren Ambrose and Nell Tiger Free in Servant season 3, episode 1, premiering January 21, 2022 on Apple TV+. /

Servant season 3, episode 1 recap: Is the cult really coming for Leanne?

Throughout the premiere, Leanne struggles to keep her fear of the cult under control. She can’t even make it all the way to a park on a walk without accosting a random older man who looks a little like Uncle George. I can’t say I blame her for her paranoia either, especially after everything we’ve seen. But Julian, Sean and Dorothy are all living in their typical state of denial, refusing to believe that something could be wrong. They have what they want now, Jericho, so they’re going to fight tooth and nail to keep their happy bubble whole.

Leanne’s fear results in her staying home instead of going to the Jersey shore with the rest of the family for a day trip. She gets drunk on wine (yes, that massive pit in the basement is still there) and even tries to get Toby to come over.

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While alone, Leanne starts doodling in her notebook. She appears to fall into a weird fugue state, drawing scribbles on the page. Then Dorothy tells her that a flock of seagulls attacked Julain at the beach, and suddenly, Leanne’s drawing has meaning. Did she cause the attack? Was it revenge for Julian trying to break things off with her before leaving for the shore?

During the episode’s climax, someone breaks into the house and steals several items, including her dagger. The police say that the robbery is nothing more than a run-of-the-mill break-in, but how are we supposed to believe that? I found it interesting that Dorothy tries to calm Leanne down by telling her that humans have an instinctive urge to seek patterns in things to make sense of them.

It almost feels like a direct nod to the audience and our desire to uncover the potential mysteries of this series. “I don’t know what’s more cruel, really, to live in an indifferent world or one that’s constantly testing us.” Whether Dorothy really believes that or she’s just trying to keep her life as tidy as possible remains to be seen, but she does promise Leanne that they will get a top-of-the-line security system installed.

Servant season 3, episode 1 recap: Leanne’s paranoia

Overall, this was a really strong episode. It showcases the suffocation and paranoia Leanne is feeling exceptionally well, with a few sequences that feel very Hitchcockian in nature. We also see how Leanne is still so tied to this little brownstone, as at one point, part of the house crumbles and just barely misses Julian after Leanne gets upset and storms inside.

Another thing I appreciate about “Donkey” is how the show allows the audience to see and feel what Leanne is experiencing. That man she confronted on the street, why was he standing there like that? Why did that woman look at Leanne through the blinds while walking down the sidewalk? It’s easy to understand her perspective and question why the Turners are not more frightened.

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New episodes of Servant season 3 stream Fridays on Apple TV+.