The stars of Apple TV+'s Servant are a close-knit group. The show, which begins its third season this week, still focuses primarily on four central characters: journalist Dorothy Turner (Lauren Ambrose), her husband and skilled chef Sean Turner (Toby Kebbell), her brother, the sarcastic, heavy drinker Julian Pearce (Rupert Grint), and their enigmatic nanny Leanne (Nell Tiger Free). Dorothy and Sean's baby Jericho died from neglect before the series began, Julian helped Sean lie to Dorothy to cover it up, but Leanne appears to have brought Jericho back to life.
The small, concentrated cast made it easier for Servant to bounce back and finish season 2 after the COVID-19 pandemic struck in the middle of production (which this EW reporter witnessed firsthand). Once the vaccines arrived, they were able to film season 3 all at once.
"Season 3 was a little bit of a magic season," executive producer M. Night Shyamalan tells EW. "We found this great group of writers, and sometimes it's just a chemistry thing. Everybody was feeding off each other and everyone became the best version of themselves. For that limited time, when we were all together, it was magic."
If season 3 was a "magical" experience for the cast and crew to film, it also starts out looking pretty good for the main characters. With Leanne having vanquished the terrifying cult leader Josephine (Barbara Sukowa) in the season 2 finale, and Jericho seemingly back in the land of the living for good, things are looking up for the Turner family…
…but this is still Servant, where a sense of subliminal foreboding hangs over every frame. So what's really going on this season?
Jessica Kourkounis/Apple TV+ Nell Tiger Free and Rupert Grint in 'Servant.'
Calm on the surface, roiling underneath
Servant's characters seem to have figured out their problems as season 3 begins — which immediately set off alarms for these actors, who have come to know them so well over the course of the past two seasons.
"Everything seems to be going fine, everyone's getting along quite well. The baby's back, Leanne and Dorothy are seeing eye-to-eye, and things seem to be going good. As soon as I read that, it made me feel uneasy," Grint says. "It just doesn't seem right. You know with this show, nothing like that lasts long. There's always gonna be some weird thing that appears and ruins everything."
Sean, for one, is taking a defensive position. The man who prides himself so much on his cooking skills spent a lot of time in earlier episodes with debilitating burns on his hands and no sense of taste. He doesn't want anything like that to happen again, and thinks Leanne might be the key. After a lot of doubt and cynicism, by the end of season 2, he's come to believe Leanne might really have access to some kind of higher power.
"In season 3, it's a lot of plastered smiles and 'hey, this could be good, right? This could be okay,'" Kebbell tells EW. "So I think there was that hint at the end of season 2 that maybe Leanne had more answers for Sean, if he just asked them the right way. So he's kind of pursuing that, which opens him up to more superstitious behaviors and anything, really, to keep away from being burned or losing any other limbs."
Leanne, though, is ready to go on the offensive. The first episode of season 3 is very "Leanne-heavy," as Free notes, which made it taxing to film. Leanne's mental state is also exhausting: Having just vanquished the person she feared most, now she can't stop waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"We find Leanne in this state of fraught paranoia. She's like this injured animal and she's just ready to lash out at anybody who tries to hurt her or hurt her family," Free says. "She's in an incredibly vulnerable state, but she makes the decision to not be the hunted anymore. She doesn't want to get taken away from the people that she loves, the people she's done everything to protect. So she's like a guard dog, her ears are constantly to the wind and she's constantly alert — which is exhausting for a person to be, and quite tiring to play as well."
From Dorothy's perspective, everything seems to be working out perfectly. But a lot of problems remain unresolved.
"Dorothy went so far in the direction of literally torturing Leanne to get her way in season 2. And she did get her way! She got her child back," Ambrose says. "Now we meet them however many months later and the baby's older, eating solid foods. As far as Dorothy can tell, they're in a fairly serene place and she's going to help Leanne overcome her paranoia about the cult. She feels like all of their problems are very much in the past. Of course they're not, and that feeling of safety quickly diminishes."
Jessica Kourkounis/Apple TV+ Julian (Rupert Grint) and Sean (Toby Kebbell) in 'Servant.'
The relationships among this core cast of characters stayed pretty consistent over two seasons. Sean and Dorothy are married, Sean and Julian are buddies who can be honest with each other about things they still haven't told Dorothy, and then Dorothy and Leanne have a weird mother/daughter relationship of their own. But season 3 will see a lot of these relationships shaken up and re-oriented.
Now that Sean, for example, is trying to be more of a believer, he doesn't have as much need for cynical chats with Julian. And now that Julian has gone sober following his near-fatal overdose at the end of season 2, he won't be bringing a bottle of booze over to the Turners' apartment anymore.
"That was basically like Sean's secret love affair," Kebbell jokes. "There's no danger of him cheating on Dorothy and having an affair, unless it's with his brother-in-law."
Julian should be alright, since he has a new girlfriend (Sunita Mani), but Grint admits that it was challenging to wrap his head around his character's newfound sobriety.
"I really underestimated how much I depended on the character's addiction to drink and all these other vices. It was such a useful tool for me to tune to him," Grint says. "To now have Julian completely stripped of all those things, it took a while for me to work out who he was without them. Of course, that opens up a whole other kind of can of worms with him. Now he's forced to face the guilt that he's been kind of carrying with a clear mind, and he feels like a very different dude."
Jessica Kourkounis/Apple TV+ Dorothy (Lauren Ambrose) and Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) in 'Servant' season 3.
With a new girlfriend in tow, Julian seems eager to forget all about his previous fling with Leanne. But that might not be as easy as he thinks.
"There is a weird truth and honesty to the relationship that Julian and Leanne have to each other. They're drawn to each other and they don't really know why," Free says. "They're both such broken people that when they come together, it's like they're the only two people on planet Earth who can possibly understand what the other one is feeling and thinking. There's this strange understanding between these two broken dolls, finding solace in each other's pain and trying to heal each other. Julian resents the way that he feels because he doesn't understand Leanne. He doesn't want this girl to have this power over him, but it's difficult for him to stay away from."
Dorothy and Sean's marriage, meanwhile, suffers from the fact that they're still not on the same page. Their baby may be back, but Sean still hasn't told Dorothy the truth about what happened in the first place.
"They're in such divergent mindsets because he sort of had this spiritual revelation that Leanne is the person responsible for bringing the child back, and Dorothy's really not privy to that at all," Ambrose says. "She has no ability to see it that way. So they're not as together as they should be. There's a fundamental lack of honesty."
The first episode of Servant season 3 is streaming now on Apple TV+, with subsequent episodes arriving weekly for the next two months.
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