When Servant first debuted in late 2019, the fact that the Turners rarely left their Philadelphia townhouse seemed like an effective device to amplify tension in Apple TV+’s psychological thriller. But now, 11 months into quarantine, Sean (Toby Kebbell) and Dorothy’s (Lauren Ambrose) reclusive behavior is normal. As a result, watching Servant’s second season is a decidedly different experience. I remain gripped by the Turners’ erratic unraveling. But I also find myself preoccupied by how lucky they are to at least be able to fall apart in such a beautiful brownstone.
Servant has always treated the Turners’ home with as much thought as any of its equally haunted characters. The shadowy townhouse constantly teeters between stately and stifling. And while the brownstone remains a place where nightmares come true in season two, the events and increased stresses of the past year have turned the Turners’ claustrophobic cage into my quarantine fantasy.
From the hardwood floors and ornate wallpaper to the intricately carved fireplace and chef’s kitchen, the Turners’ brownstone is everything I’ve ever wanted in a home. It’s everything my two room Brooklyn apartment is not. There is a thoughtfulness and sense of luxury in the design of each of the brownstone’s many, many rooms. Even the attic turned prison for Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) has a degree of charming whimsy to it. There’s the Christmas lights, eclectic antiques, and matriarch mannequin, Angela. And it matters not where you wander in the winding, multi-story townhouse. There is a cozy seat waiting in case you find yourself in need of a rest. This is a home that provides for you.
That’s why when I see Dorothy traipse from room to room, wearing silky pajamas and organizing a fake pizza restaurant so that she can drug and kidnap her former nanny, my first thought isn’t about her increasingly loosening grip on reality. No, it’s about how much I’d love to trade places. The image of a woman on the brink isolated from the outside world is no longer horrifying to me. That’s just everyday living. And if I’m going to be trapped inside, grieving, angry, and worn through, I would prefer to do so in comfort. I’ll take their clawfoot tub, a private yard (with a pizza oven!), and plenty of plush couches.
Of course, like everything with the Turners, a festering mess of darkness hides underneath the brownstone’s meticulously curated facade. Dorothy’s inability to face the death of their son Jericho, the guilt Sean feels over not being there to prevent the tragedy, and the couple’s startling commitment to the false reality that Jericho never died makes clear how much the pair are suffocating in their self-constructed domestic prison. Much like the ways these lies have poisoned the Turners’ marriage, they’ve infected the house. A crack in the foundation expands in tune with Sean and Dorothy’s progressively dangerous charade.
But every home has its problems, right? And if the Turners have taught me anything, it’s that when life puts a supernatural pit in your basement, you simply put a plank over it and carry on. You hope if you ignore it long enough that the darkness won’t swallow you up. (Maybe not the healthiest lesson, but a huge quarantine mood).
The brownstone is the epicenter of Sean and Dorothy’s grief, and yet I can’t help but look upon their situation with a degree with envy. I used to dream about so many different things: big things, exciting things, impossible things. But now, as we approach the one year mark of lockdown, I only fantasize over small, budget-friendly ways to make my quarantine environment more bearable. So in Servant, I see a couple going through unimaginable horror, but I also see aspirational luxury. They are able to process trauma in a home with many spaces and amenities that aid in doing so. Even when I look at the imposing threat of the growing pit, I mainly just wish I had my own basement to retreat to sometimes, supernatural complications be damned.
Over time, the circumstances of the past year have slowly chipped away at my ability to hope for more. As one by one each dream or wishful milestone I looked forward to eventually proved to be out of reach, my imagination’s scope shrank. Now, it feels like my whole world exists within the walls of my apartment. It’s hard to remember that things were ever different or truly believe they will be again. The best I can hope for at this time is a more luxurious cage. Even one whose foundation threatens to crumble at a moment’s notice. But so what? For the past year, it’s felt like my whole existence has been built upon a crumbling foundation. At least this one comes with a wine cellar.