Using logic to try and understand the show Servant

 [ M. Night ]

M. Night Shyamalan is the creator of many wonderful horror movies, including The Village and The Sixth Sense. His films often have a twist ending.

Today I thought I would try to apply math and logic to his latest creation, the TV show called Servant.

I am not kidding. No number theory, no complexity theory, no strange theorems today. I thought I would try and apply some logic to attempt and understand M. Night’s story. The story was created by Tony Basgallop but M. Night’s direction modulates what we can see and how we feel it. Servant is on cable, on Apple TV, and is close to the end. It is a series of ten short episodes and the last two are due out in the next few days.

The story is strange, scary, and unusual. M. Night likes to play with his viewers and make stories that are difficult to understand. Like many of our problems: Think P=NP or the Riemann Hypothesis, or the ${3x+1}$ function problem. Our problems are strange, scary, and unusual too. Our difficulty is that we do not have a date when all will be explained. As we discussed here, we might be waiting a long time before we get the “last” episode for P=NP, for example.

Take a look at the rest even if you have not watched the series. I would like to think that working out the “solution” to the Servant is possible, but probably hard. I am not likely to have the answer here, but I think I may be on the right track, at least.

The Story in Short

Here is a brief summary:

Six weeks after the death of their 13-week-old son, Philadelphia couple Dorothy and Sean Turner hire a young nanny, Leanne, to move in and take care of Baby Jericho, a reborn doll. The doll, which Dorothy believes is her real child, was the only thing that brought her out of her catatonic state following Jericho’s death. While Sean deals with the grief on his own, he becomes deeply suspicious of Leanne.

The players are:

• The baby, Jericho.

• The mom, Dorothy

• The brother, Julian.

• The nanny, Leanne.

I like this statement about Servant:

Servant continues to frighten viewers while at the same time not providing audiences with answers. But have they been telling us more than we know?

Like P=NP there is much debate and discussion about Servant. Here is a typical comment:

Never mind the mystery of whether Jericho is truly alive again or not, there’s also the fact that we have no idea how he died in the first place. New theory is that Dorothy killed him, either on accident or due to a bad postpartum depression episode. This would mean Julian and Sean covered it up.

There are lots of details in the story that may or may not be important. There are many theories about what could be going on. One thing seems clear is that what is happening is mystery. Is it one that we can shed any light on?

Jericho is the Key

The discussions on-line about what is happening seem to miss the key: Is the baby, Jericho, a plastic baby or a real baby? Most seem to accept that the baby was plastic and then was replaced by a real baby. This is where I can apply logical analysis. Let’s walk through the possible cases:

${\bullet }$ Perhaps Jericho is a magical object. Than the whole story is a dream. Or the players are ghosts. Or some other magical possibility. This reflects the fact that we do not have precise rules or axioms. M. Night could do anything he wishes. But I like to think that he plays by some rules. So let’s agree that this case is out.

${\bullet }$ Perhaps Jericho was a plastic baby at first and then became a real baby. This is the consensus of almost all viewers. At least if we can rely on their comments. The issue here is how does this work? How can a living baby suddenly appear? How can the mom and the nanny not notice the baby has become real?

${\bullet }$ Perhaps Jericho was always a plastic baby. This seems to not be considered as a plausible case. It does require that the father and the brother are crazy. I like this idea.

${\bullet }$ Perhaps Jericho was always a real baby. This seems to be the most unusual idea. I think M. Night might like this direction. It would be the biggest twist. The baby was always real. Here M. Night is laughing at us: he would get the biggest shock if Jericho is always real. It would explain much. Then the mom and the nanny are just fine, we do not need to assume that they are crazy at all. Then the father and the brother are nuts.

I think the last is my favorite. I wish I could “prove” that the last is the case. In a few days we should know what M. Night selected for the answer. I feel that our methods at least forced us to consider all the logical possibilities. Is this the right answer?

Open Problems

I hope you did not mind this diversion from hard core math. I think that applying logic may be useful here. Too bad we do not have a reveal date for our problems like P=NP.