Apple TV begins broadcasting the second season of Servant. In the first one, Tony Basgallop and Night Shyamalan tried to take that storytelling format we call a series in a new direction. The result brought them to the limits of tolerable representation within the current ideology. Servant was not only the best production of 2019, but it also showed the best possible way of telling stories … to date.
From Don Quixote -the first great road movie, an exercise in simultaneously linearizing time and space- to Tenet -the umpteenth baroque version of the same thing-, the bourgeois narrative seeks to reproduce the world as a linear succession of causes and effects, as an automaton whose creator can dominate and explain in its totality. The art of the novel, let us think of Proust, will consist in articulating like a watchmaker the sphere of the individual and its cogwheels with the sphere of the social in a unique movement. A unique and understandable one, so that the reader can discern causes and effects with a clarity denied to the characters themselves. This form of automatic story copies and projects the cosmovision of…
…the social class which started to direct production by building water mills and windmills ruled over social time with mechanical clocks and dominated society with mechanical devices and steam enginesTenet. 2021/1/6
The idea of a temporal path is fundamental to establish the bourgeois narrative: causal, automatic and linear. Although it may contain several timelines, or even take them to a paroxysm, all things lead necessarily to the others and in the end everything fits into a work, a narrative system thought as a tiny Newtonian universe. The horizon of the bourgeoisie’s novel and cinema is the same as that of its Economic Theory: after a change, to return to the automatic general equilibrium through the comprehensible interaction of its parts, which will also be conditioned on a one-by-one basis. The novel, like capitalism, sees itself as a social machine and us, the characters, as its pieces.
The limitations are so obvious and, nowadays, so blatant, for science as well as for any forms of artistic representation. The authors perceive this and try to free themselves from the asphyxiating mould of different forms. Servant is certainly not the first attempt at this done by the audiovisual industry. Shyamalan is a recidivist in his questioning of linear causality. And he is not the only one, let’s remember that little jewel of animation that is a Waltz with Bashir.
Servant introduces a certain linearity at the end of the first season to comply with the expected format. But the first season as a whole is formed by chapters and half chapters that are simply scenes with no immediate causal consequence. Autonomous moments like those that compose our memories about a past period in a job or a city. Linearity is limited and refuses to directly explain the totality. It is not even possible to arrange these scenes clearly in time. Most of the instalments of the series could have been ordered in alternative ways without changing the whole story.
Consciously or unconsciously, with this move the authors of Servant take us backwards and therefore forwards. They reach the point where the realistic frame is subverted enough to be only one step away from questioning the bourgeois mode of representation as a whole. We go back to the moment in which it is possible to move from Eisenstein’s expressionism and choral cinema to a new exploration of the relationship between the parts and the whole self-aware about the fact that it cannot reduce the story to mechanisms: surrealism.
But beware: what made it possible for Art and the capitalist way of storytelling to be questioned as a whole was not a succession of vanguards, nor the genius or the autonomy of the artists. It was the material and real questioning of the capitalist totality, the great world revolutionary wave of 1917-1937, that made possible Benjamin Péret’s subversion of the narrative.
And neither are we living right now a World Revolution, nor Tony Basgallop and Night Shyamalan are revolutionaries with a trajectory like Péret. Both are products of the audiovisual industry and the limits of one are the limits of the other. However, that is where their value lies: the fact that they need to question the form of storytelling by questioning the idea of the individual, of time and of causality, expresses what we already knew on the other hand: Humanity has before it the need and the opportunity to arrive at a new form, not only of storytelling, but of understanding reality and its role in it. But, constrained by an already anti-historical and anti-human capitalism, it can only cross that threshold by getting rid of a system that deforms it, hurts it and prevents it from growing.
What is Servant about?
Servant in its argument is reminiscent of the best of Buñuel’s Mexican phase. Like the director from Calanda, it benefits from recognizing the need to transcend established forms of storytelling, but when it comes to looking at reality it is incapable of going beyond the microuniverse of a petty bourgeoisie as intellectually limited as it is pretentious… with which, on the other hand, it is merciless. The center of the battle will be the alienation that the urban and pretentiously creative petty bourgeoisie feels towards its own children.
1 The whole series revolves around the contradiction between the son as a commodity and as a human being, something that beats under the feminist impulse to the commodification of the most basic human relationships. The transformation of the commodification of children that occurs within the ideology of care is symbolized by an emotional support doll that is continuously confused with a real child. The alienating nature of the feminist slogan it is not love, it is work, is subverted by the nanny, the only character capable of giving life to a relationship sterilized by denial.
2 The ideology of conciliation and the blaming of parental absence are cruelly exposed. Parents are the archetype of the false tension between how much their child needs them and how much their career needs them. An irresponsible and pathologically narcissistic discourse – they themselves don’t need anything, their life is a permanent sacrifice in view of how much others need them- that is exposed. As the fantasy of parenthood requires them to make a greater effort to keep deluding themselves about their own situation, they will lose their capacity to feel and their work skills. The supposed tension shows itself to be pure self-justification. As parents they are unnecessary, as creators, they are sterile.
Of course, there are also pitfalls and limits to the discourse, as in every tolerable story. This is where the usefulness of the petty bourgeois characters becomes apparent. Had they deployed normal salaried workers these limits would have been shattered. It would have been unavoidable to make it clear that yearning for time to reconcile entails pretending that the need to make up for time in life in the face of a salaried work denying it, is someone else’s need – the couple, the children. When the complaint is made in the name of some absent other , it is neither personal (me) nor collective (us). The artifice deactivates any real potential for criticism of the system: it presents the employer as a complaining lover rather than as an instrument of an exploiter of ever-increasing voracity.
And yet, step by step, disturbingly, throughout the first season there will be no stone left unturned in the ideology of raising children.
There is nothing timelier now that, through lockdowns and school closures, the ideological construct is beginning to blow up: The feminist imagination is now trying to articulate as a social need to be free from children and dreams of strikes at home instead of at the workplace. Because in reality, even though the result of this imagination is claimed to be a parody, the result is indistinguishable from what is asserted in real announcements. Everything in order for the state or whoever else to provide somewhere to drop children off, no matter what in the midst of the pandemic killing.