Dorothy is fed up on this week’s Sideboard, the Apple TV + ‘s show about a witchy nanny named Leanne who takes over the lives of a rich Philadelphia family.
Dorothy wants Leanne out of the house by any means necessary, heedless of just how crazed her determination makes her look. She’s going to need all the help she can get to best Leanne, who she should know by now is nigh-impossible to outflank.
This week’s typically strong episode comes courtesy of Austrian directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, who take to the world of Sideboard like fish to water.
Sideboard recap: ‘Commitment’
In this week’s episode, titled “Commitment,” Dorothy (played by Lauren Ambrose) is shaken after the death of Isabelle (Molly Griggs). She seems to know Leanne (Nell Tiger Free) was behind it somehow, but… how?
Leanne celebrates the development by having patio sex with Julian (Rupert Grint), which Dorothy of course sees on the security cameras. She tries to shame them both for the transgression but to no avail. They don’t answer to her anymore.
Sean (Toby Kebbell) is at his wits’ end trying to please Dorothy, and to get her to trust him again so he can stop sleeping on the couch. They have a nonstarter conversation over breakfast before Dorothy notices there are maggots in her cereal (another Suspiria nod).
Dorothy puts a listening device in Leanne’s room and takes pictures of the spooky drawings in her sketchbook. Then she tricks her into posing for a picture so she can capture the scars on her back. She sends all this evidence to her dad (Todd Waring) so he can, in secret, get started on a legal way of removing Leanne from her house.
He has a colleague (Frank Wood) stop by to perform a psychological assessment of Leanne. But, Leanne being Leanne, she turns it around on both the shrink and Dorothy. Suddenly it’s Dorothy who’s being profiled. Her father thinks she’s a danger to the baby. It’s just a last-minute intervention by Leanne that prevents the two men from calling the police or having Dorothy committed.
Hush little baby, don’t say a word
Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala direct this week. They’re two directors best suited to short-format productions, and acquit themselves very well, if unemphatically – but that is their thing. They’ve made two of the very worst horror films of the last decade (Goodnight Mommy and The Lodge, neither helped by their admirably restrained visuals and sound design). But their short film The work is excellent. And Franz’s screenplays for director Ulrich Siedl are marvelously perverse and perversely marvelous.
The conversation Dorothy has with her father is shot and edited sharply. As Dorothy talks into the phone, she’s otherwise in complete darkness, which leaves the impression that something could step into the frame at any moment.
There are a couple of great crooked perspectives adopted, like a sideways shot of everyone approaching Dorothy on the stairs. (It’s redolent of Brian De Palma, whose influence is sort of the secret backbone of this show. He was a Philadelphia-bred director, too, just like showrunner M. Night Shyamalan, whose fixation was on using the camera as a kind of godlike surveillance tool, chasing women around, terrorizing them as if the camera itself were the villains of his genre films.)
The final image of Dorothy alone in the bathroom, hearing Leanne sing to Jericho, having finally really won their battle of wills, is one of these directors’ best images. It’s just well-lit enough to make out the oppressive design of the wallpaper clashing with Dorothy’s dress pattern, but it’s dark enough to make the room itself seem as sick as Dorothy is.
The development of Dorothy as more antihero than crooked normal hero (or whatever you could plausibly call her and Sean on this show – the dramatic triangulations are so bent it can be tough to find the right descriptors) is interesting. A show that was about an entire family believing in a lie is now about two women battling over who gets to control the lie.
Who is really in charge? Is anything true? Will anyone believe either Dorothy or Leanne if you sat them down and asked them to relay everything that had happened top to bottom?
The genius of Sideboard is that the moral order and ideas like law and order are so far away, so warped and remote, that you know nobody will ever be brought to a version of justice to which regular shows are in thrall.
Leanne will take care of them, maybe with a little help from the dark giant in the clouds hiding in her sketchbooks. Justice will be done. It’ll just be her justice. Leanne’s progression from fairy godmother to vindictive sprite shouldn’t have been quite so surprising, but I didn’t quite see this coming.
Watch Sideboard on Apple TV +
New episodes of Sideboard arrive on Fridays.
Watch on: Apple TV +
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.
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