M. Night Shyamalan on 'Servant' Series Finale: 'It's a Love Letter to the Strength of Family'

M. Night Shyamalan reveals the hidden connection Servant shares with his 1999 film The Sixth Sense and recalls getting emotional his final day on set of the Apple TV+ series

M. Night Shyamalan at the season 4 premiere of "Servant" held at the Walter Reade Theater on January 9, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Kristina Bumphrey/Variety via Getty Images)
M. Night Shyamalan. Photo: Kristina Bumphrey/Variety via Getty

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Friday's series finale of Servant titled "Fallen."

After four seasons of Servant, M. Night Shyamalan had an emotional last day on set with the cast and crew of a show he says is all about family.

Apple TV+ debuted the series finale of the psychological thriller on Friday, bringing Sean and Dorothy Turner (Toby Kebbell and Lauren Ambrose)'s story of tragedy and grief full circle, nanny Leanne Grayson finding closure and sacrificing herself before her powers became fully unleashed, and Julian with a surprise new place among a religious cult.

Executive producer Shyamalan, 52, tells PEOPLE all about the final episodes, whether there could be more Servant in the future, and which cast member was an emotional "mess" on the last day of production. (He, too, admits he "teared up" that day.)

Servant, Season 4, Episode 10; Lauren Ambrose and Toby Kebbell in "Servant," now streaming on Apple TV+.
Apple TV+

PEOPLE: How much of this ending is what you and the team had envisioned back in season 1?

M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN: It was bubbling. Really, there was an inflection moment at the end of season 1, where Tony [Basgallop], the writer, brought the cult in in a big way. It was just a last-minute idea that we went, "Oh, my God! This is what the show is about." Then, in season 2, the breaking away from the cult informed us of [Leanne's] mythology, and said we always knew the mom and the family, they're not having this conversation: When will [Dorothy] wake up? When will they have the conversation? When should that conversation happen? Should it come at the end of the season? What should it be?

Then, eventually decided, no, that should come at the end of the show. So what is Leanne's architecture came when the cult came in. In the middle of season 2 is when we realized, okay, this is the movement of a fallen angel that they can't stop.

Then, when the pandemic happened in the middle of season 2, I was able to just take a deep breath and architect out the rest of the show. That's when it got, okay, this is episode 9, which I'm going to direct, [Dorothy] wakes up. Then, if I can, I'll do 10, but, if I can't, I'm going to do 9. And 10 will be the unstoppable force that is Leanne.

Like many of your projects, Servant deals with very emotionally heavy material while also being entertaining and scary. What made you want to explore grief like this, about losing a newborn baby, something that's not often tackled in mainstream pop culture. Were you nervous about going there?

I was just so compelled. It was [writer/creator] Tony Basgallop who brought the pilot to me, and that was in the pilot, a mother whose child had passed. We hadn't figured out at that point what exactly had happened. Then I had seen a documentary on the tragedy of, they call it hot-car syndrome, where the child is forgotten in the car. And I just thought it was like, if that happens then there just can't be a God. There just can't be, right? There just can't be anything good in the universe. That driving me as a human being during this story was compelling, that "How can good exist if that happened?"

Tell me about getting the moments when Dorothy wakes up and remembers everything. We've been building to this moment for so long. How did you help Lauren Ambrose get to that place?

I walked her through everything, saying, "These are the beats we rehearsed," as we normally do on my episodes. We were careful, and then we had to give you the physicality, because she starts attacking them. There were 10 shots in there of the attack sequence, and what does the violence look like, and how does she get out there? This is the part where she disintegrates and leaves us, or not. Then the boys were there this time, whereas they weren't there last time, so they could hold her together and not let her leave, emotionally and spiritually.

What's going through Julian's mind in those final moments of the finale?

Julian is such a beloved character. I love him. I love directing him, and Rupert [Grint] is the greatest. Seeing a character come to terms with a supernatural and realizing their place in it is so delicious. When the writers and I, we were joking about it at first, and then we were like, "Wait a minute," because that could be really fun, the idea that the mythology swaps or becomes handed over. We were all very happy to have this putt movement up in that last moment.

Are we supposed to think the Church of the Lesser Saints is good at the end? Where do you fall on whether Leanne is good or bad?

I fall into the case that they are good, but there will always be problems, rogue members that could use their position in a bad way. That's why Aunt Josephine's were there and all of that stuff.

Servant, Season 4, Episode 10; Rupert Grint in "Servant," now streaming on Apple TV+.
Apple TV+

So much of the show takes place in one confined setting. In the writers' room, were you ever like, "We're running out of ways to make this interesting!" How'd you come up with creative ways to keep everything fresh?

I never feel like I run out of ideas for the dinner table or the living room or whatever it is. I find the domesticity is so beautiful when you couple it with supernatural. That was also something I think that astonished everybody as we made it. I'm like, "We're never leaving this brownstone. That's what we're doing." We just kept expanding it and made the home bigger and bigger and bigger, with attics, guest rooms, apartments down below, and the backyard into the park. Then, in the end, the rooftop is still expanding as we go.

You almost always set your stories in Philadelphia. What do you think that brought to this story in particular?

That's the street that I've been down a million times. Actually, it's the same street I shot Sixth Sense on. The Sixth Sense house is down the block, so you can see it from the front of the Turners' house.

It's just a home for me. I love Philly, and I love shooting there, so it felt right. Also, I can't spend five years on it at that time, where I am really the main person on it; it's hard to have it somewhere else.

Servant, Season 4, Episode 10; Lauren Ambrose in "Servant," now streaming on Apple TV+.
Apple TV+

Your core cast, I'm sure they got very close over four seasons. What was it like on the final day of shooting?

It was very emotional, as you can imagine. We shot it out of order so that I would be the last one directing. We shot 10 and then we shot 9 so I was the last one on that set, directing those actors. As we got to each of their last scenes, I went out and I was giving the boys notes, and the rain towers were going, and I got choked up giving them the notes. Then I came back in and I teared up, and Nell [Tiger Free, who plays Leanne] was a mess. It was very emotional and very sweet.

I think everyone was feeling very grateful. The looks between all five of us were, it showed how much we thought of each other and knew how precious this was. I don't know how it is at the end of other shows, but it felt like it went too fast, you know?

Nell Tiger Free in "Servant," now streaming on Apple TV+.
Apple TV+

Not every show gets the chance to wrap up its loose ends and have a concrete ending. What does it mean to you to conclude Servant like this?

It's a big deal. This is the big risk in this format, when you're telling an episodic story, a serialized story, you may not get to finish. If you just look at the odds of TV shows and their cancelations and audiences waning, you probably won't get to finish. It's way past 50 percent that are going to get canceled before you finish the story, or you'll keep milking it and you'll go, "I don't need to have an end of a story. When they stop watching us is when we'll stop." So just by your own discipline, you don't have an end of a story.

But, in this case, it laid out to the 40 episodes during the pandemic, and we got very lucky because the show kept growing and kept growing, and even to this day is still growing. The fans allowed us to finish the story. Apple, of course, gave us the opportunity and believed in us. It's so wonderful, and such an asset to the platform, which is what I hoped for launching with them. I don't know how many of their shows have gone into a fourth season, but it can't be many. Because we were one of the first shows [on Apple TV+].

So just having the longevity and the love and the audiences growing allowed us to finish. Only now do I realize how precarious that is. I think I'll forever be astonished at how we got lucky.

Is this truly the ending, or could we see future spinoffs or even a stage adaptation one day? I feel like the intimate location lends itself to theater.

That's so good! I don't know. We just finished it, so I'd have to really think about it. We love the story, and it was such a beautiful time making it with the cast and the crew. You never know, though. I have to take a little bit of a breather before we take on TV again, but you never know.

M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan with his family: (from left) daughters Shivani and Ishani, wife Bhavna Vaswani, and daughter Saleka. Kristina Bumphrey/Variety via Getty Images

What do you want the legacy of this show to be? How do you want Servant to be remembered?

I think how we deal with the dark things that happen to us in our lives and how important family is for that. You can't go through that alone. I'm a big believer in the family community that I try to make everybody feel a part of that, but our real, real blood family — that's who's going to get us through the tough times. It's a love letter to the strength of family.

Then, on a practical level, I hope that everybody sees these 40 episodes as beautiful pieces of art that we tried very hard on, that represent those directors and those writers very specifically. All these amazing filmmakers, I allowed them to put their voices on it, so I hope they're seen that way. It wasn't meant to be disposable, so I hope people go back, "I really love that episode, the bee episode," or, "I love this episode," or whatever it is.

Speaking of family, this was a family affair for you behind the scenes: Your daughter Ishana Shyamalan wrote and directed several episodes, and she has her own movie coming next year. What's it like to see her follow in your footsteps?

First, it started as the one daughter [Saleka], the musician, who wrote all these songs for the piece, and she's older. Then Ishana started directing in season 2 and grew into our main director and our main writer, essentially, for the show. That I didn't expect, that she would direct more episodes than anybody including me, and she would write more episodes. It was astonishing. We ended up relying on her.

Over those three years of growth for her — both for her and us — it was a trial by fire, and it worked out. It was something else. She's totally ready to destroy her first movie, and the muscles from Servant, all those hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages she wrote for us and all those hours on set, just amazing. I couldn't be more proud of her and admire her.

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All episodes of Servant are now streaming on Apple TV+.

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