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Salem - The Series So Far Review: "Time for War, Heathens"


Salem: The Series So Far Review
Reviewed by Gavin Hetherington

Salem has the honour of being WGN America's first ever original scripted television show and while a lot of people prefer the more critically-loved show Manhattan, I actually prefer Salem a million times more! First and foremost: witches! This show is about witches. Not just witches though; it's set in Salem during those infamous Witch Trials. You know the Witch Trials I mean. While we may have had glimpses at what it would have been like in the 1600s witch-hysteria-infested Salem in movies or an episode of a television show here and there, we haven't been given a fully-fleshed-out show based on those Witch Trials ever. Salem offers a fictionalised version of what could have happened back in 1692 with the twist that witches were real and that they were in charge of those trials.

The show is far from historically accurate of course, yet if we really opened up our imaginations, it all could have totally happened. This show isn't Charmed or Sabrina so it's not really unrealistic by giving the witches superhuman powers like X-Men mutants or have them point their finger and magic comes out. Instead, the witches depicted in this show are still fictional but in an earthly, realistic sort of way. Of course it's not realistic but as far as depictions of witches go, this is as close to realistic as we're going to get. Salem shows us the scary side of witches and that's a breath of fresh air in the supernatural witch-based show landscape.

Salem premiered on April 20, 2014 and aired a gratifying thirteen-episode season, culminating with an intense finale on July 13, 2014. I probably speak for a lot of people in saying this show really picked up steam from around the half-way point after trying to find its feet in the first few episodes and, by the looks of season two, the craziness will not stop. The promos for the second season are fantastic and weird and awesome and batshit crazy that a lot of people are expecting season two to deliver the goods.

There is so much to look forward to in Salem's second season so I thought, before the season premieres on April 5, I should take a look back at the first season with mini-reviews of each episode and bring fans up-to-date so we can all head into season two with everything we need to know.


SEASON ONE (2014)

1.01 - "THE VOW"
The pilot of Salem set the show off extremely well. We are introduced to this show's version of witches, kicking off with Tituba helping a pregnant Mary Sibley sell her soul. It's extremely frightening and the witches' true form are perhaps the scariest version of witches I've seen since the movie adaptation of the Roald Dahl book, The Witches. John Alden has returned from war with the Indians after a 7 year absence where a lot has changed. Cotton has infested everybody's minds with paranoia of witches and the recent torture of Mercy Lewis helps solidify the idea that witches are evil. Cotton even uses her to identify a witch among them, Giles, who the puritans kill at the end. It's extremely exciting to see that Mary, the true witch, is using the Puritans to kill each other - that is an interesting twist to the story of the Salem Witch Trials.

1.02 - "THE STONE CHILD"
Mary continues her rampage against the villagers of Salem with her secret war, bringing her vengeance against Bridget Bishop (a name familiar from the historical trials), a midwife who is truly innocent. I can't help but feel sorry for her. It's quite haunting to see Mercy tied to the cross in the church too and spewing blood and nails. The birth of 'the stone child' was a gut-wrenching moment too. Anne Hale begins a plea with John Alden to bring about justice for those convicted who were innocent, and John still seems drawn to Mary even though Anne shows interest herself. There are still glimpses of a humane Mary though, especially whenever she shares a scene with John. Maybe her evil isn't so black and white as we thought. The Grand Rite, where she needs nine innocent victims is looming and the question of whether she's really going to go through with it arises. The ending of the episode was creepy as f--k with the doll in Anne's room.

1.03 - "IN VAIN"
Isaac, the Fornicator, appears to be in some real danger in this episode when Magistrate Hale discovers it was he who saw them in the woods in the first episode. The Seer's little shack in the woods was eerie and the entire ordeal with Isaac really showed there was some humanity left in Mary. We also see what Mary had in mind for Anne with the doll which was a creepy little thing, I hate dolls. It could have been the doll's influence but we kind of get a first glimpse into seeing that something isn't quite right with Anne. John Alden continues to fight for what is right and you can see him starting to chip away at Mary. Cotton is also getting closer to his lover, Gloriana, as she worries that what happened to Bridget will happen to her. It's also interesting to note that George Sibley is really trying to fight back against his enchantment. It's so great that even three episodes in, the show is continuing to deliver progression and excitement.

1.04 - "SURVIVORS"
Poor Mercy Lewis. She just cannot catch a break. She seems to be getting better as Mary's grasp on her weakens but Mary still manages to hold her influence over her. The ending with Mercy appearing to Mary with the snake and laughing at her was a very nice scene that shows Mary's power over Salem isn't all it's cracked up to be, and even Cotton mentions something about the witches' powers weakening. Rose asks a mysterious man to retrieve something from Mary's ship, but John Alden puts an end to him on the recommendation of Tituba. Mary's threat to Magistrate Hale makes him try to protect Anne by giving her a necklace that burns Mary's fingertips. It's starting to look like Mary doesn't quite have the support she really needs from her fellow witches.

1.05 - "LIES"
The Malum is found by John which shows him a vision of the destruction the Grand Rite will cause, which gives us a glimpse into how awesome this is going to be. Things are certainly heating up for our Mercy Lewis. She has a choice to make now it's offered to her by Mary. She just has to stop resisting. Mercy's friends, a group of three girls, take advantage of her by having her claim the abusive father of one of them is a witch. I'm sure in the original happenings of the Salem Witch Trials, there were a group of girls that made accusations, resulting in the deaths of some. Mercy reveals she wants to be just like Mary. Tituba also shows signs of not being a true ally as she has her own agenda, but lets Mary know the others have turned on her - including Rose. Tituba casts a pretty cool spell in this episode. A face is ripped off the man John Alden killed which makes me a little nauseous to watch, but Tituba finds out John is a murderer. She tells Mary who confronts John about it. It's pretty rich how Mary condemns his actions but I believe she's more shocked by it because she wants to believe there's still goodness left in Salem and John is that beacon of hope for her. Now that hope is tainted. Cotton and John set a trap and catch a witch.

1.06 - "THE RED ROSE AND THE BRIAR"
The unlikely partnership of John and Cotton is a real treat to watch unfold. The witch they caught - Rose - plays a trick on them by appearing as John's mother, a low blow. Mary tells Mercy a story about the Queen of the Night (herself) while letting Mercy rest her head on her knee. I wasn't sure how to take this at first as I was expecting Mary to slit Mercy's throat which she almost does. I love the flashbacks to see how Mary became who she is. We got a glimpse in the pilot but more is shown here through her story to Mercy, including how she wooed the "evil king". The sex scene between George and Mary is quite sick and I kind of don't blame Mary for what she's done to him. We keep forgetting George isn't a good guy, but neither is Mary, so it's not so clear who's right and who's wrong. Anyway, the chase of Mary and Mercy in the woods was so good, turning Mercy into a witch which Tituba is not happy about, but not as good as the horrifically horrifying interrogation of Rose by John and Cotton. I was almost sick when she bit her wrists out and sprayed blood over them to raise the dead below them. Rose reveals to Mary she was the one who planted the thought in George's head to send John away and that she needs Mary's heart broken. This, of course, is not acceptable for Mary who tells her "have you met our newest sister?" leading to Mercy running out and slicing Rose's head clean off. Vile.

1.07 - "OUR OWN PRIVATE AMERICA"
Mary makes a point about going behind her back with the murder of Rose so Magistrate Hale will think again before betraying Mary. Mary suggests Dream Walking to enter John's mind to find out where the Malum for the Grand Rite is. I love seeing different methods for magic on this show and how strangely real it could be. The main highlight of the episode though that continues to the end of the season is the arrival of Increase Mather. To say he shakes things up in Salem is an understatement and Stephen Lang is one insanely amazing witch hunter. He's so compelling with an aura of danger that he really shouldn't be approached but you just can't help it. Also, Mercy is taught by Mary to go places without her body and she uses this ability to kill one of her friends' mothers in order to do Mary's bidding in turning the purists against one another which leads to Increase burning the two opposing parents who they were feuding with at the stake. Isaac also delivers a chilling line - "maybe we don't deserve saving." Really highlights the hopelessness of Salem at the minute.

1.08 - "DEPARTURES"
Well Increase had a killer introduction to Salem and the aftershocks are still reverberating. He holds so much power and it's clear when he storms the brothel and finds a witch in minutes. A real one. Already he's uncovering more witches than his son so no wonder he stayed, as hilariously put by Mary. The dunking of Mab (so great to see more tests of guilt from the witch trials) leads to her lying about Gloriana being a witch. I actually quite liked Gloriana though she wasn't given much storyline outside of Cotton. I thought Increase would kill her for sure, but she was banished which still means no more Gloriana. Even more excitement when George, while being transferred to Boston by Isaac, rips out the frog from within him that gave Mary control over him. This episode had the best cliffhanger yet with Increase retrieving George who will wake up in a day's time, un-spelled, ready to tell Increase everything about Mary. I remember when I first watched this and I had chills thinking about how insane things were getting.

1.09 - "CHILDREN, BE AFRAID"
Increase displays how pretty f--ked up he is when he hangs the dead Mab in front of the town, giving them a speech and shocking the town. Mary's terror is perfectly displayed here with the threat of exposure looming over her head as George is yet to wake and her breakdown in the house was amazing. Cotton is still very upset over Gloriana's banishment though Increase tells him to get his act together. Tensions run high between Tituba and Mercy who butt heads more than once, though we had a small glimpse of contentment with each other when Tituba gave Mercy a lesson about familiars. Speaking of Mercy, she has a very interesting interaction with Anne when Anne comes to tell one of Mercy's girls, Emily, that her father has been freed. The freakiest thing to happen yet is when the girls, dressed in their nightgowns, start beating Emily's father to death. Not just that but they rip him limb from limb. I absolutely love the ending of this episode though when Increase comes to Mary's house and gets her outside. Mary "proves" the tonic she gave Isaac is just for pain but Mercy tells everyone that Tituba was feeding a spider, leading to her arrest. Tituba is taken away as Mary stares at a smiling Mercy. I can't tell if she's scared of her, relieved, or majorly p---ed off.

1.10 - "THE HOUSE OF PAIN"
Just when you couldn't think Increase was as screwed up as the witches, he proves he really has a twisted mind as the episode opens with him torturing himself. Anne finds her father's mask and is transported to the forest which was actually pretty cool, and is confronted by the Indians. John and Magistrate Hale also run into them when looking for Anne but they pose no threat to John. Anne is chased straight to John by a weird-looking man who says she has found her way home. Increase has Tituba in his house of pain and he shows her the torture tools he has lined up for her and you can't help but feel sickened by the methods. The more the episode goes on and we see the torture inflicted on Tituba, we can't help but hope it either stops or she dies before he does anything more to her. She gives a name though and we initially cannot hear it. Increase does visit Mary after though during dinner. He tells her that Tituba told her everything - starting with Mercy Lewis and her girls. Of course Tituba would return the favour. Then we find out Tituba also told him that John Alden is to blame for all of Salem's horrors. You can see Mary is mortified, and John is arrested.

1.11 - "CAT AND MOUSE"
Mary, who is still reeling from John's prosecution, tries her best to get the trial dismissed by getting the board to vote in favour of her, but Increase Mather once again has the upper hand. He has also captured Mercy's girls and is now torturing them as they pledge their loyalty to their queen. Mary goes back to Mercy's original idea of killing Increase as his hold becomes more toxic, getting Mercy to cut her back with her nails. Mary's plan involves getting Isaac to lie to Increase about Mercy's whereabouts. Magistrate Hale tells Anne the story of his childhood and how he was born with his powers, revealing he's a witch to her. Increase holds a town meeting about knowing thy neighbour which Cotton interrupts, getting the people of Salem to question Increase. This leads to Anne seeking Cotton with her newfound belief in witches and Cotton leans in to kiss her... but he's so in the friend zone. Isaac leads Increase into the woods to find Mercy while Mary works her magic behind the scenes. Mercy tries to fight with Increase but he proves formidable, but Isaac was stabbed in the process. This makes Mary guilty and she swears to protect Isaac from the horror that is about to befall on Salem. Cotton decides to defend John, and Magistrate Hale finally reveals to Anne that she, too, is a witch.

1.12 - "ASHES, ASHES"
Anne, who is getting more interesting by the episode, goes to Cotton for an examination of being a witch. While he examines her, she displays some snake-like qualities as her eyes turn and her forked tongue appears from nowhere. She's definitely something. Mary assures Mercy she and her girls will be fine, leading Mercy to tell the girls to give Increase what he wants - to speak against John at his trial. They were promised they'd be fine but they are not safe from the hangman's noose. All four girls that were captured are hanged. Dollie sees this and reports it to Mercy who is heartbroken. Mercy tells Dollie to go back to Salem to gather up people for a war - Mercy is going to be the new Queen of the Night. The trial of John continues where Increase outs John as a traitor in the war against the Indians - finding him guilty for crimes he will not deny. Mary confides in Isaac who encourages her with his belief in her, leading her to appear to John within his cell. She spills her feelings to him, that he is her life, and she wants to save him. John is ready to accept his fate but Mary loves him too much for him to die. They kiss and they re-appear in the forest. John looks upon Mary with shock and realisation that she is a witch. Oh man, this show knows how to pull off cliffhangers.

1.13 - "ALL FALL DOWN"
I'm so glad the finale started off where the episode before left us. Fortunately, John's reaction to Mary being a witch was a favourable one. He persuades Mary to run away with him but she needs to fix things first so they agree to meet before the moon goes. For one, I am relieved John didn't despise her for being a witch - love really wins out there. The rift between Mary and Mercy comes to fruition because of Mary's betrayal and their confrontation is very chilly. Mercy has definitely come a long way from being that tortured little girl to an adversary for Mary. Really shows you how out of control the situation is for Mary. Magistrate Hale prepares for the Grand Rite but hiding his family in a secret room which was opened in a horrific way, that poor bird. In the room, Anne discovers more of her past and how Hale compressed her memories from when she was young. Mary refuses to be the one to perform the Grand Rite which upsets the other witches. It leads them to get Tituba to visit Mary to convince her and she does by revealing what happened the night she was made witch and the life inside of her vanished - her child is alive and was given to the Dark Lord all the years. Mary agrees to do the Rite but vows Tituba will pay.

The scenes between Mary and Increase was incredible! Mary plays the scene beautifully and manipulates Cotton into spilling the last innocent blood needed to complete the Grand Rite. She is a master manipulator and I love her for it. Increase needed to die, sure, but Mary forcing her son to do it? Harsh. Evil. But divine. Mary finishes the job and the sky turns red - it's started. The plague will be unleashed. The most gruesome consequence happens when Anne tries to leave the room but Magistrate Hale won't open it - only blood will open it. Anne turns pretty demonic as she refuses to accept that she's a witch, wreaking havoc in the room and blowing her mother's brain up and killing her father. Definitely the most insane thing to happen in the finale and I was shocked. John is saved from hanging by the Indians and joins them in their fight before being shot while Dollie was good to her word for getting Mercy an army and claims she is the Queen of the Night and Mary will pay. Isaac falls victim to the plague while Tituba takes Mary to see her child and she is happy to see him.


THE VERDICT OF SEASON ONE

I never realised before until I just binge-watched the first season of Salem that the season is fast-paced. Very fast-paced. When you watch a show weekly, sometimes momentum can get lost in translation, but when you binge-watch a show, it's rather more enjoyable because you're not waiting for the next episode. Even though I watched the episodes as they aired between April and July last year, I couldn't help but get excited all over again as things progressed in Salem and situations just kept getting more and more intense.

For a first season, Salem did a very good job at setting up this world, the characters, the story, etc. There was always something happening and the danger got stronger and stronger until its brutal climax in the season's finale. The Grand Rite was a great plot point to build to and gave the show urgency, something to work towards and it never disappointed in its delivery. The writing was fantastic throughout, consistently building and introducing all kinds of magic that might have been a little bonkers and horrific, but was grounded enough to be more realistic than other witch shows like Charmed and Witches of East End.

The show was doing great before Increase Mather showed up but once he did, he shook everything up and the show ended up a little better. He proved to be a true formidable foe for Mary, one that could rival her and out her as a witch. There were plenty of times when she came close to being exposed and every single time it was exciting. I have to give her props for being a clever little witch. We should be rooting for Increase because the Grand Rite is a terrible thing but what I love about Salem is that the bad guys are the main characters that we do root for. It makes us terrible people, in a way, but even the good guys aren't completely good either, and Increase might have had some good intentions but he was far from innocent himself. That's another thing I love about this show: characters that you just cannot predict as they are complex and three-dimentional.

Alliances are tested from the very beginning between the main characters, even ones that share secrets but who can they really trust? Who can we trust? Who is ever safe in Salem? These questions only provide more substance to a show that few people may condemn but Salem is actually a fantastic, entertaining show that delivered a stunning first season - I swear this to be true.

If you have yet to watch Salem, or my catch-up was not enough for you, be sure to binge-watch season one, available to view on Netflix. It's totally worth it to get all caught up for the season two premiere this Sunday at 10pm on WGN America.


EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW FOR SEASON 2

Following that incredible finale, there is so much to look forward to in season two but the main points you have to remember as we approach the premiere:

- We left Isaac reeling from plague, but did he die from it? Considering he's in the promotional material for the second season, I'm guessing that's a no. Mary will then be good to her word in vowing to protect him from harm.

- John was shot and taken by Indians to be healed. In the promos for season two, it appears they saved his life and gave him a new haircut. John being cool with Mary being a witch in the season one finale doesn't seem to transition though as he vows to kill all witches.

- Anne killed her mother and father with her newfound witch powers. Or is she something more because Mary, Tituba and co. never displayed that amount of destructive power in the show ever! She's going to have to deal with that in season two and she's usually the voice of reason. Now? She has blood on her hands.

- Mary swore vengeance on Tituba for betraying her. Will Mary go through with a plan against her, or now that Tituba revealed she has a son, will she simply move on, keep Tituba as an ally but keep a careful eye on her?

- Cotton killed his father for seemingly abusing Mary, setting off the Grand Rite unknowingly. Not only does Anne have the blood of her father on her hands but so does Cotton. I saw a small connection between these two in the first season so who knows, maybe they get it on? They definitely have something more to bond over now they've both killed their dads.

- Mercy is out for vengeance over the deaths of her girls and the fact that Mary lied to her by saying she'd protect them. Mercy has gathered her own little army so she can become the new Queen of the Night. With the plague hitting Salem though, I wonder if she'll have much of an army left.

- Speaking of the plague, the Grand Rite has indeed began. This means there will be plenty of death in the episodes to come and we have a new doctor in time who might just help.

Here is a little introduction to the new characters arriving in Salem. Countess Palatine Ingrid von Marburg (Lucy Lawless) is going to be a new foe for Mary as she seeks power too and wants what Mary accomplished. She's a very bad witch. I am really excited to see Lucy Lawless in this role as I find her to be a very versatile actress and I usually end up loving everything she does so I am positive Palatine is going to be an exciting addition to the cast. Baron Sebastian Marburg (Joe Doyle) is Palatine's son and he's very devoted to his mother, but according to Lawless, that relationship is "complicated". Seeing the dynamic between him and his mother will be interesting to say the least. Dr. Samuel Wainwright (Stuart Townsend) comes to Salem to help with the plague and seems to be a good guy who is also interested in Mary. John Alden will have to fight for Mary if he still wants her, though it looks in the preview that John is dead set on killing every witch. Does that include Mary? Oliver Bell plays Mary's Son who is going to "turn her world upside down". Mary is going to do everything for him, including keeping her witch-agenda. At the worst time too as Mary wanted to be with John.

"There are still witches here among us!"

No matter what, there is no denying that the set-up for season two is immense. The season has been dubbed Witch War and by the title alone, I have goosebumps. I am really looking forward to reviewing the second season of Salem for SpoilerTV. I hope you fellow Heathens join me in what is going to be an insane journey.

Are you excited for the second season of Salem? Did you enjoy the first season? Let me know your thoughts on the show in the comments and be sure to watch the season two premiere on April 5 on WGN America at 10PM!



About the Author - Gavin Hetherington
Award-winning author of 'Abyssal Sanctuary: Remnants of the Damned'. Gavin joined SpoilerTV on August 9, 2014 and will be reviewing 2 Broke Girls, Mistresses, Orange is the New Black, Pretty Little Liars, Salem and Sleepy Hollow in the 2014-15 season. Gavin's favourite shows include Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Desperate Housewives, The Walking Dead, Once Upon a Time, Revenge, Scandal and much more. You can contact him at gavin@spoilertv.com.
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