Review: Salem 1.01 – “The Vow”

In WGN America’s Salem, witches are real. Set in Puritan-era Massachusetts, secrets and black magic abound, religious persecution is at its worst, and no one is safe from the horror of public execution.

NOTE:  May contain some graphic images and descriptions.

***** SPOILERS BELOW *****

Salem- Isaac1It’s 1685 in the town of Salem, Massachusetts. Wow, this set is very unimpressive and does not look real at all. Very-fake looking houses and not at all as gritty as it should be. Couldn’t WGN have spruced up on the production value a bit? In this supposed-bustling town, period-dressed denizens stand in front of the gallows as a man and woman are tortured into confessing their “ungodly” deeds. Because of their sins, they will forever be branded with an “F” on their forehead, for “fornicator.” Their own personal scarlet letter.

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Young Mary (Janet Montgomery) seems nervous as she watches for she has a secret of her own. Boyfriend, John Alden (Shane West in a possibly miscast role), got Mary pregnant out of wedlock and is now leaving her for war. John Alden is a no-nonsense man who thinks the Puritan ways are dumb and he doesn’t agree with anyone about it, really, which is probably why he is deciding to go off to war – leaving his girlfriend behind. She doesn’t want to get the big “F” on her forehead, so she turns to her friend, Tituba (Ashley Madekwe, who I also think is a bit miscast), for help. Because the only answer is to invite the Devil inside you and sell your soul to escape Puritan persecution. Tough times.

Tituba takes Mary out to the dark forest and performs a weird ritual, wherein Mary has visions of both John and devilish looking goat creatures. Blackness spreads up her legs and her bare stomach suddenly is without child. Black magic! However, Mary will soon learn her actions come at a price.

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7 years later. 1692. Salem is in the midst of a witch frenzy! People are panicking and accusations are flying. A pious(?) preacher/determined witch hunter, Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel) is on the hunt to save Salem from the devil. John Alden, looking the exact same, has returned to Salem after being gone for 7 years without a single word. Everyone in town thought he had died, but alas, he is alive and kicking and he is not impressed with the way things are in Salem.

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Alden goes with Cotton Mather to inspect a girl, Mercy Lewis (Elise Eberle), who is stricken by “spectral attacks” from a witch. Alden believes it all nonsense, but Cotton is convinced (and so are the viewers, as we get to see a shot of the creepy old witch vision, tormenting poor Mercy).

Meanwhile, Mary, who is now married to the richest man in town who once tormented everyone in the opening scene, is surprised to hear Alden is back. Her husband, George Sibley, is now basically comatose. He can’t walk or speak, so she speaks for him. Cotton Mather goes on a mad rave about witches being among the town and that they must all come together to stop this madness. Alden still isn’t convinced. Mary and Alden exchange words and she invites him to her house later for dinner.

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Later, we have the pleasure of seeing Cotton Mather having crazy sex in a whorehouse. I guess he isn’t as pious as he claims. He runs into Alden (Alden is everywhere in this town!) outside the whorehouse and tries to pretend like he didn’t just exit a whorehouse. Nice try, Cotton. Apparently, Alden and Cotton were schoolmates, but Cotton went off to Harvard and became a educated priest, while Alden became a hardened soldier.

Before the dinner with John and company, things get real crazy at the Sibley Household. Mary undresses and then takes a frog out of her husband’s mouth to let it feed on a nipple on her inner thigh. You might have to read that sentence twice. But, that happens. When the frog is out of George’s mouth, he starts shouting for help with alarming lucidity, but she rams the frog back down his throat. Dinner Time. Magistrate Hale (Xander Berkley), his wife, and artistic daughter, Anne (Tazmin Merchant), attend as well. The topic of discussion: witches, of course! Do they have souls? Hm, good question. During the dinner, Alden has a vision of both Anne and Mary underneath the table grabbing at his crotch.

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Mary and Alden meet outside and have their long awaited conversation. She is upset because she waited for him and heard nothing back. He was captured and apologizes, saying he kept his vow – showing the half-coin they had each taken a half of 7 years prior. Alden still loves her and wants her to come with him to New York, but poor Mary has already made another vow, and she can’t break it because “he” won’t let her. Oh, the pain!

After her conversation with Alden, Mary is a mess. She is mad about everything. She wishes she had never gone into the woods that night, but Tituba convinces her it was the right decision. Everything she wanted, wealth & power, are hers. They are interrupted when Mr. Corey (Kevin Tighe) arrives. He is Alden’s good family friend. He tells Mary he saw what happened those 7 years ago in the forest and knows she gave up Alden’s baby. He says that she must tell him, or he will. Dude! Wrong move. Corey should have just told Alden himself. Don’t involve the witch.

Salem Cotton&Mercy2Later, Mary tries to give young Anne a lesson on love, but Anne shrugs her off. Meanwhile, since crazy Mercy cannot speak against the witches afflicting her, Cotton Mather decides to walk her on a leash like a dog to get her to approach the witch in person. She almost walks up to Mary, but instead points (well, bites off her own finger, then points) at Mr. Corey! Dun, dun, dun!

The man with a burned F on his forehead from 7 years prior, Isaac (Iddo Goldberg), has been working for Mary, but takes the time to talk Alden into staying in Salem. Alden was already on his way out. Isaac takes him to a the forest, while Mary and Tituba simultaneously perform a sex/devil/seance thing in Mary’s bedroom. Alden and Isaac happen upon a weird fire/muddy/dirty/bloody orgy of bodies and people with animal heads. It is very odd. They are spotted by a man wearing a pig head, but escape. Mary and Tituba’s trance is broken. Someone broke it!

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Alden, the non-believer in witches, now has verified evidence of supernatural, satanic workings. He comes into town just in time to see Corey being stoned to death. Corey won’t say if he is guilty or not guilty of being a witch, so Cotton executes him in public. Aw dang, Corey dies just before he had the chance to tell John about Mary’s treachery!

Mary creepily watches from her balcony, catching John’s eye. She goes back inside where it is revealed that “pig-headed” man is Magistrate Hale! Mary, Tituba, and Hale all declare that the Puritans will kill themselves in their madness and the witches will soon have Salem for themselves!

The ending is a bit cheesy, but I’m excited about where the show will go. I don’t think anyone should take this show too seriously (and that includes the show itself). Will Mary and Alden reunite in love, or will that “witch” thing get in the way? Will Cotton Mather lose his mind even more than he already has? I think that if they clearly define their mythology and character arcs and ramp up the paranoia that surrounds the witch trials, we can have something good. I just hope it doesn’t get too cheesy or look too cheap.

What did you guys think? Comment below with your thoughts, questions, comments, concerns!

Salem airs on Sunday nights on WGN America at 10 pm ET/PT.

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Post Author: Ben Fleck

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