SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read until you’ve seen it, really. The first sentence is too much.
I was afraid, yes there are things that scare horror reviewers, that Salem was falling into a pattern that might have made it one of those cookie cutter series. Every episode this season opens with a scary kid segment and they save Lucy Lawless until the end. It works, scary kids are evergreen horror visuals and waiting for Countess Marburg brings a kind of anticipation. This time Salem tied it together. The little girl in the opening scene is the old world version of Timmy falling down the well, except it goes unnoticed. Then she rises from the well like scary little girl in The Ring. The people of Salem don’t even bat an eye. The Countess makes her presence known with a kiss, and the reigning witch of Salem gets a quiver on her normally stiff upper lip.
I realized the connection as soon as I saw the kid throw up. It’s not that I associate the former Warrior Princess with an upset stomach, but it just reminded me of the drainage scene from the season opener. The spectral, decrepit ghost that stalked Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) immediately brought to mind the mottled scars on the countess’s back. Sibley is facing quite a formidable foe. Probably the only one I will be sad to see her overcome. You don’t want to see someone one-up Xena, I’m still getting over the whole Spartacus debacle. The idea that the countess took such notable names as Hecate and Bathory means she is a treasure that I don’t want to see buried.
The Sibley dynasty is not unlike the Corleone dynasty. They face threats on all sides, some personal, some merely business. Mercy Lewis (Elise Eberle) has a very personal bone to pick, but it’s probably better for her if she doesn’t pick at anything too much. Those scars look very painful. They don’t quite rise to the level of a measurable wince quota, but they definitely should not be scratched. I kept thinking about Richard Pryor in his second concert movie talking about getting washed after he burned himself. “Okay Richard, we’re gonna bathe you soon, get ready.” And then when the water hit his singed flesh, it was an exercise in pain. I thought about that as Mercy was reaching for her friend’s face. Please, girl, keep your hands to yourself until you can rinse them off at least.
I despise Hathorne (Jeremy Crutchley). It’s not just that I’m rooting for Mary Sibley, but he’s really one of the most vile denizens of Salem village and that carries a lot of competition. He’s such a bossy bitch, a pompous puritanical pussy. I’m not quite sure why Sibley insists on calling him Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne added the W years later to distance himself from the famed real-life witch hunter. I guess just knowing that makes me a Salem Geek, not just the show, but Salem, Massachusetts. The reproduction of The House of Seven Gables is impressive, by the way, in the midst of the town without a velvet rope and visiting hours like it has today.
Cotton Mather (Seth Gabelas) really is a buffoon. Anne Hale (Tamzin Merchant) shoots a glorified toll collector high above the trees like the old parachute ride at Coney Island and neither Mather nor the coachman notice. Hale has a real problem. She thinks she’s a good witch, as if the other witches are somehow bad in relation to their puritanical oppressors. Hale thinks she’s somehow better than the other witches because she would remain a slave to their definition of salvation.
For a guy who looks so much, to me, like Matthew Perry, the invisible John Alden (Shane West) is fairly humorless. His eye-rolling asides now have a tinge of Regan from The Exorcist in them. He’s lost his soul, the Native American tribesmen warned that was going to happen, but he comes across like a possessed longshoreman in search of a grappling hook.
Mary’s son (Oliver Bell) develops a fondness for pretty things. His table manners are still atrocious, but with the drooling, talking-with-his-mouth-open George Sibley (Michael Mulheren) back at the head of the table, who’s going to notice? Tituba (Ashley Madekwe) makes a tasty goat’s head soup, it just needs a little eye of Seer (Petrus – Christopher Berry), to cut the bitterness. Isaac Walton (Iddo Goldberg) is a popular little fucker, isn’t he? Even with the clown-red eyes and the leech-looking pox, he still gets regular visits from the witchy candy-stripers.
Dr. Wainwright (Stuart Townsend) brings humor and edge-play to post-op. Talk about bedside manner, the good doctor wants to be bad with Sibley. Townshend looks like he’s having a ball. He’s got everything Salem needs. He’s a scientist, a necromancer and a free thinker in a land where thoughts are costly. Mary teases, but Wainwright squeezes a little too tight. Not quite as tight as Gyp Rosetti got on Boardwalk Empire, but it was getting there. The idea that losing consciousness is a way to pinpoint the location of the soul is like believing that when we die we see a bright light, so stay away. Stay away from the light.
The goat head magic and the anti-wizardry of John Alden were the only home-spun magic in Salem tonight. Countess Marburg’s aqua projections are an interesting magical portal concept on par with Anne Hale’s Masked Transit of last week. Today, of course, they’d be able to use The Floo Network from the Harry Potter books and films, but expansion was still under construction at the time.
It is really Mary Sibley who holds it all together. She is the heart of Salem. The only magistrate in the township that has any visions at all. She may be well ahead of her time, class and social standing, but she is no Delilah. She is a Samson with a sweet British smile.