SPOILER ALERT: Forked tongues spill secrets.
Salem, season 2 episode 6, “Ill Met by Moonlight” brings Countess Marburg (Lucy Lawless) to Salem to claim her piece of the magical manifest destiny that Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) opened with the Grand Rite.
But first Mary has to fix the bad plumbing in her devoted husband, George Sibley (Michael Mulheren). Mary really seems to care for the old coot. She tells Tituba (Ashley Madekwe) that it’s all about the power she’ll lose if the old man dies, but there is real affection in her face. Part of this is the competition she’s facing with the Countess and some of it is the political capital that is going down the drain. But she’s been with imperious grump for so long, she formed a bond with him.
Not as strong as the bond between Mary and John Alden (Shane West). The witch hunting frontiersman can’t bring himself to kill women and children. He has no trouble snapping the necks of dockworkers and corpse carriers in duck masks, but his vision gets all blurry and atmospheric when stalking seductive sorceresses. Methinks he doth protest too much. Like George Sibley, John Alden has a bit of a witch fetish. It weighs on his conscience, what with the talking head of the eyeless seer, Petrus (Christopher Berry). I cheered when Tituba pulled a Luca Brasi on him.
Countess Marburg walks into Salem like she owns the place and hasn’t decided whether she’s got buyer’s regret. Her comical meeting with Mary at the docks with the air kissing and the backbiting and the bitchy witchy smiles was delightful. It had wit, charm and nastiness all boiled in bellicose bouillabaisse. We know only one will live through this. Countess Marburg herself pointed out that a war is only over when the enemy is dead. We also know the odds favor the house, and Mary’s got seven gables on hers. With Salem being Sibley’s place and Marburg just a guest star who may be off on another series next year, it’s a fair prediction that Mary will prevail on that front. Maybe we can get two seasons out of it because they’re also fighting off the mundane masses.
Anne Hale (Tamzin Merchant) is so much a new witch, pure and unaffected. She immediately assumes Brown Jenkins, the brown mouse that visits her when she’s casting spells or writing about them in her Book of Secrets, is her familiar. Just because he shows up after she’s squeezed the life out of him. Although the mouse does look familiar, right down to those almost anthropomorphic hands to the new glowing red eyes, it could be that no one has cleaned the storage cellar since her old man died and there’s a whole family of mice down there.
I wanted Cotton Mather (Seth Gabelas) to kill in Hathorne (Jeremy Crutchley). I guess that puts me on Team Sibley. Hathorne, is a primping, pompous pugilist who hold the keys to the pokey. He pushes his weight around with his fey machismo in the bar. It’s a wonder no one else hit him. They are all puritan hypocrites but still, just to shut him up. It’s a shame they both had to live through it. Not for them, of course, but for the audience who’d much prefer to just go off with the witches and see what this new world would be like. We know history, show us what you got. I appreciated how Mary waited until the fight was over before taking them to task.
Maybe it was worth it to see the reverend Mather panting and stuttering over Anne Hale. The scene is very much played through her eyes. Baal knows Cotton is only good-looking when seen through the eyes of Anne Hale (Tamzin Merchant). Isaac Walton (Iddo Goldberg) is the most unlikely object of affection after Mather. His reputation must precede him by inches.
The battle between puritans and witches isn’t over to this day. Today’s happy pagans would just as soon have the pilgrims back the march. No matter how long the witch battles carry on, Mary Sibley will never fully prevail to turn the new world into a left hand paradise because the puritans still have to peddle their soap. I’m hoping the village of Salem falls under her thrall and continues as a dark sovereignty in the midst of unmitigated manifest destiny. Why should the puritans have all the fun?
If the witches do fulfill their Grand Rite and Countess Marburg wants to continue west to conquer America, she should have her own spinoff: Lucy Lawless as the satanic chanteuse in a Destry Rides Again setting. She’s already doing Walter Brennan in To Have and Have Not, with his “was you ever stung by a dead bee” schtick. She’s alright. Louie C.K. repurposed the joke last week in between dreams. Mercy Lewis (Elise Eberle) is a useful little bee lost from the hive. Self-conscious and untrusting, she finally succumbs to her new BFF the countess with a sanguine facial spa outing. Mercy’s traitorous acolyte gives her all as a fountain of youth juice on tap.
The biggest Wince Factor Moment tonight came in the opening when Mary slit her tongue to pump the life back into George Sibley. The credit goes to the sound crew and Janet Montgomery’s lightning quick fingers. The sob-snot that Mercy sucked back into her nose was a marvelously gross touch too.
“Ill Met by Moonlight” wasn’t as powerful an episode as last week’s but it moved at an action pace and took the time to humanize the characters with sadness, humor and the ever-present desperation. I can’t wait to see Mary Sibley play with her new talking Increase Mather doll.
“Ill Met by Moonlight” was written by Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders, directed by Nick Copus.