All is lost and I couldn’t be happier. Salem, season 2 episode 12, “Midnight Never Come,” was a fantastic episode, not quite as good as last week’s which was transcendent, but only by degrees. I mean, they’re competing with an exorcism.
Mary (Janet Montgomery) is miserable. She lost her son little John (Oliver Bell), her lover and they boy’s father Captain John Alden (Shane West) is recovering from a bad belly wound and she has lost her standing on the town council. The former Mary Sibley was even stripped of her last name. Mary herself is lost. It’s not just that she is a shadow of her former self, she is a shadow of that shadow. Like a boxer who is way past punch drunk, she just lets the blows land at will.
Last week, Mary endured public shame of being put in stocks, her face painted garishly as the town harlot and rotten fruit was thrown at her by the good people of Salem. This week Mary takes all the grief and condemnation of Mercy, the leader of the witches she burned in the woods. Mary doesn’t take it with a smile, but she takes it well, even offering Mercy a warning about the Marburgs. They hate the Essex witches.
Montgomery has brought a lot to this role. She has been a seductress and a serpent, sometimes both at the same time. Her vulnerability has been allowed to surface, but tonight she shows a fatigue that goes to the bones. Mary has become fatalistic and is teetering on the verge of nihilism. If only the screenwriters would let her sink into her despair she might get some rest, but a mother never gives up while there is still a chance. Last week she was rallied by Anne Hale (Tamzin Merchant). This week she’s just giving it that last shot.
Alden is tired too. But if he rests, he just might never get up. The last time he got up, he almost spilled all his insides out before he opened the throats of a legion of devil’s disciples. Baron Sebastian von Marburg (Joe Doyle) didn’t see that coming, did he? For the spawn of such a powerful witch, the evergreen baron is a flop and a fop. And he doesn’t treat the help that well either. Countess Marburg (Lucy Lawless) gave him one job to do, having given his other tasks to new recruits.
Alden has a very human moment when Cotton is tending to him. As Cottons says it’s going to hurt and starts filing the wound with sawdust Alden just kind of points to it. It expresses the pain properly, but on top of that it’s funny and in a very relatable way. Shane West brings more humor to his role than any other character. He had an understandable lapse when he was doing his Terminator thing, but all last season his tongue and his cheek were very close.
This also makes sense if you look at the John Alden of history. He was just passing through Salem and didn’t take the puritans very seriously. He escaped from their jail after being accused of witchcraft and didn’t go back until after the hysteria died down. Then he was also free to mock it. West brings that to his Alden. The frontiersman’s fortitude is also tempered by the obvious love he’s got for his son on Father’s Day.
Lucy Lawless gets to play Darth Vader tonight. I am your mother. Search your feelings, you know this to be true. No need, it was on page 39 of the Book of Shadows. Anne Hale learns she is a princess, on the precipice of true global domination, where she can remake the world in her image. If only she could see the former Mary Sibley for what she is. The countess, her daughter and the shackled slave Tituba (Ashley Madekwe) make a power trio. Countess Marburg seals the deal with a kiss and finds that Tituba tastes of lies and a lifetime of brutal oppression.
I love that Countess Marburg smells children. Wonder if she got the Marilyn Manson Smells Like Children album. Lawless is at her best in the scene with Anne Hale. The threats dip from her lips like luxurious crocodile tears. She savors each syllable and the breath in between, like a pianist who really knows the importance of a rest. The reading is as humorous as it is frightening. I kept giggling in delight as Marburg twisted every sentence into Hale like a razor. Every sentence is a prolonged negotiation for “the boy.”
The boy is the key. The witchizens of the forest don’t care about Mary. They don’t care about the boy. They certainly don’t care what they look like. Mary is greeted by a spider witch who just keeps yelling get out. The scene inside the tree was beautifully shot and wonderfully rendered. The blue grey dark realm of the witches in waiting was a universe of bad dreams. The witches appear to speak backwards. This may be a nod to the backwards chanting of Christian prayers in gnostic and demonic masses. It was Aleister Crowley who discovered that it wasn’t enough to say the words in reverse order, celebrants needed to memorize the sounds phonetically. Watch the ritual scene in Eyes Wide Shut for an example.
All the characters grew exponentially in the second half of this second season. Cotton Mather (Seth Gabelas) is about to have the biggest growth spurt of all. He is the only truly “good man in Salem.” He stood up to his powerful and imposing father, Increase Mather (Stephen Lang). He took punches from Captain Alden, ridicule from Dr. Wainwright (Stuart Townsend) and abuse from Hathorne. He took solace in a bottle and tavern whore, who was driven from town because of him. Now, he is defending his own wife from an accusation he’s only just learning about. It just might break his mind. Though that is something to celebrate in Salem.
Isaac the fornicator is now Isaac the Truthteller and he has his own John the Baptist hand-me-downs to wear while he speaks truth to the powerless. Iddo Goldberg really goes all out capturing the look, degradation and demeanor of the demeaned. He has been pockmarked, carved, poked, prodded, branded, sliced and partially diced. But they all really pale in comparison to his teeth tonight. There are viewers who will brush the enamel off their roots because of that scene. Dolly may have dodged a bullet. That was the wince moment of the night.
Betrayals upon betrayals mark this season in Salem. The final betrayal is a devastating blow to Mary and though she was interrupted in the dream where she was giving directions to Alden, the true course is all too clear. But of course it comes all too late. That’s the fun of Salem. The devil gets its due.
“Midnight Never Come” was written by Donna Thorland & Adam Simon and directed by Alex Zakrzewski.