Salem, season 2 episode 11, “On Earth In Hell,” was an exciting episode with some truly frightening moments. They were quick, you might have missed them, but they lingered like a bittersweet aftertaste after their images had already faded.
Bravo. Salem, on the exorcism. This was one scary exorcism, complete with popups straight out of What’s The Matter With Helen. Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) has never been scarier. A little dribble of blood on the side of her mouth is such a subtle tingle. Counter this image with the opening sequence where she is being dragged through the town to the pillars as a garishly pained fallen woman. She looks more like a sad clown as she endures the rotten fruit as inevitable. She looks clownishly ghoulish and then she pops up again in different jumpy forms during the exorcism. It works on a subliminal level.
Penny Dreadful did an exorcism episode last year which was very good, naturally acted and intelligently shot. It didn’t have the primordial thrill of tonight’s jittery jaunt through a circle or two of hell. Salem’s approach was more visceral and less cerebral and yet worked into the subconscious like a snake into a comfy bed on a cold night.
Oliver Bell, who plays Mary’s son, for the moment called John, has one of those scary kid faces. He looks like he could be sweet, but who only is sweet when he’s sticking a “kick me” sign on your back. Even when he’s not being possessed he has the air of someone who’s only putting in the appearance of being good. When he tells Captain John Alden (Shane West), his father, that the ropes are too tight and are painful, you don’t want to believe him. Or, even if you did, you kind of want to tighten the knot a little bit.
I wondered if there was a false sense of suspense when Anne Hale (Tamzin Merchant) met up with Cotton Mather (Seth Gabelas) in the woods. The music said no no, but there was yes yes in the cameras eyes. When Anne held out her hand to take the child from his angelic guardian the audience got the feeling there was something wrong. But is there? Wouldn’t Cotton know his wife with a kiss? The cinematography set it up to look like Anne might turn into Countess Marburg, but when she didn’t suck out Cotton’s soul during the kiss, we felt just a little more assured, but not quite.
Was Anne Hale being a little too supportive of Mary Sibley in her toubles? All that rah rah cheerleading and telling her that tomorrow is always another day when you have curtains seem, in retrospect, to be a little too encouraging. If there’s one thing we can count on in Salem it’s an overabundance of double dealing and Hale has already gotten her pick from the bottom of the tarot deck from the countess. What if she is a diabolical double agent hell-bent on bringing the kid back to Countess Marburg (Lucy Lawless)? I certainly hope so. He shouldn’t get away that easily and Hale was getting a little too Sister Sledge for comfort.
Baron Sebastian von Marburg (Joe Doyle) is a real scumbag and quite inscrutable. It’s not that he’s hiding anything, which is he but that’s not why we get surprised. It is because he can’t make up his mind. He does everything for himself, he is the ultimate spoiled child, having had millennia to perfect the perfect pout, but he still wants to please his mommy. Sadly, he has also run into the very first thing he wants, Mary Sibley and he just won’t be happy until he gets her. No matter how miserable he might make her. He reminds me of the Squire of Gothos in Star Trek, only he’s less goth than William Campbell, who also starred in Roger Corman’s classic low-budget horror, Dementia 13, who really wore the tricorn at the right jaunty angle.
Who does Hathorne think he is? Or, maybe the better question is where does he think he is? God, that voice of his, that sanctimonious voice in search of an accent is distractingly shrill and oppressive. Hathorne presents the harlot Mary, not even deserving of the last name of any man she’s been familial with, to the crowd for their judgement he asks ‘How many men has she lewered into her bed?’ Ooh lewered, what airs he puts on. I remember someone correcting my mother’s pronunciation of the word whore when I was a kid and this was just the opposite. A neighborhood mother advised my mom that the word was whore and rhymed with more. My mother said no, as she had learned it, the word was hooah and it rhymed with sewer. Perhaps Hathorne should be lured to a sewer where he can be sure to get purer.
Isaac the fornicator became Isaac the Baptist tonight, raising the roof on Hathorne’s solemn sermon like he was Lazarus of the pulpit. Iddo Goldberg came alive above the corpse of his dead new love, Dollie. He called out the hypocrites like a coarse voice in the wilderness. All emotion and no grammatical determiners, not none, no how.
Lucy Lawless had such command tonight as she plotted her way through the labyrinth of the lower depths. No magician is beyond her reach. She is the mother of all magic, whether it comes from European families or the verbal traditions of Native American shamans. Countess Marburg doesn’t win by TKO either, every twist of the neck is a confirmed conquest. She’s an evil demonic witch and yet I was still thinking what a lucky guy Captain Alden is, getting it on with all manner of spiritual seductresses, even able to blithely dismiss the charms of Tituba (Ashley Madekwe).
This was an excellent episode with thrills, chills and spills galore.
“On Earth In Hell” was written by Joe Menosky & Adam Simon and directed by Nick Copus.