Salem Season 2 Finale Review: The Witching Hour

The witches brew up a killer finale. Here is our review of Salem season 2 episode 13.

SPOILER ADVISORY: Watch it first, read it, watch it again.

Salem, season 2 episode 13, “The Witching Hour,” may not have turned out the way we wanted but it gave us more than we could have hoped. The season finale was so unexpected it had gasp moments that had nothing to do with frights. It was as flawless as it was fun. The guiding creative team of Adam Simon and Brannan Braga give subtle nods to classic horror moments from the best directors without calling attention to it and create their own iconic moments.

Last week’s episode ended when Mary (Janet Montgomery) made the ultimate sacrifice a mother could make. Countess Marburg (Lucy Lawless) may think it small, but the loss of little John (Oliver Bell) took all the life out of the reigning Essex witch. Mommy’s boy Baron Sebastian von Marburg (Joe Doyle), who was so disappointingly passed over, takes a page from Ira Levin and suggests that all they have to do is wait and maternal instincts will triumph over petty motherly love. Never underestimate a witchy mama. If the devil was brought into the world as an infant like in the Roman Polanski classic, Mary might have grown to love it. The stars were crossed.

The opening scene, with the bed surrounded by the best and brightest, or worst and darkest, witches of Salem, subliminally suggests Rosemary’s Baby. Salem went to great lengths to avoid references to The Exorcist in their exorcism. Here, the subliminal camera nod refers to the rape scene and indeed, Mary is being horribly taken advantage of, and for granted. Her empty vessel of a son was filled with a monstrous soul.

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A monster is a god seen through fearful eyes. “God is blind and deaf. A senile watchmaker who long ago forgot about the creatures of mud he forged with his bored breath,” his son, pallid incompetence hanging from a tree. The Countess is so proud and sure, ready to step into her place at the left hand of the son to govern the new world from Hell’s own capital, as Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel), puts it.

Cotton and Anne Hale (Tamzin Merchant) are the budding love story at the center of the horror soap opera beneath Salem. Salem is a small town, like Peyton Place or Collingsport Maine, in the gothic Dark Shadows, and tongues wag. Cotton was redeemed from a life spent pursuing the hateful vengeance of god he inherited from his father, Increase Mather (Stephen Lang), and hiding from both at the bottom of a bottle in a corner room in a brothel. Anne lit a fire under him and brought him back into the good fight.

“You can never unknow something once you know it,” Hale warns him before confessing most of her sins. Cotton Mather gets the truth and it makes him sick. He throws his soul up through his throat. Seth Gabel is playing it full force here. Anne Hale traded little John’s life for Cotton’s, making him party to one of the worst betrayals his battered spirit can take.

Cotton decides to let love conquer all. But when he finds out that his affections, which were already taking root, were played with, the righteous prick decides that witches are the very embodiment of evil after all.

Isaac the Truthteller (Iddo Goldberg), go fuck yourself and get thee to a dentist. I know I’m always picking on his teeth, I wish he’d pick his teeth once in a while. The former Fornicator should just let Mercy Lewis (Elise Eberle) drink. Mercy really is going to shit. She has been abandoned over and over. Mercy has been dangled, mangled and tangled in all the small-town intrigue.  She was kicked from the Sibley house with a promise that, if she returned, Marburg will peel her ungrateful face like an apple.

This will have given her strength. Mercy is at the beginning of a terrible reign.  When she says she will rule if only in their nightmares, with her burnt face and clipped voice, I predict she will be Salem’s new Freddy in Nightmare on 115 Derby St. (The House of Seven Gables actually no longer stands on its original site. Many locations there aren’t exactly where they were when they were, but The Witch House in today’s Salem, Mass., is just off Essex Street and Mary Sibley is an Essex Witch.) Mercy already has a resume filled with her work with children. She got a special letter of reference just for her work with Salem’s resident devil child.

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Hey kid, you kiss your mother with that mouth? What a perverse memory comes out of that little kid’s gaping hole. There’s an unsettling sickness that’s worse than any of the wince factor bits that I’ll get into later. When the devil gets down, he really gets low. He simplifies the oedipal complex to its barest roots. He is the rapist hiding in the body of the unaborted child. I feel sorry for his mom when he hits puberty.

Mary throws down on the Countess like she’s a fifties greaser calling a rumble. Up until this point, Mary had been playing the resigned martyr, welcoming death. My woods, she says and peels the paneling with her fingernails acting like a switchblade. It was cool and she was cool, like the Fonz was supposed to be cool. But really, how cool could he be with Anson Williams sitting at his table? (That’s a Xena in-joke.)

When Mary was pounding on Marburg’s face in the burning church, there was something in me that wanted to yell “you can’t do that to Xena. Kick the shit out of her, warrior princess.” Lawless is as far away from that iconic character as she can be. Both characters may be largely invulnerable, but in wholly different ways and their vulnerabilities also come from different places.

The Countess is suffering all the indignities of unrequited love. She is spoiled and has a real sense of entitlement. Lawless has the potential to bring true entitlement to a role that very few actors possess. There are only a handful of actors who carry that much historic weight. When she finally breaks, telling Mary “Come he wants you,” the line comes with layers of conflict and wit that are entirely hers, an almost monopoly on our reactions.

Salem may be fun, but it’s not often funny. A lot of the humor of the show is carried in Lucy Lawless’s unspoken retorts. Every actor is more than capable of finding humor in the direst of situations, but Sibley and Marburg are the most fun to watch. They clearly enjoy playing off each other.

Wince moments: The devil bites the hand that feeds him. The crunchy munchy sounds the devil child made and the quick cuts we heard were beautifully disgusting. It went by just fast enough to linger as an even better memory than it was probably was a scene.

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Tituba’s (Ashley Madekwe) death was a motherfucker. Foreshadowed by the reflection in the starless crow-black eye of feathered forest guardians, the scene captured claustrophobia in the wide open spaces of the great outdoors. Alfred Hitchcock terrorized the blonde Tippi Hedron with all-white seagulls in The Birds. The prince of darkness revokes the former slave’s freedom with a barrage of black beaks. The winciest of the wince moments came when she fell face up and offered her eyes like bird seed and lay back still as a Bible opened to Revelations.

When Captain John Alden (Shane West) and his Native American friendly ghosts walked into the light, it reminded me of the poppy fields that lie beyond the Yellow Brick Road to Oz. Mary Sibley has truly been the woman behind the curtain and her absence left a vacuum in the town council. Anne Hale joins the dark side and then some. She sees she can thrive as a woman only through mystical intervention in the perennial age of man. Cotton, however enlightened he may be, finds that hard to swallow.

“But it is her I love.” “Mary Sibley is the one I must have.” That can be Marburg’s epitaph if she were more than sleeping. All her babies want mother Mary in their hour of darkness. She can’t just make it be. The devil she’s been awaiting on since the dawn of time and her own son the Baron can’t get the Essex witch out of their heads. So the countess tasks one with taking the young queen out to the woods for slaughter. How could that go wrong?

Didn’t the Baron learn anything from Snow White? Maybe the Countess never read Fractured Fairy Tales to her son since anti-witch stories like Sleeping Beauty and the faux-pro-witch Maleficent were banned by some ancient witches council. Or maybe, as on The Addams Family, those stories just never registered. But really how did the Countess not see that coming? Just earlier that day the little devil told Tituba he knew every lie she ever told. Marburg was conveniently tending to Mercy at the time, but she’s had more than 2,000 years of studying the devil, wasn’t she paying attention? He’s the father of lies, he knows his own.

So, if everything is as it seems, next season we should see Anne Hale as the new voice of Salem. Cotton, her lapdog will be the new generation’s George Sibley, allowing her to run the village of Salem unencumbered. John Alden will come back to town. He will probably mistake some look he gets from Baron Marburg and kill him and it will fall on him to save Cotton and kill his own son to save the world.

This is the most fun show currently ending a season. I giggle at my discomfort. This may have been a perfect season closer. Maybe, like Agent Scully’s red hair on The X-Files, a little too perfect. Every scene was perfectly crafted for iconic status, picture perfect. It’s a whole new world for the orphan Satan.

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“The Witching Hour” was written by Adam Simon and directed by Brannan Braga.


5 out of 5