This Salem review contains spoilers.
Salem season 3 episode 4
In Salem, season 3 episode 4, “Night’s Black Agents,” the devil calls to his legion of woodland operatives for the first time and they come up short. But the magic in the forest trees is in just as much flux as the towns it surrounds.
The episode opens with a dangerous game of hide and seek in the woods. It’s time for Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel) to come home after his disgorgement of the familiar Brown Jenkins. His loving wife Anne Hale (Tamzin Merchant) is worried about him. After all, the last time he was seen was in the local pub and well, everyone in Cambridge knows about Increase Mather’s son and his battle with the bottle. The multiple apparitions of Anne Hale are a very nice touch, mixing menace, seduction and guilt in a call to a wayward husband. Hale is only looking out for her husband’s best interests.
You really have to admire Cotton’s resolve. He’s beaten back a love spell and the sultry whispered voices of a woman who truly loves him. He does this all for a deep-seated hatred of witches masquerading as a love for god. He doesn’t even care if they hang him for the death of his own father. Anne also hangs tough in the face of a deep and irrevocable split.
Mistress Mercy Lewis (Elise Eberle) has the most interesting strap-on I’ve ever seen. And what pleasure it brings the town magistrate when inserted at just the right angle. She really is the most progressive woman in and on Salem. Centuries before her time, almost able to peer into the technological age, with her talk of hands-free orgasms and tantric Sting-endurance-like sex sessions. Mercy is also no political liability, the madam’s screams can turn the tides of votes whether she leaves scratch marks on the back or not. Voulez vous coucher avec Mercy, Mr. Putnam? She’s no Creole Lady Marmalade but she is a gitchie gitchie girl.
Hathorne (Jeremy Crutchley) has one of the greatest arcs on this show. When I first referenced him in season 1, I compared him to Joxer on Xena, long before Xena even made an appearance in Salem. But now, with him staring over the town, high above those who still have to work for a living, he is no joke. He really has taken to evil quite well and is becoming one of the town’s most prominent villains, which, as anyone who has been reading me knows, are the true heroes on these shows. The traditional heroes are just anti-villains. He does the horror geeks proud. He’s like right out of a Dario Argento movie in all the best ways. Praise the dark lord. Praise his unholy name.
The relationship between the former fornicator and Dorkus, the little girl he saved, is creeping me out as a little to unholier-than-thou. She is too perfectly coiffed in her blonde picture poses under that Little Outhouse on the Prairie bonnet and she does not seem to have the innocence of her age. It better come out that she’s a witch or some kind of satanic entity because her flattery and encouragement comes out with a hint of sexual tension, especially in the way it is filmed. The camera is intimate in their scenes. I have to picture the Isaac as Chris Meloni on Law and Order: SUV, to get through them. Dorkus gives a horrible story, and the fornicator makes it completely personal. But it won’t bring back Dolley.
Tituba’s work is never done. “Nothing from nothing ever yet was born but all from all may yet be torn in each resides the secret power, sleeping, that awaits its hour,” she intones as she slits open the innards of the innards of some pretty game animal. I want to say here also that witches aren’t Satanists. The wiccan religion is pagan, but the spirits in the woods of Salem are not the ones they conjure for the harvest moon.
We continue to follow the growing myth of the frontier tracker John Alden (Shane West) as he hunts the French-Indian alliance. The little scout that he brought along with him watches as every story from the legend is validated in full view. History seems to come alive in these scenes, even if they are seen through the prism of historical paranoia. The image of the natives emerging from the forest, in their savage war paint, is frightening enough to make the horror fan in me root them on over Alden. Especially since Baron Sebastian Marburg (Joe Doyle) is supplying the enemy with enough blasting power to bring on the reckoning.
Mary (Janet Montgomery) really is suffering the tortures of the damned. She is now a mere creature, devoid of all magical properties, stripped of the elements and left to fawn over her over-privileged son. “Hate is just a shadow of love, where there is one the other is sure to follow and there is nothing more powerful than the two combined,” the angel formerly known as Samael (Oliver Bell) says, before his mom disappears into her very own Dorian Gray-commissioned portrait.
Mary Sibley, of course, has the greatest arc of the episode. She begins broken, covered with bugs from The Sentinel’s dominance, de-elementized and ends as the proper champion for the witches who bit off too much to swallow. Confronted by those who suffered for her sins, like Rebecca Nurse, Mary finds her strength and resolve even as her neck is stretched.
One small step for a woman, but a giant step for satankind. The scene between Mary and the Sentinel, where he is trying to convince her to commit suicide, reminds me of the scene in Eye of the Devil when Sharon Tate tries to hypnotize David Niven’s wife Deborah Kerr into jumping from the tower. But not quite as sensual. Everyone she has ever known will die, she is warned. But that would happen anyway. Everyone all of us know will die.
This really is Cotton’s episode. He opens it and almost closes it with the news that he’s going to be a daddy. He doesn’t do too bad in the action scenes either. Disarming the old people, such a cute pair, throwing the dog into the fire and taking off into the woods, which has become a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. It’s kind of a shame, though, he didn’t get the chance to show how tasty he was. Personally I think Seth Gabel could pull that off. The familiar dog peeing on Cotton’s head is almost as good as any horror special effect. Grotesque, ugly and painful to watch.
The episode’s pacing is expert. All the pieces fit and there is excitement to burn, witch, burn. Hell hath no fury like this woman scorned.
“Night’s Black Agents” was written by Brannon Braga and Adam Simon and directed by Joe Dante.