Has everyone been watching Salem? Guys, you should really be watching Salem. That means you too, mom. I know you're reading this. The episode starts with a dream four-way. No, not like your ideal four-way—a four-way in a dream. Not that a bearded Seth Gabel babbling a lot of religious rhetoric isn't a part of my ideal four-way, but you know what I mean.
If you begin an episode of television that way, you automatically win the night in television. That is a fact.
Salem is a crazy show, but it's the best kind of crazy. To be honest, I'm not sure I even know what's really going on in Salem. I know that Cotton Mather has more daddy issues than Daddy Monthly. I don't know even if Daddy Monthly is a real magazine, but if it is, he would still have more issues than it I know that Mary Sibley is the most fabulous anti-hero I've seen in years. Maybe if Walter White had worn fabulous coats, he'd have won that competition. I know that accents are more of a guideline than a rule or even a regional thing.
Nothing Salem is doing is in vain. It's all much appreciated. Salem is doing the Lord's work. Or Satan's work, I suppose. Quite frankly, I just don't know.
"In Vain," or "Everybody Hates Isaac" as I took to calling it, is mostly about driving Isaac crazy and making him the next town witch. It's also about Mary Sibley vs. Magistrate Hale (still rocking the Lucius Malfoy aesthetic, as I hope he always does), as well as Captain John Alden and Cotton Mather's begrudging buddy cop friendship. But if you take away one thing from this episode, it should be the dream four-way scene, which ends with with John saying "Judge not, lest ye be judged." I believe that translates to "Let your freak flag fly," but my Bible knowledge is a little bit rusty. Anne wakes up from the dream, terrified, but not as terrified as she is by her momentary black demon eyes or the creepy dolls she willing keeps in her room (including the magical one Mary had planted in there).
After the fantastic title sequence, we see Isaac the Fornicator carry the dead out of town. It's a public display, and even Tituba and Magistrate Hale of all people think Mary's over-the-top for not allowing him to take the dead out in a more secure, private route. Subtlety isn't anyone's game in Salem, but for any of these characters to judge another for being over-the-top—well, I think the "Let your freak flag fly" thing said all that needed to be said.
The plot boils down to Hale deciding that Isaac needs to be removed from the equation for witnessing the witch's ceremony in the woods. Mary doesn't find him to be a threat and orders against it, but Hale defies her authority and sets forth to make the town believe he's the latest witch. Meanwhile, Cotton continues to sleep with his prostitute Gloriana, assuring her that the innocent will be safe from these witch trials. It's nice that he thinks that. This is probably why his father thought so little of him.
Hale makes Isaac go mad immediately, having him attack the brothel and shout in the streets: "Isaac the Fornicator. Hide your wives! Hide your sheep!" It sounds more like the rantings of a drunk than a monster, and John defends the eventually arrested Isaac as such; but no alcohol is even on Isaac's breath, and it makes it difficult to argue in Isaac's favor.
John is able to guilt Mary though, and therein lies the one problem I have with the amazing Mary Sibley. If only Mary were an unabashed villain. Anne even calls her "despicable," so why can't we have that? The "love" story between Mary and John maintains that she must ultimately be pure of heart and a soul worth saving. Why does she need to be pure of heart when she has the best "period piece" wardrobe outside of Reign?
The title "In Vain" refers to Mary asking if everything's she done, from the mystical abortion to the toad stuff (which isn't even mentioned in this episode, unfortunately), probably, has been in vain, and I don't see how it could be. She's played by Janet Montgomery! She runs this terrible town! She has interesting pets like magic toads and snakes! She has the best coats I've ever seen! She could probably get Cotton Mather in her bed if she so wanted! That's living the life, don't you think? As far as I'm concerned, the only thing missing in Mary's life is a dream four-way, and this time, I do mean ideal four-way.
Simply put, there's a disparity between the Mary we see the majority of the time, and the Mary that apparently only exists whenever John is in the equation. The former is a redefining character, who wields power in a patriarchal 17th century society. The latter is just another love interest, especially when she talks of possibly never really having a choice when it comes to the life she currently has.
However, Mary does solve the Isaac situation in a way befitting of the former. She goes straight for the jugular, literally, as she magically forces illness on Anne, causing her to choke on blood. If there's one thing that Hale has going for him that Mary doesn't, it's the fact that he has attachments to this world, people worth caring about in his wife and his daughter. Mary allegedly doesn't have such things, so he can't use anything against her. "I will choose who lives and dies," she says, and if the season doesn't end with Mary killing at least 50% of the town, then why are we doing any of this? Mary puts Hale back in his place, firmly under her thumb, forcing him to release Isaac and drop any and all charges, and she returns Anne to good health, free to dream of four-ways for the rest of her days on this Earth. Everybody wins! Well, not the Hales, or the other innocents who will be cast as witches, or Mr. Sibley. But except for them, everybody wins!
And in a stealth cute moment on this show, Isaac the Fornicator brings flowers to the brothel as a way to apologize for his "drunken" moment. It sounds strange, especially after I just basically said I hope Mary goes on a magical killing spree, but trust me, it's cute. "Cute" is essentially the opposite of everything Salem is attempting to do, so when something like that happens, I have to take notice. I may have even said "aww" out loud, but it was late, and you can't prove anything.
Not cute, however, is Mr. Sibley stabbing himself in the thigh with one of Mary's knitting needles to close out the episode. See, that's more like Salem. You have witches feeding mice to snakes because of symbolism. You have pig men. You have fornicators bringing the cute. You have Shane West's non-existent accent. You have Ashley Madekwe's all too-existent accent (What is it? I don't know.). Say what you will about Salem — and please, say a lot — but it's not boring. It barely makes any sense whether you watch it or not, but still, I can't say it's ever been boring in these three episodes. I'd even go as far as to say it's the new The Cape, and trust me, that is the highest of praise.
[Image via WGN]
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