Salem Episode 1×12 “Ashes, Ashes” Review

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You Are What You Are – John’s Trial Sends “Salem” Into A Tailspin With This Week’s Episode

There were hands that touched hellfire and endless shades of grey in this week’s episode of Salem, as Increase and Cotton go head-to-head at John Alden’s trial. Meanwhile, Mary takes the next step in the Grand Right, but her decision could have horrific unforeseen consequences for both Puritans and witches alike. As Anne seeks the truth of her ancestry by rather unconventional means, Isaac gives Mary a piece of magic advice that could alter John’s fate and their love forever. With dreams and death, apples and hangings, episode 1×12 “Ashes, Ashes” was the penultimate episode we’ve all been waiting for. Time to take a bite, shall we heathens?

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No One Is Safe

Arguing with Increase Mather is like standing on a slippery slide and your only option is to go down, down, down. This seemed to be the case for John and Cotton, whose tag-team attitude couldn’t win against Increase’s dirty rebuttals. Despite using his ugly instruments of torture and questioning the “intactness” of Mercy’s Minions, Cotton’s small victory couldn’t withstand the almighty determination of Reverend Mather. Bravo once again to Stephan Lang and Seth Gabel, who continue to act their characters with such effortlessness it’s difficult to tear your eyes away. Strangely enough, it wasn’t their equally good debating skills that reminded me of Cotton and Increase’s shared DNA, but rather when Increase told his son about the time he stopped the Grand Right. It was like Increase, in his own twisted way, was warning Cotton to be careful – despite the advice coming out like an insult. We have to admire Cotton’s resolve though. For the amount of knocks that boy has received, it’s a wonder he hasn’t crawled into a prostitute’s crotch and stayed there. Increase is like a little cartoon devil whispering words of doubt into Cotton’s ear (which is ironic considering his public ravings of assurance through salvation and whatnot), but Cotton doesn’t need an angel to oppose his father – if anything, he is the deity forcing his father to shut up. As it is, I did enjoy John’s trial more than I thought I would. We can hardly blame his silence – it’s not like “Please” and “Help me” would do much where Increase is concerned (it’d take a goddamn miracle for that man to avert his gaze from John Alden at this point in time). But Shane West did have a brilliant opportunity to display various emotions as he watched father and son argue their case in front of the town. My favorite moment however was when John turned to Cotton and said “But what if the truth of the world is that it’s nothing but grey?” That one sentence summed up the entire Puritan/witch debate and Cotton’s struggle with his father’s mission since the start. For who is truly righteous in a town like Salem?

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Increase: “This man condemns himself every time he opens his mouth.”

Let The Little Children Come Unto Me 

I love reflecting on the evolution of Elise Eberle‘s character Mercy Lewis. Strange to think she was this frightened little girl tormented by monsters and now she’s willingly crawling through piles of mutilated bodies and declaring herself mother of the dead and queen of the night. When Mary saw potential in Mercy, did she have any idea of what she would unleash? That it might not be the Puritans who end her reign, but the victim she saved from certain death? Mary probably thought silencing-slash-using 4 of her minions would be akin to ‘knocking the wind from Mercy’s sails’ (or spider legs), but frankly I think it did the opposite. It was a foolish move on her part – can’t she see the trust she’s shattered? You know, this act is almost proof of the Elders’ concern regarding Mary’s love for John – that in her blinkered state, she was bound to make rash decisions with unthinkable repercussions. And you have to admit, Mercy’s bold proposal to round up the poor and hungry and launch a Marxist uprising does speak of unavoidable consequences. But – and perhaps this is a silly hope in itself – could Mercy’s revolution mean freedom for Mary? It might not end well for Salem or for the Puritans, but if she were to take Mary’s place in the witchy hierarchy, Mary could wave goodbye to this crackpot world of ju-ju mania. That being said, a revolution could signify the end of everything the witches have worked for OR be just the right push to open the gates and let all hell break loose. However the story goes, I’m glad we’ve seen such spellbinding interactions between Eberle and Janet Montgomery. It was highly entertaining (and if I’m being honest, oddly comforting) to watch Mercy scramble up the crag to nestle herself against Mary’s chest; as if she was the savior who could right all wrongs and set the captives free. I think that look of contentment on Eberle’s face is probably what made Mary’s betrayal that much worse – for how could her hero think so little of her ‘children’? How could marching her minions to their deaths be for the good of all witches? I dunno Heathens, I think Mary’s been putting her faith in the wrong leaders… doesn’t even the Bible say, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength”? Mary, I do fear your day of reckoning is almost here.

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Increase: “Oh my, the arrogance of youth.”

Dreams & Nightmares

We knew it was coming. Heck, I think it was inevitable since the second John Alden stepped back into Salem. With his eyes opened he now sees Mary for who – and what – she truly is. Of course, this does pose the obvious question: what will John do now that he knows of Mary’s witchy intent? Will he love her still; knowing of her evil descent, the depravity she’s undertaken, the innocent lives she’s slaughtered for power? Better yet, will he understand why she gave up on their love – hell, sacrificed their child – for “The Greater Evil”? If nothing else, I think Mary’s decision to reveal herself to John (come what may) highlighted her love for him in bright pink glitter pen. Setting aside the gentle nudge from our favorite fornicator (which I loved by the way), it’s probably safe to assume the idea of John’s death was always going to be her catalyst – the line she couldn’t cross until she knew for sure John could love her as the woman she’d become. You could almost see the finale going in one of two ways: 1) John accepts Mary and she uses some of her mad awesome ju-ju to save them both; or 2) He (initially) rejects her and in her pain, she enacts the Grand Right which distracts everyone’s attention from John’s hanging to the alarming amount of bloodshed scattered across the streets of Salem. While it’d be nice for everyone to have a happy ending, Salem’s never been a chick flick… so my bet’s on the latter. Assuming, of course, that Mercy doesn’t launch her Night Army (Mercy’s Minions still sounds better) at the town and the writers leave John and Mary’s fate til next season. Potential outcomes aside, I haven’t felt so attached to Mary and John’s storyline as I did in this episode. It might have been the flashbacks of John’s time with the Indians that helped us sympathize with Shane West’s character, or perhaps it was Isaac’s “magic Mary” speech, but I honestly believed their love was real when Mary uttered “Dream with me” in the final seconds of the episode. Whether they end up together or worlds apart, I’m glad we were served those brief moments of unadulterated bliss.

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Anne: “I want you to examine me for the mark of the devil. Then I want you to assure me.”

For the penultimate episode, writers Brannon Braga and Adam Simon did an exceptional job in opening our eyes to the twisted web Salem’s characters have weaved for themselves this season. From Mary’s meetings with the Elders to John’s tumultuous trial, the events in “Ashes, Ashes” pushed our characters to the limit as they each faced a crossroads decision in the move towards the finale. I loved the interactions between Seth Gabel, Shane West and Stephen Lang as they fought in different ways over John’s fate, and Elise Eberle continued to impress with Mercy’s decision to become “Queen of the Night.” Directorial wise, I have to commend Bill Johnson, who not only showcased the brutality of Increase’s verdict by showing Mercy’s Minions dangling from their nooses – innocent and lifeless – but amplified this savagery with the eerie catcalls from the crowd even after their bodies were hung. Coupled with Braga and Simon’s excellent dialogue and the added touch of John’s half-coin, this was the most substantial scene of the entire episode. In saying that, I did have one main gripe with “Ashes, Ashes,” although it wasn’t acting, dialogue or directing-related – it was the absence of Ashley Madekwe and Xander Berkeley. It’s a shame because, where Salem has grown in strength with its character chemistry and development, it has one main weakness, and that’s leaving key characters out of an entire episode. It would be to the show’s advantage if the writers wove each character into the events, even if it was – like Iddo Goldberg’s this week – a small cameo. It wouldn’t have to be integral to the plot, but if we could experience at least our main characters each week in some small way then it could push this show from being a B+/A- to an A/A+. That negative aside, I was impressed with this episode – with its fall back into the grisly and gruesome and the teasing nature of what’s to come. Heathens, until next week!

Questions, Comments, Concerns…

  • FYI, I’m glad I’m not in John Alden’s position – trapped between two warring Mather’s. That’s gotta be the worst kind of tug-o-war.
  • I still laugh at the idea of a wooden apple being the key to untold destruction. #AvoidHealthyChoicesAtAllCosts #SalemAdvocatingForLifesUnhealthierOptions
  • Uh oh, Mercy’s been sleeping in the crag again. #ThatsGottaBeUncomfortable #DeadBodyPillows
  • Hey Seth Gabel? You can examine me for the mark of the devil anytime.
  • Poor Anne :( That’s going to be a cruel blow when she learns a snake lives inside her (not what she imagined being inside her I’m sure).
  • I did notice Increase’s bluish hands last week but didn’t think they were significant. Turns out I was wrong and the writers are sneakier than I thought. #WellPlayedTeam #HandsInHellfire
  • Increase has gotta stop hanging people. At this rate, we’ll be all out of ‘witches’ before season 2 begins. #EaseUpMofo #GetAMassage
  • Mary, I don’t think sacrificing Mercy’s minions was the best idea. #WatchOut #TheStudentSurpassesTheMaster
  • Cotton: “No sir, how dare YOU?” Me: “YESS COTTON YOU GIVE IT TO HIM HA!” *fist bumps the air*
  • Cotton is so much smarter than his father gives him credit for, don’t you think? His witchy-related pastime is weird, but he’s been able to draw correlations between the Grand Right and the Malum quicker than most. For that I think he deserves some recognition.
  • Remind me never to bury my witchy objects in a grave. That body rotting is disgusting. #PromotingHandSanitiser
  • Malignant manifestation of malice. Say that three times fast.
  • All I’m saying is, if kissing Janet Montgomery wakes me up in a dream forest I’m all for it. #WhatAnAdventure #LoveTakesYouPlacesYouveNeverBeenBefore
  • How do you explain to the man you love that you traded his child for the devil? They don’t make idiot’s guides for these kind of conversations. “Dealing With The Devil: From Hags to Possession, Your 5-Step Guide to Sharing The Dark Side With Your Partner” (Dibs on that book title, I might write it during Salem’s hiatus).
  • If I ever need a lawyer for some religious-related issues, I’m calling Increase. Dude’s a Class-A boner ready to fuck your opponent up. #RealTalk
  • Remember kids, it’s never okay to lie under oath, else your virginity is waved like a white flag for the entire town to see and you’re hung for hanging with witches.
  • Isaac is the sweetest fornicator ever and we must protect him at all costs. #KeepAwayFromHimIncrease
  • Who’s excited for the season finale?! Shall we stock up on bourbon??

Salem Episode 1×13 “All Fall Down” [SEASON FINALE] airs Sunday 13 JULY at 10/9c on WGN America