Salem Episode Review 1×07 – “Our Own Private America”

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The New England Night is For Hunting as A Lethal Legend Arrives in Town in Newest Episode of WGN America’s “Salem”

After the discovery of Rose’s betrayal (at which point she subsequently lost her head, you might remember – eesh), this week’s episode of “Salem” – provocatively entitled “Our Own Private America” – saw us plunge headlong into the next phase of Mary’s plan to execute the Grand Rite: something which her beloved John Alden holds the last and ultimate key to now, with his possession of the infamous Malum. But there’s only one problem: it’s well and truly hidden and the deadline is fast approaching for them to gather and do all that they need to have done to make the spell a success. But not to be outdone, Mary has an idea: she will walk his dreams and seek the location of the Malum. Tituba meanwhile holds grave doubts that her mistress is in it purely to locate the missing item; not when the place she will be searching is inside the conflicted head of the man she truly loves most in the world.

Elsewhere, Mercy finds herself faced with the chance to help a new friend through the secret use of her magic, but sadly discovers that the consequences of her affectionate action could cause more chaos than she knows; and Cotton finds himself questioning yet again whether all of his life’s pursuits to date have actually amounted to anything at all in the shadow of his predecessor.

But for all the chaos about to unravel yet again on the streets of Salem, it is nothing compared to what may be coming in with the tide, as a mysterious stranger with a lethal touch and brutal hand steps foot on this accursed patch of New England soil, with a mission that threatens to not only destroy everything Mary has worked for, but even Mary – the Queen of The Night – herself.

So, was this episode the stuff of dreams? Or a nightmarish descent into chaos? Well, let’s dive in, take a look and find out, shall we?

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She Walks in Beauty Like The Night

Even if dream walking was an effective means to an end, you couldn’t help but think that even Mary – with her cool, calculating and cutthroat sense of leadership – would find it just too appealing, too addictive, to be in John’s mind for more than just business purposes, Even if it meant that she faced the possibility of becoming lost in the disjointed world she found there. It was great to see the way the story played out here in such a sharp way: how every encounter left the lovers unraveling more and more in their ability to keep enough grip on reality to keep going, in a world where that grip is arguably the most important of all to have.

Tituba: “It is not a house you invade, but a man!”

Ultimately though, Mary had to come face to face with the fact that this addiction cannot co-exist with her plan to enact the Grand Rite and achieve her end game. Her love for John is too full, too complete, too consuming on its own. So is her hunger for true power as the leader of the coven. That said, when it became clear what her choice was – to go ahead with the Grand Rite – it was sort of awkward how she just closed off half way through a full on make out session with John, and said she’d “gotten all she needed from him.” Indeed, just as John seemed to not quite believe her, I don’t think we were given much reason too either and that made that moment – which I think was actually pretty important – fall flat a little. For me, that was a shame.

That said, acting wise, Shane West and Janet Montgomery did a fine job of successfully drawing us all deeply into the moments their characters shared. Their chemistry is palpable, and Montgomery in particular is making exquisite work out of drawing out these two diametrically opposed elements of Mary’s personality, and yet still making us believe them equally.

John: “You fight with the weapons you have…If all you have is doubt, you make doubt itself the weapon. You question everything.”
Cotton: “Even myself?”
John: “Especially yourself.” 

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Pretty Little Monsters

Mercy is, in a lot of ways, probably the most innocent character of all at the moment in Salem, and that in and of itself is a terrifying thought when you think of the courses of action that innocence has led to. Her dreamwalking incident this week – as she took Mary’s plan of frightening her friend’s awful mother, a giant and deadly step too far – on top of her killing Rose so violently last week, suggests that she is a creature – a pretty monster – that acts not out of hatred but out of loyalty and a genuine desire to be loved and wanted.

Because Mercy’s possession and slaughter of Goody Trask was horrific on its own, but in a strange way knowing why she did it kind of makes it even worse. The behavior also makes her a loose canon, and it always makes a real sense of uncertainty flare in our guts as to whether or not Mary will kill her every time Mercy returns to what she thinks is a truly safe embrace. Add to that mix Tituba’s every growing jealousy of the place that Mercy is gaining in Mary’s head, heart and home, and you have a veritable cocktail for horror once someone reaches their tipping point. I love the unpredictability of that – of Mary and Mercy – and the subsequent feeling that is borne from their double edged connection; it’s a fantastic indicator that the writer’s have their fingers right over their audiences pulse, and are writing to shock them specifically, not wantonly.

That said, even though their stories are really only bit/filler points in the plot, it was actually really horrific to see the outplaying of Mary’s plan amongst the Puritans this week as she used Mercy to cause them to turn on each other in their fear and paranoia. This was especially the case as we watched on while the appalling monster of mob justice stuck again, as Increase sent the innocent Barker family to their fiery deaths at the hand of the crowd.

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Give No Quarter

Increase – from the moment he stepped into the sickly candlelight on the boat, amongst the dead and dying passengers in the night – it was clear this was a man not to be trifled with, especially not by a witch playing a lethal game of hide and seek on the open ocean. Indeed, for all Magistrate Hale’s efforts to keep his enemy lost firmly at sea, it was easy to see that even though the hunter physically does not possess the supernatural power of Mary, he would be a formidable enemy like no other she will face or has faced before.

After Rose’s rather bloody, vein ripping efforts last week, you had to wonder how they were going to surpass that level of darkness in “Our Own Private America”, but in Increase – especially in his enablement of the slaughter of the Barkers, and his declaration that better a hundred innocents if it means that even one witch should die – I actually think they did.

Because here was no magic. Here was no rite, no strategic human sacrifice, or punishment. It was – plain and simple – the result of an evil far deeper than any magic: the evil firmly ensconced in the human heart.

As if that wasn’t enough though, the fact that he is Cotton’s father – dear, bleak, tired and listless Cotton – gave us an even deeper level upon which to fear this man. The last scene between this unevenly balanced father and son – the dominant and the dominated – was particularly pained but also really important: not just for the insight it gave us into Increase as a new threat in the mix, but also for the far greater understanding it gave us of Cotton, and why he is the way he is.

Cotton: “Where are you going? There’s no-one left burn at this hour.”
Increase: “Watch your tongue, boy. Do you think you’re too old to be whipped by your father?”

Stephen Lang did an absolutely ripping job in taking on this role, and gave to it all the cruel, heartless gravitas it needed to make him rise to a level where you can legitimately believe the hunter will be an enemy equal to the task of dealing with Mary and her ever more powerful coven as the night of the Grand Rite draws ever closer. A situation made all the more delectably tenuous with the discovery that Increase is in fact on very close terms with George Sibley. But will Increase notice the difference in his friend? Which begs the question I suppose: could the frog mouthed husband she’s had under her thumb all this time, ultimately be her undoing?

Increase: “Mary Sibley. However dark the night, your eyes still shine so brightly.”

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Final Verdict

All things considered, “Our Own Private America” was a solid episode of Salem. It gave us a lot of core character development, in particular for Mary which was wonderful. Indeed, although the formidable Mrs Sibley is one of those characters who seems to ultimately become stronger the more she is presented with reasons to be afraid, this week’s script – brought to us by show creators Brannon Braga and Adam Simon – instead gave us a look at the other side of that terrible coin: into just how vulnerable her addiction to John makes her, and how much her love for him is perhaps a greater threat than anything else to her achieving success in her position as leader of the coven.

John: “So you believe [dreams] are real.”
Cotton: “They are our own, private America: a new world filled with equal parts terror and delight.”

David Von Ancken, meanwhile had a steady turn in the director’s chair for this episode. Granted, the episode did not require the same elaborate staging of last week’s episode, but by the same token he did a fair job of bringing to like the deeply toxic mistrust of the townspeople between each other. His eye for those little human details – a touch, a glance, a half turn of the mouth in a smile – assisted as well to further develop Mary and Mercy’s strange and potentially deadly mother/daughter relationship.

But for all the events of this brutal episode, the fact remains: the night of the Grand Rite draws ever closer and moving forward, we can safely assume that dead and midnight mayhem await many a resident yet of this accursed hotbed of social politics and magic. The question remains though – as we sit faced with the merciless Hunter, ready to burn his vengeful way through whatever he must to destroy the witch population – as to which side of the fire Mary and her coven will be on.

Final Thoughts & Questions…
  • Anne Hale had some great lines this episode. In particular was her brilliant and spirited one to her mother when she calls her out for lying about her father’s true secret profession. “I am utterly unconvinced by your story, mother. He seemed to vanish before my eyes. I make no apologies, and I choose to walk through life with my eyes open. Unlike you.”
  • “The problem with knowing things is that you can never un-know them.” A line from Mrs. Hale and for me one of the most telling of the night.
  • Hale is SO out of his depth in taking on Mary, and yet he seems to be the the only one who can’t see that. His words, too – “Knowledge is power, and when it comes to power she has more than her fair share at the moment, wouldn’t you agree?” – would suggest that the fealty he falsely swore to Mary earlier will come back to bite him.