Salem Season 1 Review “Lies”

Salem Episode 5 Lies (8)

On the latest episode of “Salem,” the various denizens of the town did their best to try and get to the bottom of what the truth of what was going on was and what was “Lies.” Not always an easy task in a town in which the board of selectmen includes a witch, Hale, who himself is a judge, and the most powerful woman in town, Mary, is also the most powerful witch. Meanwhile, two of the most highly-respected authority figures from a moral standpoint, the town minister, Cotton, is a heavy drinker and frequents a prostitute, and the other, John, a military vet, also harbors a dark secret that isn’t so honorable, either.

Most people, in terms of morality, aren’t so much black and white in their actions and beliefs, but shades of grey. In Salem, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone, of any age, without at least a little blood on their hands. Let’s just say white is in short supply in this town. Witness even Mercy, who knows firsthand of the evil that witches and demons do, yet didn’t much hesitate to embrace the darkness within her when it suited her.

Likewise, the teenage girls that came to her, basically with the intent of all but putting a hit out on one of the girls’ fathers, albeit an abusive one that planned to force his daughter into prostitution at the ripe old age of 15. No great loss there, admittedly, but still. Is what Mercy did- serving as the judge, jury and executioner all in one for a man, who, for all she knew, was innocent- any better than what Mary has been forcing her to do against her will? Sure, he turned out to be every bit as terrible as the daughter made him out to be, but what if he hadn’t been? Why is okay for Mercy to do it, but not Mary?

To be sure, Mary’s reasons for calling out people as witches are much more self-serving, and often of the two-birds-one-stone variety, as in the witches need people to be sacrificed, regardless, but why not eliminate some enemies while you’re at it? Just because Emily’s dad might have actually deserved to be punished for his crimes doesn’t mean he should be killed, necessarily, anymore than Mary’s victims were, who just had the bad luck to cross her in some way. It’s precisely these sorts of questions and moral quandaries that make “Salem” fascinating, and it certainly works best when it explores them.

Note also the struggles with Cotton to reconcile his love for a woman many of the time- or of our time, for that matter- would see as a “fallen” or “sullied” woman, who has sex with strangers for money. Ditto the confession from John about his having committed murder himself, repeatedly. That was a key and heart-rending scene as Mary confronted John about his trespasses.

Basically, Mary knows she’s rotten to the core and will probably never find redemption for what’s she’s done, but for her, John represented one of the last vestiges of goodness in town. To find out he had taken his share of lives was an earth-shattering revelation that will probably result in her forgoing any chance of redemption she might have had- though that kiss means she might well do something to save John, in spite of what he did.

Besides, is what he did really that bad? We don’t even know the details of what caused him to do what he did, and I’ll admit that was one of the more frustrating things about the scene, as wrenching as it was. I find it hard to believe John just went on a murderous rampage, killing a bunch of people for no good reason. There has to be a reason, even if it’s not the greatest one in the world. What were the circumstances that caused John to do something like that? Until we know that, it’s hard to know what to think about it, and John’s assessment of it, as his being completely in the wrong.

Maybe it was a situation where a call he made in war got a bunch of people killed, as opposed to one where he went on a mass-murder spree or whatever. That latter scenario seems pretty unlikely, given what we know of the character thus far. It would seem a bit hard to believe he would just go crazy out of nowhere, so until we know more, I’m not going to be a judge and jury, personally. Sorry, Mercy!

So, beyond that, we discovered that the Hellraiser Box- excuse me, Malum– was actually something used as a last-ditch thing in the Grand Rite, just in case Mary failed in her duties, used to make sure everything went according to plan. It was intended for Rose, who unwisely came in person to fetch it at John’s and ended up with spears in her body after falling through a trap door (!) for her troubles. Oops! From the looks of next week’s preview, John and Cotton aren’t done with her yet, as it seems like they plan to interrogate her for more info. Oh well. Should have sent a lackey to do your dirty work- or Hale wouldn’t have been a bad idea. Too late now.

We also saw the super-gross witchy ritual involving cutting off a dead guy’s face and pinning it up like clothes on a clothesline to get it to talk after showering it with poor dead Thumper’s blood. Animals continue not to fare well, though I suspect “Walking Dead” character Lizzie would have been right at home. Talk about being born too late for one’s true calling. But I digress.

The aforementioned teenage girls also got into a post-successful witch accusation bonfire boogie that made me think of the stories about the little girls who notoriously accused the real Tituba of witchcraft after getting discovered dancing around a fire in the woods with her, as famously depicted in “The Crucible.”

As with Mercy, one girl was supposedly possessed, and the girls used this newfound credibility to level charges of witchcraft at other people that they didn’t like, if I remember correctly. Obviously, they changed some things around for the purposes of this show, but then, so did Arthur Miller in “The Crucible,” which was actually intended as an allegory of 50’s McCarthyism as well.

“Salem” is a bit more on the loopier side, in terms of fictionalization, to say the least, but not necessarily to its detriment. After all, would you really rather have another dry lesson on the Salem Witch Trials, a la “The Crucible” or something like this? That’s not to say that Miller’s play isn’t a classic- it definitely is- or that “Salem” is anything remotely resembling a modern-day classic in the vein of “The Crucible,” simply that it’s a decidedly different take on the material.

“The Crucible” has been there to read since the 50’s and if you want to re-read it, or watch the movie or television versions, have at it. “Salem” isn’t looking to retread old ground in that way. It’s looking to modernize an age-old tale in a new, more provocative way, and if you’re not onboard with that, then “Salem” is clearly not the show for you, in oh-so-many ways. But I appreciate that about it. Why bother with the same old thing we’ve all seen before? The only reason to do this kind of show in the first place is to revamp it a bit, and “Salem” certainly succeeds in that task at hand.

What did you think of “Salem” this week? Do you like the show’s take on history with a little something extra? Or would you have rather they played it straight and gone more for realism and historical accuracy? Do you think the show’s getting better? Or do you think they should push the boundaries more, like they did in the earlier episodes? Do you like the way the plot is moving forward? How about the revelation with John? Do you think there’s more to it than he’s saying? Will it make Mary less likely to help him or not? Make your witchy comments below and I’ll see you next time!