TV’s Salem: These Witches Mean BusinessJune 1, 2014
While I was preparing to write this article, it occurred to me that witches in general have become quite a presence on television these days. Of course, they have a solid history already beginning with Bewitched and Sabrina the Teenage Witch all the way up to the current entries including the most recent American Horror Story: Coven and now Salem.
No disrespect to some other shows such as Witches of East End, Charmed and The Originals but the witches of Salem are actually dangerous and definitely are not to be underestimated or trifled with.
As with newcomer Penny Dreadful, it is wonderful to see a strong female character be the driving force and central to the main story arc in the show. Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) not only married the richest man in town, but just so happens to be the most powerful witch in Salem as well. She controls the town with an iron will her own personal agenda.
However, her past sexual encounters with John Alden (Shane West) hold a key to a central part of the story. While Alden is away fighting in the war (around 1685) Mary realizes she is pregnant and with the help of her more than shady friend Tituba (Ashley Madekwe), has an abortion that is magical in nature and dark and evil in its consequences.
Presumed dead, Alden returns to town seven years later to find out his true love has married the rich and powerful annoyance George Sibley and that the town of Salem is gripped in fear of witches in their midst.
The whole story arc concerning Sibley, Alden and their aborted love child will surely form the central story arc for the show. This could be a good thing as there are many variables at work here, not just your tired clichéd Hallmark storyline.
While it took a bit in the pilot to flesh out the back story, it was easily worth the wait. Mary’s plan to destroy all the Puritans serves as a wonderful lead in to show just how much these witches mean business.
The witches plan to turn the Puritans on each other has Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel) enlisted to lead the witch hunting charge. Preaching the bible by day and engaging the women in the brothel by night (wink wink), Gabel’s turn as Mather is wonderful and sad. The poor sap has no clue he is being controlled the whole time by the towns spell-spinning inhabitants.
Oh yes, and let’s not forget some of the wonderfully disgusting and bloody imagery the first episode chooses to shock you, the viewer. People wearing bloody animal heads, a public stoning and my favorite, toads that have taken up residence inside people.
The blood and guts routine is helpful in making us believe how much these witches mean business and how dark their witchcraft really is. This will continue to be a useful tool as long as it doesn’t become the whole story and not another tool to help tell the story.
With witches becoming more of a topic in mainstream television, I was little skeptical about how Salem would be able to do anything different. The good news is they have, melding a good story with some downright creepy moments to create something to look forward to in the coming episodes.
As long as the writers continue to keep the atmosphere dark and the witches an evil and powerful presence, Salem has the chance to entertain in a smart and bloody way where other shows have folded and died.