It's September 21, 1685, Salem Massachusetts and two people are in the stock holds. Issac is being beaten for engaging in sex and masturbating, as the people watch. The townspeople have difficulty looking as Issac screams in pain. Sibley makes it clear that God will not be on their side if they tolerate abomination. Issac is told that he will bare the mark of his sin all of his life, as Sibley heats a poker in the fire. Magistrate Hale suggest that Issac has had enough, but Sibley is not to be deterred. Sidbey brands Issac on the forehead, calling him a fornicator. John Alton comes out of the crowd saying, "judge not lest yet be judged." When Sibley questions who said that, he is told that those are the words of Jesus. Sibley warns John that his respect for his father's memory will only protect him for so long.
Later that evening, Sibley looks out over the town, as Mary makes her way through the town. Mary meets up with John who immediately rants about belting George Sibley and Mary warn that talking like that will land him in the stocks. They talk about John leaving and he promises to return for her. John gives Mary one half of a silver dollar and swears to return to her. John is heading off to fight in the war against the Indians.
The next morning, Mary watches as John and the other men march out of town.
After some time has passed Tituba and Mary are walking through the street and are stopped by George Sibley, who says that war gives a certain kind of man someplace to end, up other than a brand or the end of a rope. George promises Mary that she will thank him one day.
It's night now and Tituba and Mary make their way into the forest. Mary says that she has changed her mind and wants to go back but Tituba makes it clear that there is no place in Salem for the child Mary is carrying. Tituba asks what Mary thinks George will do to her when he finds out that she is pregnant with John's baby. Mary lies on her back as Tituba undresses her.. Tituba begins some sort of magical ceremony and Mary starts to get visions of a demon. Mary starts to beg Tituba not to do this but Tituba is steadfast and keeps telling Mary that this is what she wants. Mary get a vision of her and George kissing and being playful in the woods but suddenly it turns to her being chased by a demon. Insects cover Mary's body and Mary is told to say that this is what she wants. Tituba removes her hands, and Mary's belly is now flat. When Mary discovers this, she cries out as Tituba promises that all of the world will be hers in return.
Years later, John has made his way back to Salem and is greeted by three people hung from the trees. He heads to town and it is bustling and busy. When John returns home, Corey puts a gun to his head saying that there aren't any Aldon's left. John announces who he is and learns that Salem is caught up in a witch panic and that Cotton is behind it all. John learns that Mary is now the richest woman in Salem and is Mary Sibley now.
Mary stands on a widow's peak overlooking the town. John realises that Mary married George after his wife died a few years ago. John opens his window and looks at Mary.
Later that evening Mary sits in front of the fire sewing, with George, who is now in a wheelchair in an almost comatose state. Issac brings in some package and tells her that he saw John return to town today. Mary gasps and accidentally pricks her finger.
Reverend Mather is in a tavern and his hands are shaking. Mather calls out for three strong men and holds up money. John asks for what and Mather replies to subdue a girl.
Mather and John head into a house where Reverend Louis asks them to help his daughter. When they enter the room, they find the bed empty. Suddenly a young girl charges and the men struggle to tie her down. Mercy begs them to make it stop. Mather asks who is tormenting them and Mercy says that there is an old woman in the room with them. Mather gives Mercy a drought to help her sleep. Mathers says that is under spectral attack and that it is the work of witches. John is quick to call it bullshit and adds that Mercy needs a doctor and not prayers before leaving. When Mercy is left alone in the room some kind of demon jumps on her and attacks. Mercy cannot fight back because she is tied up.
The next morning, the church bell rings and Ann is told to hurry so that she can get a set at the front of the congregation so that Cotton will be aware of her charms. Ann snarks about being paraded on the auction block. When they run into Mary, both women stop and bow. Cotton preaches about witches armed with deadly intentions. It's clear that Cotton believes witches exist in Salem, despite having killed three of them already. Cotton brings up Mercy who is bleeding from a hundred wounds and suggests that she will point out the witches. When Cotton is questioned, he suggests that his father suggests caution when dealing with witches . Magistrate Hale suggests that there could be nothing worse for the country than a witch hunt. In the back, Sibley starts to cough and Mary speaks up to say that a witch is worse than a witch hunt. Mary welcomes John home from his long service. After church, Mary invites John to join her and her husband for dinner.
John is back at the tavern and he sits and points a gun at Issac Walton, asking why Issac is staring at him. Issac shows John his brand and calls himself the fornicator. Issac warns that coming home to get out of the war, is like jumping into the ocean to get out of the rain. It seems that Issac is concerned about witches and declares that they are real and not a fairytale. John gets up to leave but Issac grabs him saying that in all of these years, Mary is the only one who has ever done him a good turn. Issac tells John not to leave again.
Mercy is lying in bed and Cotton has now cut off all of her hair. He searches he body for marks - teats where she suckled witches familiars.
Cotton is having sex with Gloriana, while he preaches about the devil. Cotton leaves the brothel and is met by John, so he claims to be attending to the poor. John snarks about ministering to the poor at heart. The two men walk and Cotton talks about reading books about witches. John asks what the witches want and Cotton replies, "a country of their own." John takes his leave of Cotton.
Mary is again standing on the widow's peak surveying the town. She returns to her room naked and tells Sibley that it is time for his feeding. Mary pushes on Sibley's stomach until he coughs up a frog. She places the frog to her leg as Sibley calls out for help. Mary slides the frog down Sibley's throat telling him not to fight it because he took away everything she loved. Mary adds that it feels good to destroy everything he has built and devour his very soul. When Mary walks in front of a mirror we see an image of a demon.
The dinner Mary is hosting is attended by Magistrate Hale, Mrs, Hale, Ann, Cotton and of course John. Mrs. Hale suggests that Ann could use a tutor but Ann is more interested in experience and so she turns to John to discuss his experience with the Indians. Mrs. Hale intervenes to call the Indians soulless savages. Mary asks if witches have souls and Cotton replies that they have given them to the devil in exchange for powers and all that they desire. Mary snarks that this is ironic because women aren't allowed to enter contracts unless their husbands agree. Sibley groans and Mary is quick to get Nathaniel to attend to him. Cotton says that not all witches are women and John replies that some things are beyond belief, like a faithful woman. Magistrate Hale brings up a French or Indian attack and John get a vision of Ann crawling under the table to play with his genitals. He looks away and when he looks back, Ann's face has changed to Mary's.
Outside, Mary tells John that she was told he was killed, so John asks if this is before or after she married Sibley. Mary points out that she was told that the war wouldn't last a year. John replies that it wasn't up to him but Mary points out that she waited for him year and year without a word. John says that he couldn't write because he was captured. John asks Mary to leave with him tonight because he has money in a bank in New York. John assures Mary that New York is different and is not Puritan. Mary asks if he went to New York before or after he was captured. John holds out his hand to display the other half of the coin he gave Mary and the two kiss. Mary says that she cannot because she wouldn't be allowed. Magistrate Hale opens the door and tells Mary that even she doesn't have the right to monopolize a guest as fascinating as John. John says that he is tired and takes his leave, as tears well up in Mary's eyes.
Mary sees Tituba who asks what John is compared to all that lies before her. Mary cries for the girl she once was. Tituba says that the demon saved her from the wolves and raised her up. Tituba adds that tomorrow it begins because the moon is with them. Tituba points out that Mary has everything she desires and Mary answers almost everything. They are interrupted by a visit from Mr. Corey. Corey says that he had a small farm and hurt his back. Corey says that he was there the night she and Tituba did it. Mary points out that Corey waited a long time. Corey says that until now it wasn't anyone's business but the baby Mary buried belonged to John Aldon and that John has a right to know. Corey asks if Mary is going to tell John or does he have to.
Ann is drawing outside when John approaches. John says that he is on his way out of town and Ann asks if he is afraid of witches or being mistaken for one. John simply replies that it's a long way to New York. Ann pack up her things and runs into Mary. Ann says that she is not afraid of the dead or the living and Mary offers to teach her about life and death and many things in between. Mary points out that love killed nearly woman buried there and suggests that Ann watch herself. Ann leaves not realizing that Mary has taken a sample of her hair.
Cotton has gone back to see Mercy, who says that the witches meet in the woods. Cotton asks how many but Mercy does not know, or who they are because she cannot see their face. The witches have the heads of animals. Cotton asks what their names are but Mercy is unable to speak, saying that she is not being allowed. Suddenly, Mercy jumps to the ceiling screaming.
The next day, Mercy is on a leash being walked through the town by Cotton. Cotton tells the people that Mercy cannot speak the name but will show them the witch. Mercy stands in front of Mary briefly and when Mary gives her a signal, Mercy heads the other direction. Mercy bites off her own finger and points to Corey.
On his way out of town, John is stopped by Issac, who claims that John cannot leave Salem because there is something he has to see.
Later, Cotton is standing in front of the stockade looking at Corey. Mary asks if Corey is the witch and Cotton replies that all the books say that if the victim identifies the witch, then it is true but Corey won't plead either way. Corey says that he won't dignify the accusation but what he has to say, he'll say to John. Cotton replies that he has sent for John, though he has been told he has left town. Mary tells Cotton to obtain a plea and when Cotton questions what he should do if Corey refuses to answer, Mary points out that Cotton has been granted special power.
Tituba and Mary rush out because the Sabbath is about to begin. Mary lies down and Tituba places oil on Mary's face beginning some sort of ceremony. Mary's eyes turn a bright blue and she has visions of the forest, the demon and John.
Issac takes John to a place where the witches supposedly meet and they find skulls. A figure with an animals head approaches so John and Issac hide. Bodies covered in some sort of oil dance. The figures with the animal head sacrifice a bird and Mary says some sort of spell. Issac screams and John is quick to cover his mouth. When the figure with the pig head approaches, John shoots it. Mary sits up and tells Tituba that the circle was broken.
Corey is led into the center of town and Cotton tells him that he has the power to press him for an answer. Corey refuses to plead. Corey is laid out on his back and a heavy stone is pressed to his chest. Cotton again asks for a plea but Corey does not answer..
Issac and John make their way back into town and Issac freaks out because they were seen by the witches but don't know their identities. Cotton questions Corey again and Corey asks for more stones. John sees what is happening and rushes toward Corey but is held back. Corey dies beneath the stone and Cotton prays. John addresses the town and calls them hypocritical \Puritan bastards. When John looks up, he sees Mary on the widows peak. Mary goes inside to ask Magistrate Hale and Tituba who was at the circle and who saw them. Magistrate Hale replies that he doesn't know, so Mary demands that he find out because there is no turning back now that the witch hunt has begun. Mary makes it clear that they will use the trials to turn the Puritans against each other until there are no Puritan left standing.
I didn't know what to expect when I heard about this show but now that I have watched the first episode I can safely say that I find it disturbing and not for the fear that the producer and writers were trying to invoke. To be clear the people who died in Salem were victims of religious fundamentalism, classism and misogyny. They died because they weren't powerful and refused to conform. To think to take this historical moment and play with it to make the Puritans right is an absolute perversion and an attack upon the innocent victims. It made me wonder if the producers and writers are even a little aware of how many people (largely women) died behind accusations of being witches. These witch trials, more than anything else, firmly entrenched a second class status for women.
Further problematic is Salem actually has the victims initiating their own persecution, thus making them 100% to blame of their own torture and deaths for the purposes of entertainment. To some degree to watch fantasy, regardless of what kind, you have to suspend belief but that should not mean making a mockery of so much pain and suffering.
Then there is the view of paganism and how shows like this treat their religion. It's a sick ridiculous trope and people who identify as witches or pagans don't run around sticking frogs down people's throats. It's an absolute bastardization of their belief system and continues to lead to oppression aimed at them.
Then there is Tituba, who would have been the least powerful person in Puritan society and yet this show has turned her into a mastermind who is corrupting God fearing White women. It's racist and historically inaccurate to say the least. Essentially, we have the dark skinned woman as temptress on the path to hell in Tituba.
There is also the portrayal of the evil abortion. Considering Mary's circumstance it's more than reasonable for her to have wanted to have an abortion. Salem is yet another show which has turned abortion - a perfectly legitimate medical procedure into something horrific and evil.
Salem did show the hypocrisy by having Cotton saying scripture while having sex with the prostitute and the harshness of their society through the flogging and branding of Issac but it was all undone by making them right about the witches. It gave their torture and cruelty justification. Now that the premise of the show has been set, there is no stepping away from it. This means that every episode will absolutely be an offensive bit of revisionism for the purposes of entertainment. I honestly cannot see this show lasting more than one season.