Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Salem, Season One, Episode Two: The Stone Child

Cotton Mather is busy writing and studying.  He says that he has been in Salem a fortnight and has already hung three witches.  Cotton is drunk and is wondering if this is the price of being a servant to heaven.  Cotton prays and talks about the fact that he may have pressed an innocent man to death. Caleb asks God to give him a sign.

Issac makes his way pulling along carts. He enters an area where dead bodies are just lying in a raven surrounded by flies.  Issac pulls a bundle out of his cart and drops it with the bodies saying, "forgive me," before taking off. I assume that bundle is the body of Miles Corey.

Cotton is now in bed with Gloriana and it's clear that he is still upset. Gloriana tells him that grown men don't fear their fathers but Cotton replies that everyone fears their father.  Great so part of Cotton' problems are daddy issues but unfortunately, I cannot be arsed to care. John bursts into the room and throws a naked Cotton against the wall, Gloriana calls for John to leave Cotton alone. John tells Gloriana to get out and asks if Cotton wipes the blood of his hands on the ass of a whore.  Gloriana grabs a robe and heads for the door. Cotton argues that since Miles Corey didn't plead, no one knows if he was innocent. John puts a knife to Cotton's throat and asks for a reason not to kill him. Cotton replies that he cannot give one and adds that he has been expecting the angel of death since he was ten.   Cotton then compares the face of the angel of death to that of John's and declares himself prepared to burn like black tar.  John gets a flashback to the witch ceremony and says that he has seen hell on earth.  John demands that Cotton get dressed because he has something to show him. Damn I thought we were going to see the well deserved end of Cotton.

Later, on the street, John tells Cotton that they are headed to the woods.  When Cotton asks why, John explains that though Cotton has no moral compass, he does know something about witches.  John admits to seeing witches, including animal heads.  Before Cotton and John can make it to the woods, Magistrate Hale stops them and puts John under arrest for his supposed violent actions at the pressing of Corey. The Puritans put a man to death but it's John who is out of order.  I suppose that this is yet an inkling of how superstitious problematic this society is but a we know from the first episode, Hale is on the side of the witches. John tells Cotton to talk to Issac and then asks Hale if he plans to press him like they did to Corey.  Hale tells John to take that up with Cotton, because Cotton is responsible for the pressing of Corey, not him.  When men move into grab John, he fights back but soon finds himself overwhelmed and dragged away, as Cotton watches.

Hale heads to see Mary, who wonders when Hale had planned to inform her of his arrest of John.  Hale calls John a loose cannon, who threatened the selectmen in front of half of the town. Mary declares that if John is a problem, then he is her problem.  Hale points out that John could become a problem for all of them but Mary points out that since her husband controls Salem and she controls her husband, they are to do nothing without her approval.  I do like this show of force and control from Mary given that in the last episode, much of her action was guided by the corrupt guiding hand of Tituba.  It further thwarts gender norms as in this society, women certainly cannot be more powerful than a man. Mary adds that Hale is to concern himself with who broke their circle. Mary orders Hale to go back to the woods and find the seer because his eyes were there.  Hale leaves.

In the woods, Issac leads Cotton back to the location of the circle.  Issac confirms that John saw the witches  as well, along with the witches stabbing a white dove.  Issac says that this felt like the saddest thing in the world to bleed a single dove to death.  Cotton moves away to investigate the site by the light of his lantern and he comes across a whole in the root of a tree. Cotton reaches in and pulls out a pulsing hand, which quickly releases insects. I will gave Salem props for the creepy here.

Mary heads to the jail and orders John's cell opened.  Mary reminds John that Salem still hangs men for threatening the selectmen but assures him that she would never let that happen. John questions where Mary's passion was when Corey was being crushed to death. Mary doesn't answer but says that John is free to go though the selectmen urge John to leave Salem and never come back. John steps into the light and asks if the warning really comes from her. Mary makes it clear that she is trying to save John and that he doesn't belong in Salem.  John tells Mary that she doesn't belong here either but Mary is insistent that she cannot leave. John points out that George is in no shape to stop her.  Mary says that John's confidence is amazing and asks if he imagined that she would welcome him back with tears of joy.  Mary tells John that it's too late and that she doesn't want him there.  John tells Mary that he almost believes her and Mary again warns that if he doesn't leave Salem that he will be hanged.  John makes his way out but not before stopping to give a beggar his half of the silver coin as Mary watches.

Hannah is in labor and Mary storms in saying that baby will not be allowed to born until the name of the father is revealed.  Bridget, who is acting as the midwife, tells Mary that the child must be born but Mary replies that Salem cannot shoulder another bastard.  Mary then notices Anne Hale, who claims that Bridget shows her the wonders of God's own creation - or whatever the hell that means. Bridget  again asks the name of the child's father and Hannah replies that she cannot tell because the man is not allowed to marry, or he will lose his apprenticeship. Mary says that this is the father's problem and not Salem's.  Bridget begs Mary and reminds her that she was a poor woman once.  Bridget asks Mary to use her position among the Puritans to help one of her own for once. Mary leans in and tells Hannah that no man is worth this and that if he is, he would rather her reveal the name than  have her die to protect him. Hannah screams in pain and then reveals the father as Billy.  Mary steps back and Bridget tells Hannah to push. Mary has a flashback to her abortion, as Hannah delivers the baby. Mary leaves the building and sees yet another pregnant woman entering Bridget's home.

Hale makes his way though the woods and comes across Petrus, who informs him that he heard him tramping through the woods the moment Hale left the road.  Petrus instructs Hale to follow him.   They make their way into a makeshift shelter and Hale says that he had trouble finding the place.  Petrus says that Hale's kind find him when they need him.  Hale asks who broke their circle in thew woods last night. Petrus picks up an animal saying that it was in the woods last night. Petrus then says that Hale should inform Mary that he will find out who was in the woods last night but it will take time.

Mary enters the church where she finds  Mercy Lewis chained to the crucifix above the alter. This is an absolutely monstrous vision. Mary asks the parishioners if their prayers have been answered and Mary improved. Bridget stands saying that she should not be praying for God to do what they can do themselves. Bridget declares that Mercy is not suffering because of witches or demons but some natural sickness, or fever of the mind. Mary points out that Mercy broke her ropes three times at home and her father's arm as well.  Mary says that Mercy must be protected from herself and the town from her.  Bridget does not back down and suggests that the selectmen are exploiting Mercy's condition to create fear in Salem and that the witch panic is another attempt by the Puritans to control the people.  Mercy tells Bridget that she should be careful of what she says because her words  could be interpreted as the words of the devil.  Bridget nods and apologises for her harsh words.. Mary says that they are living in trying times.

Mary is back at home feeding a reptile while crying and  Tituba warns that Mary's tears might sour the milk. Mary cries that there was a time when she might have suckled something else.  Tituba says that this doesn't matter now and that they have to plot who will be next because the earth cries out for innocent blood.  When Mary instructs Tituba to concern herself with her own duties because she is will aware of her own, Tituba replies that her duty is to ensure that Mary fulfills her duties. Mary says that they need more than another victim; they need a sign. Mary adds that she knows just the person to deliver them both. Mary points out that Cotton is afraid of signs and that the one sign they (read: the Puritans) fear most, is a monstrous birth.  Mary says that there is a girl carrying a dead child and Mary plans to make her into a sign of the doom, which has come upon Salem.  Mary picks up the frog and tells George that she enjoys turning the people of Salem against each other like the rabid dogs he trained them to be. George answers that the only thing which keeps him alive is the thought of the the look on her face when John finds out what she really is and kills her. Mary forces the frog down George's throat and adds that she only needs to kill nine more people.

Bridgette shows up at Katie's birth.  Gloriana tells Katie not to be afraid because Bridgette delivers children all of the time.  Bridgette informs Katie that the child is breach and needs to be turned.  Katie starts to scream, as the baby is turned because from her perspective, Bridgette has turned  into a witch.. Katie gest out of bed, falling to her knees and foul matter flows out of her vagina to the floor.

Cotton shows John a picture of a witches Sabbath.  Cotton snark that John has no time for books, when John cannot read the latin labels on the picture.  Cotton says that everything a witch does is powered by lust and death and since they can produce lust themselves, they need to look elsewhere for dead parts.  Cotton asks Issac to explain his duties and Issac says that he delivers the unwanted (Indians, slaves, thieves etc) to the cracks.  Cotton surmises that this is where the witches harvest and tells John that this is also where John will find Corey's remains.  John is not pleased with this information and points out that Corey built half of Salem. John grabs Issac and says that they are going to get Corey out of the ditch.

Mary is now sitting with Katie, supposedly consoling her and asks what happened.  When Katie doesn't answer, Mary admits to also losing a child and knows the pain that Katie feels.  Mary says that Katie must say what happened, so that her child did not die in vain.  Katie admits to feeling the presence of evil and seeing a foul hag who touched her stomach. Mary asks about Bridgette and Katie reveals that Bridgette and the hag were one and the same.

Issac and John have made their way to the ditch where the bodies are dumped.  When Issac balks at being there, John demands to know where Corey's body was dumped.  Issac points to the sac he ditched earlier and John tells him not to lay a hand on Corey.  John makes his way through the decomposing bodies and picks up the sac containing Corey's remains.  Later, John buries the remains in the cemetery and Cotton watches. 

Mary is waiting in a fake panic for Cotton when he returns home.  Mary says that they have received a sign just as he described in one of his books -  a monstrous birth. Cotton is in shock and Mary says that the child was delivered by Bridgette. Cotton asks where the monster is now and Mary says that the child is floating in a bottle.  Cotton looks at the remains of the baby and says that it is most terrible.  Mary asks what this sign means and Cotton answers, a declaration of war upon them by the devil. Mary asks Cotton if there is anything they can do and Cotton assures Mary that he will do what he can to protect Salem and Mary.  Mary says that the town would be lot without them.

Annie rushes into the street and reminds her father that he knows Bridgette and questions how he can believe she is guilty of this. John accuses Cotton of rushing to judgment and Cotton replies, "quite the contrary and it is judgement rushing to all of them."  Later, in the church, Cotton shows the town the remains of the child saying that it is a message from Satan.  Cotton goes on to add that Bridgette delivered the devil's message and Bridgette admits to nursing Katie while she was pregnant and to delivering the child. When Cotton asks if Bridgette made a habit of dosing Katie with potions and herbal concoctions Bridgette admits that this is what she did but that it was all medicinal. Annie tells Cotton to stop and that he is the true monster.  Hale stands and apologises for Annie, saying that Bridgette is a dear friend of hers.  Hale goes on to add that Cotton is accusing a woman who they all know and trust and has never done anything but care for those whom no one wanted.  Cotton replies that the devil is patient and so are his servants.  Cotton heads back to the pulpit and says that Bridgette has not only delivered a stone child but was seen in her true guise as a night hag by witnesses.  Cotton asks Bridgette to plead and she pleads innocent.  John interrupts the proceedings to ask if Bridgette made the sign or God did. John says that while he hasn't read the books that Cotton has, bad things happen..  Cotton will not be deterred and says that they have a difference of opinion and adds that on John's opinion, they would let an agent of the devil roam free. John suggests that everyone go on trial, or maybe it's no one's fault. John goes on to add that the stone are still not dry from Corey's blood and now people are preparing to hang Bridgette. 

Tituba makes eye contact with Mary and Mary suggests that they should check Mercy to see if she will react to the guilty witch.  Mary says that Cotton should take Bridgette along with the tree other whores. The women walk up to the alter and take their turn standing in front of Mercy and when it's Bridgette's turn, Mercy spits blood at Bridgette and nails fall to the ground. Mary calls for a vote.

Bridgette's head is in a noose and she calls out to God to give the people a sign that she is innocent. When nothing happens, Cotton nods his head and Bridgette is hung.

Cotton makes his way though the town and John congratulates him on killing another innocent victim. Cotton replies that he doesn't think so and that even if he did, then the lord added to his already long list of mortal sins.  Cotton adds that he will pay any price to stop the witches.  John says that he is a mixture of ignorance and stupidity.  Annie bursts between the two men and slaps Cotton across the face.

Hale tells Mary that she has made a mess of things and that their plans were nearly ruined by one sound argument from a man she cannot leave alone.  Mary says that this is the vengeance for centuries of oppression and adds that it's too late for regrets because they are all in this together. Hale points out that they might all burn together and that he saw his entire family burn at the stake and has no desire to die himself, or watch his daughter die.  Mary suggests that as an old guard witch, Hale is to scared to claim this new world.  Hale answer that he is not alone and that the elders have their doubts as well.  Mary assures Hale that he shouldn't  worry because innocent blood is flowing and all that matters is results but Hale comments that they all could find themselves on the receiving end.

Petrus is drawing venom from a snake and in the blood he sees Issac's face.

Annie walks into the tavern and is told that there are no women allowed in after dark. John speaks in her defense, asking for an exception, given everything that has gone on today.  Annie makes her way over to John's table and she accuses him of being like the Puritans because he didn't take any real action in defense of Bridgette.  When John doesn't answer, Annie asks why he is in Salem and where the fire went in his eyes the day Corey died. John asks Annie what she wants and Annie replies, justice for Corey and justice for Bridgette and for all of the other innocent victims to come.  Annie asserts that someone must do something.  John tells Annie that she reminds him of someone he once knew.

Later, John appears in Mary's home and tells her that he has decided that Salem deserves better. Mary snarks about John hating Salem and he replies that he doesn't hate Salem, just the people who run it. Mary asks how John intends to fix things and John declares that there is a seat on the board of selectmen with the Alden name and he now believes it's time he claim it.  John adds though he will be one voice, it will be a start.  When John looks down, he notices Mary is still wearing her half of the silver dollar.  They are interrupted by Tituba, so John leaves. 

Mary sits and starts to sew a doll with what look like hair. Mary then grabs a mouse and squeezes it to death, allowing the blood to fall on the doll.  Mary then crushes dead insects and places them inside the doll.

Annie is sitting on her bed drawing a picture of John, when her door opens on its own.  Annie believes it is a cat and so continues to draw.  We are shown a rack of dolls in Annie's room, with one looking exactly like the one that Mary we spelling.

Last week I wrote about the problematic nature of the premise of this show.  In actual history, the people slaughtered by the Puritan zealots were innocent.  The Puritans largely killed women and any one who didn't conform to their rigid society.  Part of the problem with Salem is that it gives validity to the witch panic of the Puritans by of course having real witches.  This week we learn that the motivation for said witches is revenge for centuries of oppression, murder and violence.  This would perhaps make them more sympathetic if in their quest for vengeance they weren't killing innocent people hand over fist. It's worth noting as well that the people who are being killed are innocent who don't conform and dare to have their own views. Rather than exculpating Salem from the problems of the first episode, in my view this twist only reifies the issues.  The people have good reason to be afraid of witches given what we have seen of their powers.  It justifies the violence they reek upon their community. 

At this point I am already sick to death of the hypocrite Cotton.  I do like that at every turn he is vilified by John.  The ease at which he justifies the death of innocents bother me immensely.  Between his daddy issues and sex with prostitutes while trying to be the moral center of a rigid community, the man is despicable. 

This week we were told of a council of elders who ultimately make the decisions for the witches. We have not seen them yet and so it still looks as though Tituba is a corrupting source on the once innocent Mary.  This continues to be a problem.  Though Mary seems to have more power than Magistrate Hale, she certainly doesn't have more power than Tituba.  This could have been subversive given that women are without much power in Puritan society but the fact that Tituba is a Black slave makes it a case of dark woo woo and I can certainly do without that. 

There is a lot of sex shaming going.  To some extent this makes sense given the period.  The problem of course is that it is only aimed at the women.  It's the "whores" who must parade in front of Mary and certainly not their customers.  The only people having sex are the so-called fallen women.  The death of Katies child and the release of foul liquid from her vagina as punishment for daring to have  a child out of wedlock.  Where is the punishment for the father, given that he very much participated in the conception?  At this point, the only male punished for being sexual is Issac.

It is only episode two and I am sick to death of the tension between Mary and John.  They circle each other constantly trying to build drama and it reads like angst to me.  Mary is right, after five years with no contact, John had no right to expect her to rush back into his arms.  I am further irritated as it has become clear that this is going to be a love triangle between Mary, Annie and John, with Annie of course playing the innocent.  This story does not need the angst as we already have Cotton.