John is in prison, accused of being a witch and Mary talks to Increase about it – while she has no feelings for John (of course not! Perish the thought), John is popular in Salem (apparently?) and to be on the safe side, Increase better get the Selectmen to decide whether John goes to trial or not. He agrees when she insists that the Selectment will certainly rubber stamp his decision – she also asks if Increase has found Mercy (also accused of witchcraft) but she’s still missing
Mercy is hiding where they dump the bodies – cuddling up with the corpses for some shred of comfort.
Anne confronts her father about the magical transporting mask he has. When he tells her some very obvious lies, she threatens to ask Increase about the mask
Increase and Cotton have some more father son time. Cotton looks like a wreck, Increase continues to try and shape him how he wants Cotton to be and expect Cotton to be happy about it; as part of that, he wants Cotton to use his oratory gifts to convince people about John being a witch. Cotton doesn’t want to accuse his friend so Increase brings up some past event when he had the same choice; he spared his friend who went on to kill people.
Hale tells Mary how the votes stand: 6 vote for a trial, 5 vote against. Leaving Hale and Mary (in George’s stead) to cast their votes – Hale promises to vote how she wishes (against) leaving Mary to break the tie.
After Increase’s speech, Mary puts the trial to the vote. 6 vs 6 (albeit Hale rather belatedly) but Mary doesn’t get to vote – Increase insist s that George can vote on his own behalf. Using spit to communicate. No, really, he spits to say yes or no. George spits, confirming that he wants John to go to trial.
Mary sees John that night and amid their mutual regrets, Mary offers him a chance to escape. John won’t run, he’d rather die.
Increase gets a visit from Anne who seems willing to go through with her threat – so Hale hurries over and agrees to answer her questions truthfully. Increase goes from there to his torture house where he tortures some of Mercy’s followers - who are very confident Mercy will find and save them.
Hale tells Anne his history – how his parents were burned as witches he had magic and to save him he was sent to America. He was raised by American witches to keep everything secret. Yes he’s a witch (the admission shocks Anne), but he’s still a loving father. Anne runs from the room
Hale is worried but his wife says it’s all nothing and just Anne acting out – Hale points out that “acting out” is very risky thing to do in Salem at the moment. Mrs. Hale suggests either giving Anne time or telling her the whole story, whatever that is
Mary visits Mercy in the woods; Mary has changed her mind – it’s time to kill Increase. Because his accusations are threatening her loved one (John), Mercy (John really) who she cares about so much (great scapegoat for murder – so she can save John). At least Tituba has been released, apparently. The first stage of the kill increase plan is to have Mercy, with clawed fingernails, tear into Mary’s back.
Back at home, Mary calls Isaac to join her for tea – and he tells Isaac how she was terribly attacked by Mercy for her terrible accusations. And she’s drugged Isaac (though she regrets it because Isaac’s a good person) to make sure he tells Increase where to go in the woods to find Mercy.
In the church, increase has a full on rant to whip up paranoia and bedraggled Cotton enters the church, much to Increase’s frayed impatience – Cotton asks people to consider that the devil may appear as a man of god – Increase bodily throws him out of the church.
Anne visits Cotton who is well and truly drunk and actually making jokes about his descent into alcoholism. She apologises for being unfair to Cotton since they are both “children of complicated men.” Anne wants him to teach her all about witches; especially what they want. While Cotton accepts that some think witches just want to be left alone he puts forward that Increase thinks they want the destruction of mankind and he is usually right – including his idea that Cotton is a failure. Anne protests that no, he’s not a failure – and Cotton tries to kiss her. A kind word and you think she wants your unwashed drunken self, Cotton? He mopes a little more and she tells him the only way he is a failure is that he has failed to become his dad – which isn’t a bad thing
Isaac meets with Increase who shows off his cilice to Isaac, just in case Isaac had any doubts about the fact Increase isn’t the most sensible man in the world. Isaac tells Increase what Mary wants him to and they set off witch hunting
Mercy is busy eating live rats plucked from the rotting corpses of the dead. Lovely. She starts doing something with a rib bone.
Isaac leads Increase into the woods and Increase holds a knife to his throat – yes he’s all suspicious suspecting John and Mary. Isaac sticks to his story and Mercy appears to cackle at them and run away. They hunt her, Increase confident she will return to attack him – while at home Mary casts her own spell. A spell that tightens the cilice around his chest every time she pulls her corset strings.
Mercy appears and throws a knife at him which he dodges and throws one back – stabbing her. He manages to pull off the cilice. But Mary isn’t finished, roots entangle Increase and Mercy (not put off by a bit of stabbing) attacks with a knife. He manages to fend her off and cut her – and she runs off. Isaac can’t follow, despite Increase’s yells, because he was stabbed by Mercy’s thrown spike.
Back in town, Mary is called to see Increase (she’s not happy by the lack of death) and he takes her to Isaac’s side. Mary is tearful and, when alone, she promises Isaac she will protect him from further pain. Increase and Mary have another round of suspicion before Mary leaves. Cotton replaces her to tell increase he plans to defend John. Increase is not pleased
When Anne returns home, Hale brings up another point he missed earlier – the only reason she can use the mask is because she is a witch herself.
Aaaargh the whole witch oppression is done awfully – I touched last week on how the whole story is presenting witch oppression as some kind of necessary evil – but there’s also the horrendous fact that Increase is EFFECTIVE. Cotton was awful, of course her was, but his father is far crueller, more sadistic and less willing to care about “innocence” or “guilt”. Both have killed innocents – but Increase has actually managed to fight the witches: he’s saved George from Mary, made Mary very worried, driven Mercy into the woods, captured Tituba and Rose and now Mary’s entire coven. Increase’s vile torture is, on this show, actually an effective way to hunt witches. Oh, innocents are certainly being accused and killed – but the same was true with Cotton’s methods as well!
When we take the simple metric of actually finding witches, Increase is actually REALLY GOOD at his job. He’s effective and, with the witches ominously involved in the “Grand Rite” consorting with demons and trying to change all America, it’s not too hard to see him presented as some kind of anti-hero.
While Cotton mopes, I’m not sure how much we’re supposed to feel sympathy for him for Anne’s rebuttal because it was so out of nowhere and part of the reason why he is so drunk is his lost love Glorianna. It does make the point that a woman can actually show kindness and friendship (and certainly pity) without it being a sexual or romantic come on. Anne’s talk of his father shifts his moping back to where it belongs so if we do pity Cotton, it isn’t over the fact Anne didn’t leap into bed with him
Ok, how does witchcraft work? Because Mary and Tituba seem to make the point that it’s all about making pacts with a dark blood stained being and basically devil worship. While Hale was, apparently, a witch because his parents were as is Anne – Anne certainly hasn’t made any satanic pacts.