Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Salem, Season 2, Episode 1: Cry Havoc

A boy steals a chicken from the docks and a guard chases him into an ominously poor part of the settlement with a sign calling it “Knocker’s Hole” which doesn’t bode well for the guard. An ominous girl even warns him not to go into where he hears the chicken because death lurks there. When small children warn of death it is time to turn and run. Then a child starts singing “hush little baby”

I swear, so many horror films/shows/games have used small children singing to be ominous that I get pavlovian goose bumps every time children sin. You hear a child sing you turn and run. It is known

He finds the boy – and a woman crying. She’s afflicted by a truly horrendous plague and surrounded by bodies who died from it. It involves rotting and oozing and all kinds of nastiness.

To Mary Sibley and her newfound son (singing a lullaby despite the child being very old for them). He talks about the Widdershins who guarded him at night. Tituba interrupts the happy scene, it looks like Mary hasn’t got her son back, only visitation rights and Tituba is there to take the boy away. Mary wants to renegotiate custody arrangements. Tituba has no time for that and some woo-woo hits the child until Mary lets him go. The boy is being used by the witchy elders to keep Mary under control and not throwing away their plans for world domination for the broody-stubbly guy. Mary is a bit snarky about that since she did complete the grand rite and the Witch Pox is already slaughtering non-witchy people.

The next step is to close the curtain around Salem and consecrate the land with hell blood and opening the gate: Mary helpfully tells us. That doesn’t sound nice. Tituba’s still not reassured because Mary has other problems – Mercy is raving around all unstable and Anne Hale “A cradle witch of the highest order” whatever that means, is also not exactly a member of the Mary Sibley fanclub.

Mary assures Tituba that she’s completely consumed with hatred – and that includes for Tituba

Of course, Mary isn’t over the broody stubbly one and she goes to random magical tracker bloke to find John for her (why, to bring him to town so he can die of witch pox as well?) He uses some nasty woo-woo to show John, apparently dead, being burned on a funeral pyre by Native Americans

To those Native Americans who use a Dream Catcher to create a false vision. Yes the stubbly broody one is alive (what, you expected an angst-ridden be-stubbled protagonist to die? Hah!). He’s planning to slaughter all the witches. Part of this involves undergoing a ritual that the Native American man considers dangerous and unwise, especially since they want to leave the area to avoid the hell that the witches are going to unleash. Of course John doesn’t listen so he gets his woo-woo protection from the Native Americans with the warning that a) it will change him and b) he won’t leave Salem alive (so long term retirement plans are made then?)

Magic and a haircut follows

Mercy is still lurking around the corpses when Mary pays a visit to try and bring her back to the world, discussing the abuse Mercy suffered from her father and trying to give a lesson about not letting anger at abuse consume them. She wants Mercy back on side if she’ll just start showing everyone respect; Mercy’s not having that, she wants to be Mary’s equal not subservient. Mary responds with a threat and Mercy counters with a far more ominous collection of spooky silent followers in white dresses. Spooky followers > empty threats.

Over to Boston and Cotton Mather is facing a tribunal. He was sent to Salem because of one disturbed girl and then there was a witch panic, many people hanged, his dad murdered and the accused witch is apparently John who Cotton spent so much time with. All in all, it wasn’t Cotton’s finest moment, it has to be said. Cotton defends John and even suggests that his father’s massacres may have been the cause of the witch’s success (true) but now there’s a war beginning in Salem.

Whether there’s a war or not, they boss guys have decided that Cotton made such a pig’s ear of things that it’s best he doesn’t return to Salem. He’s forbidden from leaving Boston. He deals with this by having sex with a prostitute (sex workers and booze seem to be Cotton’s coping mechanisms) and hallucinating Glorianna. Apparently hallucinating your ex is bad for the libido. He turns to drink instead (told you). It may help his libido if he actually tries having sex in a room that doesn’t have a big judgy picture of his father one the wall but then he wouldn’t be able to rant and rave at it. Including about the fact he killed his dad

Which may be why the head of the tribunal drops in on Cotton that night to ask more questions – he definitely seems suspicious and he puts Cotton on guard. But in a twist he leaves Cotton to go see another suspicious character- a woman who speaks to him while she’s in her bath. She’s quite happy to hear that Cotton’s dad is definitely dead and that Cotton himself apparently knows nothing. It seems she was a witch who tried to pull of a Grand Rite in Europe and failed because of Increase Mather – and has the scars to prove it. She does want to know who led the grand rite though, to learn that they need to go to Salem

And she’s Lucy Lawless so she’s bound to be awesome when she gets there. She also tips her surplus employees by having them look at her naked and then kills them by magically drowning them in her bath water. Nifty.

Back to Mercy and her cult – they lure a man into the woods so Mercy can castrate him and replace his genitals with a living raven. Because Salem that’s why. She then sends him home being wonderfully creepy throughout.

Mercy then goes to the elders to brag about doing the same thing to six men. The elders aren’t impressed – they don’t like that she called without an invite (really not even a calling card) and don’t think six is that impressive. She begs to replace Mary but the elders are confident they control Mary – and they don’t need Mercy. One spits on her when she protests.

That was a mistake – so I think and Mercy says. She summons her cult of followers, all of them carrying knives.

Time to catch up with Anne, the other new witch – only she’s not embracing and revelling in her powers. She tries to commit suicide by slitting her wrists only to have her witchy body heal itself. Mary drops in to encourage Anne, who killed her parents last season with her new magic, to embrace her witchiness. Anne refuses – just having magic doesn’t make her a witch. Mary, because she’s so very terrible at this recruitment thing, tells Anne about the time she tried to have her magically murdered which has Anne magically throwing blades around.

She does make a better pitch though about building a new world – and when Anne protests about the deaths Mary makes the very real point that EVERY new world is built on corpses and blood. She wants to make a new world without Puritan hypocrisy and oppression that celebrates nature (and raven genital swaps), freedom of thought and belief. She’s also not that upset about selling her soul because everything – even the devil – isn’t as black and white as the puritans believe.

She adds another incentive – Anne is now an orphaned woman alone in a world of predatory men. Rich and a virgin, men will prey on her. She’s offers the help and protection of her name – and, when Anne tearfully asks, cover for the death of her parents.

To the town hall where Mary leads a town meeting about the pox hitting Salem – and saying Anne’s parents died from it. Alas she doesn’t get it all her own way as one of the Selectmen, Mr. Hawthorne, claims the plague is due to a pissy deity. And why is god pissed? Because Mary dares to be in charge while being female! He shreds the fiction that she’s speaking on her husband’s behalf and makes it clear that Mary is leading the Selectmen, that Salem is led by a woman. He wants a formal vote to replace her or at least make the Selectmen openly admit to having a female leader.

Hawthorne is interrupted by a man who rails at them all for ignoring the true victims of the pox – the poorest among them who are dying in greater numbers. The pox doesn’t discriminate by sex, but by poverty – he scorns them for being concerned with politics while the poor die, ignored. Mary leaps on the opportunity and insists on going with him to the plague stricken areas – and challenges Hawthorne to do the same.

The man is a doctor who has little time for prayer and fasting as a way of solving plague (and is certainly against purging “undesirables” like witches or powerful women) – he’s all for science. He also doesn’t have much respect for the idea that strong women are terrifying. He seems capable enough, practicing epidemiology that would have made John Snow proud, looking to find the point of origin. This involves him planning to go to the woods and flirting in flowery words with Mary.

In the woods he finds… Isaac and he’s still not dead. The doctor brings him back to Salem, assuming he’s patient zero (and, therefore, needs to be able infect everyone I guess?). Showing scientific knowledge well ahead of his time, the doctor realises that Isaac is resistant to the plague so has the key to surviving it in his blood. Of course, he could also accuse Mary

He also needs a name, I can’t keep calling him The Doctor unless he gets a tardis.

Time for Mary to get angsty with her son who asks about his dad. He asks to be called John after his father – right before he gets a vision of Mercy’s followers murdering the elders. Tituba hurries in, horrified by what Mercy has done. In the centre of town the three elders’ bodies hang from the scaffold which is on fire

You have to admire Mercy for being thorough.

Tituba a “traitorous little bitch”? Seriously Mary? Like Tituba owes you one damn thing after last season!

Last season I made the point that all the witches of Salem had been abused or mistreated or were otherwise powerless – so I do quite like Mary’s line “we’re all angry at someone” because they all are.

Of course, her call for control feels a lot more like “just get over it” and I’ve never been a fan of “if you feel that way you’re letting them win” because it always feels like rather a victim-blamey way of trying to force abuse victims to, yet again, get over it or not be angry. I also think it’s almost gloriously hypocritical given Mary’s entire plot line is of someone consumed by the past and unable to move on.

I still think Mercy may be a more compelling and spooky witch, with her followers of dispossessed women, than ever Mary and her eternal pining could ever be. I’d like to be Team!Mercy but Lucy Lawless just arrived.

I’m actually interested in Anne’s definition of a witch and if what she says is true – can you have magic and not be a witch? Can you be witchblooded and not be a witch? Is there a difference between being born with magic and embracing the witch-craft that the coven practices (which is, as we’ve seen repeatedly, evil and kind of icky too)? Especially since we’ve seen the Native Americans use magic to block Mary’s magic.

Speaking of – will these Native Americans have a role beyond magical POC to provide magical aid to the white protagonist?

Is Mary’s pitch of a new world she tries to sell to Anne actually what she hopes for? Is this a new direction Salem is heading in?

Salem introduced a lot of ideas of the oppressed being forced to darkness last season, albeit extremely clumsily and often problematically. But I am interested with where this is going this season. We have Anne who has lived a life of relative privileged wealth and position even if stifling, and now finds herself very vulnerable: will we see another dispossessed person of the times forced to the dark side? Or there’s Mary herself, one of the most powerful women in the town now directly attacked for being a woman with power (rather than just constantly attacked for being a woman with a love interest and manipulated as a woman with a son).