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Jul 09 2014

Salem – “Ashes, Ashes” Retrospective. Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen.

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Season 1, Episode 12

Airdate: Sunday, July 6, 2014, 10/9c on WGN America

Rating:

 

 “A new day is upon us and this new day demands a new Queen of the Night!”—Mercy

 

The grand rite be damned, Mary is staying by her man John.

The grand rite be damned, Mary is staying by her man John.

Over the course of its debut season, WGN America’s Salem has shown the path toward ultimate power is full of sacrifices. In “Ashes, Ashes,” Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) reaches her breaking point when she must choose between the love of her life, Captain John Alden (Shane West), and completing her act of total revenge. But Mary isn’t the only one whose story takes center stage. Mercy Lewis (Elise Eberle), once a weak girl possessed by spirits and demons, is now a force of nature as a fledgling witch.

“Ashes, Ashes” is the last stage of the journey before the season finale; in it, all the alliances finally fall into place as John meets with unfortunate circumstances at the conclusion of his trial. Tituba (Ashley Madekwe), although visibly absent in this episode, still plays a major role demonstrating she does not need to be present in order to wreck Mary’s life once again.

The Final Countdown

The “mallum,” the wooden box containing a carved apple signifying the root of humanity’s biblical demise from the garden of Eden, returns in “Ashes, Ashes.” While it is never quite fully explained how the mallum is used during the grand rite, what we do know is its presence adds power to the ritual. It’s a relief to see Salem focus on this subject again because for all the talk about the grand rite, very little is known about the exact process. I appreciate that the mallum is present and critical in some of the episode’s events while still addressing John’s fate.

Pretty Little Liar

In the opening scene of “Ashes, Ashes,”  Mercy wanders among the dead at Salem’s unconsecrated burial ground speaking to them. She is mourning their untimely deaths, and while she is passionate about her cause for justice, Mercy is always at her most captivating when she’s gone off the rails. This week, she remains hidden in the woods away from Increase’s (Stephen Lang) witch hunt, believing she has found a solution to her problems when Mary offers to protect her and her followers—the girls in Salem who serve as acolytes for her dealings with the devil.

Mercy: “But my girls, what of my poor girls?”

Mary: “He has four of them but do not fear for them or yourself. Soon, our grand rite will cleanse the world of the evil men do and the men who do it.”

Eberle does an amazing job of portraying all of Mercy’s different personality traits while still making her a sympathetic character with her expressive depiction.

Fire and brimstone speeches, courtesy of Increase.

Fire and brimstone speeches, courtesy of Increase.

Vengeance is Mine

Oh, the things people do for love. One of Mary’s big problems is John; his return to Salem has always been her Achilles heel. The price she will pay to have it all—complete the grand rite and have John for herself—speaks to both her delusion and determination.

After weeks spent in a drunken haze, Cotton (Seth Gabel) finally defies his father by becoming John’s advocate during his trial. When Increase fails in his attempts to convict John as a witch, he makes a shocking claim by accusing him of treason. Increase credits Tituba’s confession  as the source of information. When John fails to refute the accusations, it becomes the final nail in his coffin. Once again, it is Tituba who forces Mary’s hand to complete the grand rite rather than observe her pining away for John.

Later, unable to find a solution that does not end with John’s death, Mary finally decides to let him know about her powers—even if it is only a little bit at a time.

Mary: “There is still a place for us in this world.”

John: “Only in dreams.”

Mary: “Alright then, one last time, dream with me.”

Meanwhile, Mercy’s acolytes, whose testimonies against John help put him on trial, are not as well protected when Mary fails to save them from the gallows. This singular event sends Mercy over the edge, and finally severs her ties with Mary. In one loud proclamation, she announces she will be the new “Queen of the Night!”

Mary ponders her life without John.

Mary ponders her life without John.

Isaac, the Motivational Speaker

One of my favorite moments, and perhaps the best scene of the entire series thus far, occurs between Mary and Isaac (Iddo Goldberg). When Mary believes all is lost, when she cannot see a way out of saving John, it is Isaac who offers her the strength to find a way. It’s so strange and yet amazing how far Isaac has come since the beginning of Salem. When we were first introduced to him, he was set up as a weak character. My, how the tables have turned, and in a vastly improved way; Isaac’s advice to Mary truly reflects their history together and essentially reveals the heart of who Mary is as a character.

Isaac: “You, you can save him.”

Mary: “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”

Isaac: “But you’re Mary. You’re Mary. They all call you Mary Sibley, but do you know what I call you in my head, to myself, and in my heart? Magic Mary. You were always magic, way back when we were just sprouts. You could do anything. Always could, you just have to want it bad enough. And you do, don’t you? You do want John Alden to live…”

Now that Mercy is out for Mary’s blood, John’s fate remains undetermined. The grand rite will happen soon but it will be up to Mary to settle all scores, past and present, with sheer and utter violence.

Bottom Line

One of the strongest, and best, aspects about “Ashes, Ashes” is the even flow of the storylines. There is a constant sense of urgency but without any significant loose ends or unnecessary scenes.

Early on in the season, Salem had issues with character development and its pacing of the main plot points. Over the past few weeks, many of those problems have slowly disappeared and in its place is a thrilling drama. “Ashes, Ashes” continues to have an amazing set and production; the visuals are a bit much at times but they serve to create the eerie tone on the set. The costumes are perfect with the way they suit each character; Mary’s recent wardrobe, in particular, is typical of its era but has a few modern accents that make her appear ethereal at times.

Episodic writers Brannon Braga and Adam Simon are excellent in balancing the heartrending scenes in “Ashes, Ashes” with the suspenseful drama without slipping up once. The dialogue is on point, enhancing both actors and their characters. Lang, in particular, is riveting to watch whenever Increase delivers his speeches about the devil as if he were preaching at a Sunday sermon.

All in all, Salem is a thrill ride of a show, and judging by how well “Ashes, Ashes” sets up the season finale, anything can happen.

 

What did you think of “Ashes, Ashes?” Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @conallen.

Tune in to Salem on Sundays at 10/9c, only on WGN America.

Follow the series on its official site at http://www.wgnamerica.com/shows/salem, where you can also watch videos and clips of the episodes.

Follow Salem on its official Tumblr: http://witchesarereal.tumblr.com/, and on Twitter: @SalemWGNA.

You can also follow the cast on Twitter: Captain John Alden/Shane West (@shanewest_1), Cotton Mather/Seth Gabel (@sethgabel), Magistrate Hale/Xander Berkeley (@xanderberkeley), Tituba/Ashley Madekwe (@smashleybell), Anne Hale/Tamzin Merchant (@tamzinmerchant), Mercy/Elise Eberle (@eliseeberle), and Issac/Iddo Goldberg (@IddoG).

 

Photos: ©2014 WGN America. All Rights Reserved.

 

© 2014, Connie Allen. All rights reserved.

Connie Allen

I'm a writer, cinephile, avid reader, and pop culture enthusiast. I love historical dramas, and fantasy/sci-fi series. Currently living in SoCal.

About the author

Connie Allen

I'm a writer, cinephile, avid reader, and pop culture enthusiast. I love historical dramas, and fantasy/sci-fi series. Currently living in SoCal.

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