Season 1, Episode 11
Airdate: Sunday, June 29, 2014, 10/9c on WGN America
“Your only failure is not becoming your father. And that is no failure.” – Anne Hale
As Salem inches closer towards its first season finale, many of the characters we’ve grown to love may be living on borrowed time. After the riveting cliffhanger in “House of Pain,” where John Alden (Shane West) becomes the latest target of the vicious witch hunter, Increase Mathers (Stephan Lang), the entire town of Salem is at a near standstill. Meanwhile, Mary (Janet Montgomery) concocts a dangerous plan of action, and in a surprise twist, Anne Hale (Tamzin Merchant) learns the painful lesson of being careful of what you wish for.
What’s interesting is how this week’s episode, “Cat and Mouse,” somewhat glosses over the main storyline in exchange for focusing on the character development of the Hale family and its history. Not necessarily bad, “Cat and Mouse” answers some long-standing questions while painfully and slowly progressing with the current dilemma at hand, John’s predicament. However, episodic writer Jon Harmon Feldman manages to balance the pacing and tone nicely with some impressive scenes and brilliantly directed moments by Tricia Brock.
All in the Family
The Hale family takes center stage as a large portion of “Cat and Mouse” emphasizes Anne’s ongoing search for the truth after last week’s brief visit to the realm of the supernatural using her father’s mask. This is a moment that’s difficult to ignore, and while it’s completely absurd for her father, Magistrate Hale (Xander Berkeley), to act as if nothing happened, Anne’s determination and response to her father’s slight indifference earns my respect. “Don’t you dare mock me! I have afforded you enough time to explain.” Anne is not letting go, and she’s demanding the truth in a way that isn’t childish but a reflection of the woman she is becoming—calculating and savvy. What I like about this approach is how it forces Magistrate Hale’s hand to reveal his origins, and the secret he has been hiding from Anne.
There’s a nice flashback sequence illustrating the sacrifices and challenges Hale has experienced in his life. Originally, when Salem premiered, I thought Magistrate Hale would be the ultimate villain of the series. Imagine my surprise now that he has evolved into a very methodical and sympathetic character. Yes, he plays a part in the heinous things that occur in Salem, but shedding light on his imperfections and love for his family adds depth to his motives for wanting to pursue the grand rite.
An equally compelling parallel is the hostility and dysfunctional circumstances that pit Cotton Mathers (Seth Gabel) with his father, Increase. Father and son could not be further apart in their approach to combating the Devil’s work. It’s tragic, as yet again, Cotton risks losing another friend and ally at the hands of his father. It’s all kinds of messed up, but with the way Cotton and Increase’s storyline is evolving, I would not be shocked if in an act of self-preservation, one of them takes matters into their own hands. Especially when you have scandalous, public confrontations in church.
Increase: “Look around, look side to side, look to your neighbor, and ask yourself, friend or sorcerer? Wife or witch?”
Cotton: “God or devil?”
Increase: “Who said that? Show yourself!”
(Cotton reveals himself, and bows before his father.)
Increase: “It is my son! Pay no mind. Do not reward him with your indulgence.”
Cotton: “You question who the people in Salem are, in the name of God?”
Cotton: “But should the people in Salem not question who you are? For how else would the devil appear but in the cloak of the Lord.”
What I really love about this exchange is not what is said but what does not happen—punishment. When Cotton, in his inebriated state, makes such blasphemous accusations about the clergy, he does so in a hallowed place. If we take into account the social climate of the 17th century, such actions should have severe repercussions. With Cotton becoming the town drunk, which justifies time in the stockade, and remaining free, it is a reflection of his father’s odd sort of love. Over the past few weeks, Increase has demonstrated his capacity for cruelty in the name of God. Allowing Cotton a free pass will only last so long. It’s not a matter of how it will occur, but more precisely, when will one of them finally snap?
What’s A Witch To Do?
When “Cat and Mouse” isn’t centering on the trials and tribulations of the Mathers and Hales, the attention swings back to Mary, who is not about to stand by and watch John being tried unjustly. It’s funny, the more she refuses to admit her feelings for John, the more her actions revolve around him rather than completing the grand rite. Noticeably absent is Tituba (Ashley Madekwe), which is a shame. For having such a significant role in the current sequence of events, I expected there to be more than a few references to her. Instead, there are more scenes between Mary and Mercy (Elise Eberle), both of whom connive to take down Increase. What bothers me the most, however, is the inconsistent way Mary uses Mercy. Understandably, Mercy is a means to an end for Mary in orchestrating her plot but at times, Mercy has proven to be unreliable and power hungry. While this plot point keeps the viewers in suspense, it reflects poorly on Mary, proving once again that John is her downfall. She isn’t thinking things through, which will have severe consequences for her, especially if Magistrate Hale and Mercy work against her.
Aside from Mary’s tactics, it is nice to see Mercy’s brutal side when she attacks Increase. Their battle in the woods is great, and says a lot about her resolve to destroy him.
“Cat and Mouse” doesn’t live up to the expectation of seeing John undergo a grand trial, but it does deliver some great scenes and plot points. The game changing moment with Anne and her legacy is a nice accent to her growing independence. In developing the storyline with Cotton, the writers allow her to use her charms to get the information she wants about witches. There is total chemistry there, and it was bound to happen considering Cotton’s predilection for redheads, and Anne’s mother’s (Lara Grice) desire to match them up.
If there is any problem with “Cat and Mouse,” it is the placement of information. A lot of the lag and frustration early on in Salem could have been salvaged by using some of the tidbits revealed this week. Although better late than never, it does make this latter arc of the season feel rushed.
What did you think of “Cat and Mouse?” 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.
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.
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