Airdate: Sunday, June 8, 2014, 10/9c on WGN America
Witches are not the only monsters in Salem as Increase Mather’s (Stephen Lang) hunt for “the devil’s whores” takes a pivotal turn in “Departures.” WGN America’s original series Salem hits its stride with strong performances from the cast, and fast-moving action sequences. There are several compelling scenes that shine, so much so, it’s possible to look past some of the episode’s overall imperfections. There’s definitely a well set up sense of urgency that resonates predominantly throughout “Departures” as the town’s coven risks exposure and the Mather family comes to violent blows.
Family Can Be a Four Letter Word
After weeks of listening to Reverend Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel) describing his strained relationship with his father Increase, we finally get an eyeful of the full amount of dysfunction between them. To be fair, this kind of conservative behavior and religious fervor is not uncommon in its time; Salem, like most Puritan towns, is strict in its views regarding sinful behavior. Yet, what makes the interaction between Increase and Cotton so dramatic is how different they are from one another. Early in Salem, I pegged Cotton as the coven’s main threat. I am pleasantly surprised at the turn of events in his storyline. Before his feelings for the prostitute Gloriana (Azure Parsons) turned to love, I thought he would be more like his father, wielding his Bible and torturing innocent people. Shifts in the tone, and storylines like Cotton and Gloriana’s, make Salem an exciting show to watch because you never know what’s going to happen next. “Departures” takes you a bit out of your comfort zone and makes the show more interesting.
More than half of “Departures” centers on the way both Mather men handle a proper witch hunt. There’s a lot of discussion between Increase and Cotton about staying away from temptation, and keeping the senses sharp by maintaining virtuous habits. There’s even a moment where Increase tells Cotton he has to “earn” the Mather name. Talk about pressure — no wonder Cotton is kind of a bumbling mess around him! Unfortunately, things do not get better when Gloriana enters the picture and later is accused of being a witch.
One of the themes in “Departures” is about taking risks, and we see this clearly play out in the love lives of the main characters. Both Captain John Alden (Shane West) and Cotton experience different degrees of risk when protecting their ladies from harm; John’s method of freeing Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) is sinister whereas Cotton dares to defy tradition and family for Gloriana. It’s a significant moment for viewers, revealing more depth to their personalities.
When Salem premiered, I thought the tragic love story would center heavily on John and Mary when he miraculously returned to her after a long absence. I was wrong. Sure, their story remains a constant fixture within the series, but I am pleasantly surprised at how Cotton’s love life slowly takes some of the limelight. Despite Increase’s opinions that sex is essentially “Satan’s toxic nectar,” Gloriana’s presence in Cotton’s life brings to the surface a vulnerable side to him that is new for viewers. Also, Gabel’s portrayal of Cotton is emotional and raw in certain moments of “Departures” that left me speechless. His scenes with Parsons are well acted and heartfelt, particularly when Cotton candidly expresses his feelings for Gloriana openly for everyone to see, first when she is accused of witchcraft, and later, as she is being sent away. Although I doubt most prostitutes and clergymen have a Pretty Woman sort of ending, Salem does a fine job of making them a couple you root for in the end; something I did not anticipate. In fact, I feel the title of the episode is a nod to the sad outcome of Cotton and Gloriana’s relationship.
The other half of “Departures” follows up on George Sibley’s (Michael Mulheren) escape from Mary’s spell, as well as dealing with the fate of the coven.
When Mary decides it’s best for George to seek a medical evaluation from a physician in Boston, she assigns Issac (Iddo Goldberg) the task of transporting George to the hospital. Since this is Salem we’re dealing with, it’s not surprising Mary’s best laid plans end up badly when George finds himself free of the frog in his throat—the source of Mary’s control over him. What I like about this plot point is how George and Mary’s fate depends on Issac, the man who is literally branded as the town’s sexual deviant.
Meanwhile, the coven is struggling after another member is executed while Mary is struggling to get over her feelings for John, who doesn’t help the situation when he surprises her with another kiss. It’s a sweet moment but doesn’t hold a candle to the angst ridden scenes between Cotton and Gloriana.
A great deal of poignant and revealing moments are scattered throughout “Departures,” another episode where the stellar performances match the weight of the script perfectly. As a matter of fact, episodic director Alex Zakrzewski should be commended for keeping those performances from being overly dramatic. The costumes are great, and the set design is on point, especially with the dunking stool used for the witches. Overall, the episode focuses heavily on the human elements of Salem more than the supernatural, giving its viewers a more in-depth perspective of what drives its core characters. We are at the point in the season where a lot of loose ends are being tied up to help prepare for the big bang of the season finale.
I didn’t find any major problems with “Departures.” Apart from the little nitpicks previously mentioned, I enjoyed this episode and cannot wait to see what unfolds between George and Mary, as well as Increase’s plot to rid Salem of witches.
What did you think of “Departures?” 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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