Season 1, Episode 10
Airdate: Sunday, June 22, 2014, 10/9c on WGN America
“Love is a two faced coin, and one face is betrayal.” – Increase
“House of Pain” is truly one of Salem‘s defining moments thus far. Not only do we discover the full depth of Increase Mathers’ (Stephen Lang) sadistic nature, we learn more about Tituba (Ashley Madekwe), the demon who may not truly be a demon, and Cotton Mather’s (Seth Gabel) continuing downward spiral into depression.
Although “House of Pain” is a heavy episode, it sets up the impending madness brewing in Salem as the series races towards its first season finale only a few weeks away. With the ceremonial grand rite fast approaching, the remaining witches — Mary (Janet Montgomery), Magistrate Hale (Xander Berkeley), and Mercy (Elise Eberle) — are in dire circumstances as long as Increase remains in town. With the surprising end of “House of Pain,” it’s safe to say the battle lines are finally drawn, marking the beginning of one nasty battle for Mary. But all is not entirely grim as a few lighter subplots take away from the sinister elements, distracting viewers from the gruesome components.
Babes in the Woods
For the past few episodes, Magistrate Hale’s relationship with his daughter Anne (Tamzin Merchant) has been anything but amiable. After growing more suspicious of her father’s dealings, Anne decides to feed her curiosity by inspecting one of his masks. Some may remember it as the one seen in the episode, “The Rose and the Briar,” where Anne first learns her father is more than the town’s governing official. Yet, considering all the ongoing inexplicable witchery, you’d think Anne would know better than to stick her nose in her father’s business.
In an instant, Anne teleports from her house into the middle of the woods, but whether it is in a parallel dimension or our own is uncertain at first. The woods play a significant role in Salem, and knowing Anne is trapped in the one place where all the crazy satanic business occurs isn’t a good thing.
Throughout “House of Pain,” Anne runs around like a mad woman while Magistrate Hale searches for her with John Alden’s (Shane West) help. I was slightly disappointed because this storyline doesn’t add much to Berkeley and West’s characters with the exception of them coming into contact with some Native Americans who confirm they saw Anne. From John’s description, they thought she was “crazy.” It’s a nice way to remind viewers of John’s past indiscretions before returning to Salem, while hinting he may be hiding some information from Magistrate Hale.
Ninety-nine Problems and a Witch Ain’t One
Poor Cotton; losing the love of his life is really taking a toll on him. Still, does it merit him tumbling so far into despair he contemplates suicide? Or maybe it’s not just about love as much as it is about his own weaknesses and feelings of insecurities brought about by his father Increase’s arrival.
The only noteworthy part of his story is when he encounters Magistrate Hale and John while they search for Anne. With Cotton literally up in a tree, John and Magistrate Hale try to coax him down to safety. And in one of the funnier moments of “House of Pain,” John, who never quite minces words, gets to the heart of things. “Cotton, get your drunken ass down here.”
I’m not sure that’s quite the type of vernacular they would have used in the 17th century, but it works for me. Alas, in the beginning episodes of Salem, I thought Cotton might be an equal match to his father. I thought he might be, at the very least, a lot more determined; however, “House of Pain” shines a glaring light at how feeble and pathetic Cotton has become, especially when he fails to drown himself. It’s my hope that by the season finale, we will see him turn around, finally stand up for himself, and reveal a darker side, proving he is his father’s son.
Tituba: “I am not a witch, I am not a puritan. I am of the Arawak Tribe.”
Hands down, the best part of “House of Pain” is the exchange of scenes between Increase and Tituba. In last week’s “Children Be Afraid,” Mercy betrays the coven by announcing, in public, that Tituba is a witch. ”House of Pain” shows the consequences of that event through Increase’s interrogation of Tituba when the former brothel is converted to a literal “house of pain.” What’s great about this storyline is the combination of backstory, character development, and acting performances. We also, finally, get a lot more information about who Tituba is and her relationship to Mary.
Madekwe and Lang do a superb job of bringing their A-game to some of Salem’s most agonizing torture scenes. If you thought “The Vow” was explicit with Isaac’s (Iddo Goldberg) treatment, “House of Pain” is more so, not only for what is shown but also by what is implied when Increase displays the torture devices before Tituba. It’s important to note the devices used in these scenes are historically accurate, bringing forth an even queasier reaction from me. One of good things about Salem is how well it incorporates some historical facts with its supernatural storyline.
A significant point we learn from Increase’s torture methods is the name of the demon or spirit in the woods.
Increase: “Who do you meet in the dark woods?”
Tituba: “The kanima. He has come to save me, save all of us. He draws to him all who hurt, all who hide, all who hate, all who thirst for justice, gathers us into the circle and promises us a leader—a savior. One who will crush all our enemies with a mighty fist and he keeps his promises.”
The kanima doesn’t appear to be a demon at all or even the shapeshifting creature it is known for in South America. Instead, its behavior resembles that of a wendigo, a malevolent spirit creature common in Native American folklore. This makes you redefine the whole satanic element of Salem. Is it a social criticism to make the devil the puritanical perspective of non-Christian deities? The mind boggles.
I love the surprising twist at the end of “House of Pain.” Tituba does what needs to be done to preserve the grand rite, throwing the ball in Mary’s court. The acting performances are so well played out, even the unnecessary subplots have their own sense of urgency.
I didn’t find many flaws with “House of Pain,” only that some of the issues should have been addressed sooner in the season rather than later. Writers Adam Simon and Joe Menosky really know how to up the ante with the drama, and I hope they write more episodes from here on out. The direction by David Von Ancken is also well done, particularly with the torture sequences. I don’t think I’ve turned away from a TV screen in horror in a while. All in all, a strong episode that is just the tip of the iceberg as we head towards the season finale.
What did you think of “House of Pain?” 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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