May 06 2014

Salem – “In Vain” Retrospective. All Is Not Lost Or Is It?


Season 1, Episode 3

Airdate: Sunday, May 4, 2014, 10/9c on WGN America


Confidants and close companions, Mary and Tituba observe Salem.

Confidants and close companions, Mary and Tituba observe Salem.

[warning]Warning: If you haven’t finished or seen this episode, there are major spoilers ahead. [/warning]

WGN America’s supernatural series Salem indulges a lot in its ability to shock and unnerve viewers. This week is no different as creepy dolls maneuver around a room, and simulated orgies serve as an intro to the latest installment in the series, “In Vain.”

Previously in Salem, outspoken midwife Bridget Bishop (Antonia Prebble) found herself condemned as a witch. Her death left many in the community divided and playing right into Mary Sibley’s (Janet Montgomery) plot for revenge and power. Now, Captain John Alden (Shane West) and minister Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel) come to the aid of Isaac “the fornicator” Walton (Iddo Goldberg) when he finds himself caught in a deadly web of deception.

The Gist of Things

Most of “In Vain” revolves around the power play between Magistrate Hale (Xander Berkeley) and Mary as they hurry to complete the killings necessary to fulfill “the grand rite.” Apparently, there is a coven in Salem masquerading as upstanding citizens, but the writers fail to explore the extent and details of this subject. Little is known about the coven’s elders, along with Mary’s significance within it. Mary is changing the way the coven works their magic; however, Magistrate Hale, who surprisingly is part of the coven, views her reprisal against the people of Salem as risky.

Mary: “Spectacle is fuel for our fire.”

Tituba (Ashley Madekwe): “And doubt is indulged by the rich and spoiled only. Mind you were born neither.”

Magistrate Hale and Mary spend a majority of the time in “In Vain” searching for whoever interrupted their ceremony in the woods. Eventually, their collaborator Petrus (Christopher Berry), the “Seer,” finds out Isaac might be the one.

This doesn’t bode well for the local pariah, Isaac, who is charmed into a delusional mess when his ranting and raving in the streets land him in prison. In a strange turn of events, Mary decides to assist John in releasing Isaac but her choice also serves to combat Magistrate Hale, whose rash action of imprisoning Isaac is more of an act of defiance. Not only does Mary give John details of Magistrate Hale’s arrival to take Isaac away, she uses her little voodoo ritual as a means to harm Anne Hale (Tamzin Merchant), the Magistrate’s daughter and potential love interest for John. Unfortunately, Anne Hale has two strikes against her in Mary’s eyes, which makes her the perfect candidate to torture. Next thing we know, the porcelain dolls, which Mary enchanted in “The Stone Child,” come to life and move to random places in Anne’s room. Just when Magistrate Hale decides he will destroy John—who physically tries to prevent Hale’s men from getting to Isaac—a man rushes in to inform him his daughter is ill.

Not only does harming Anne give Mary leverage, it puts Magistrate Hale in his place. Yet, something tells me this isn’t over when Magistrate Hale makes a sentimental comment about a parent’s love for their child. I haven’t seen enough of Magistrate Hale’s actions or story to know whether he’s powerful enough to get back at Mary for harming Anne. What I do know is fallout from the events in “In Vain” will leave a lot to process in the upcoming episodes.

Mary brings to his knees one of Salem's most prominent citizen, Magistrate Hale

Mary brings Magistrate Hale, one of Salem’s most prominent citizens, to his knees.

What’s Love and Sex Got To Do With It?

Although the plot points don’t do much to add more depth to its secondary characters, “In Vain” definitely does not lack in the romance or sex arenas. For example, bodies are in motion before the opening credits roll. What starts as a naughty dream involving Anne and John quickly turns into a crisis of conscious when Cotton starts talking about sinful ways, and then Mary enters talking about love. All of them are suddenly in bed with Anne, kissing, and just when it looks like it might get to be too much for poor Anne, she wakes up. Girlfriend looks like she could use a V8!

I like this scene simply because it allows us to see Anne’s disdain for Mary. She has lustful feelings for John, but is it love? Anne’s inner conflict is beautifully projected to viewers, which is a nice touch. It speaks without spoon-feeding information to viewers. Anne also shines a bit when her defiance against her father brings out her inner fierceness.

John and Mary’s story isn’t as heavy handed in “In Vain” but it is a main motivation behind the scenes for Mary. There are more sentimental scenes this week during which Mary still feels the loss over the death of her child. Combine this with seeing John, and you get a nice subtle pang of angst.

John and Anne’s storyline makes some strides after he rescues her from an attack by some rowdy townsmen. It’s cliché, for sure, especially when Anne gives John prepubescent googly eyes. Anne is less whiny this week, but her romance storyline with John just doesn’t seem to work other than to generate melodrama.


Captain John Alden won't back down from saving Issac

Captain John Alden won’t back down from saving Issac

I’m disappointed with “In Vain,” although, it does have some good moments. Last week’s episode led me to believe Mary and Alice would have some kind of confrontation this week. That doesn’t quite happen. When I realized Mary’s spell with the dolls—intended to harm Ann Hale—is only a tool to bolster growing animosity towards Magistrate Hale, it feels like a missed opportunity to develop Anne and Mary’s growing hatred for one another.

Unfortunately, the problems plaguing Salem since the beginning are not getting better, but remain constant without significant improvement. There are hardly any scenes with Tituba, who still doesn’t have a backstory. One insight into Mary is revealed, however, and we now know she was born poor without the privileges Anne has had in her life. Then, there’s the issue with the pacing; as the action pushes forward, there still isn’t enough development of the characters and their backstories. Although there is enough story to follow, I don’t feel as emotionally invested in these characters the way I should be at this point in the series. And supporting characters Tituba and Isaac really need more screen time. They are so instrumental yet we know so little about them.

Salem is spread too thin due to the many intersecting plotlines. For instance, a witch named Rose (Diane Salinger) meets with Mary. Again, there isn’t any context or information detailing their relationship although the scene gives us some key insight into Mary’s predicament. There are plenty of things to love about Salem but if you’re looking for more depth in your TV viewing experience, the series falls short. Salem is quickly defining itself for action, sex, and the supernatural more so than as an historical drama. Hopefully, next week’s episode will improve.


What did you think of the episode? Do you like the pace? Can’t get enough?  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, where you can also watch videos and clips of the episodes.

Follow Salem on its official Tumblr:, and Twitter: @SalemWGNA.


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.

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