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Jun 03 2014

Salem – “Our Own Private America” Retrospective. High Stakes and Dark Desires.

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Season 1, Episode 7

Airdate: Sunday, June 1, 2014, 10/9c on WGN America

Rating:

 

Tituba shows Mercy some forbidden fruit!

Tituba shows Mercy some forbidden fruit!

“You’re too late. I thought you were going to save us, but maybe we don’t deserve saving.” – Issac

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

Salem packs a punch this week in “Our Own Private America,” not only because of the sharp dialogue and plot thickening with suspense, but because of the memorable special guest starring role of Stephen Lang as the menacing, witch hunter clergyman, Increase Mathers. If the name sounds familiar, it should; Mathers is the father of Salem’s current reverend, Cotton Mathers (Seth Gabel). Interestingly, there is no moral grey area in Increase’s eyes—the means always justifies the end, which doesn’t bode well for some of the characters in Salem. Meanwhile, in town, the witch hysteria spirals out of control as more innocent lives are taken, and the latest addition to the coven, Mercy Lewis (Elise Eberle), begins her training as a witch. Hogwarts watch out!

Writers Adam Simon and Brannon Braga improve problem areas like story development; however, minor flaws, like a vague timeline of events, might throw some viewers off. Still, the good outweighs the bad in “Our Own Private America.” A great deal of headway is made among the core characters, including Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) and Captain John Alden (Shane West), whose complex love story heats up. The task to complete the ritual of the grand rite continues to move along when the mysterious wooden box, the “malum,” is found.

Dreams are also a big theme this week, both figuratively and literally, with some serious consequences. It’s a pleasant surprise how the writers incorporate some softer moments throughout the episode. In particular, the ongoing, and mostly likely doomed, relationship between prostitute Gloriana (Azure Parsons) and the religious Cotton comes to mind.

“Our Own Private America” takes a big step in the right direction with the pace of the many plotlines weaving evenly throughout the episode. Also, the casting of Lang is pure genius when scripting such a brutal character as Increase, whose mere presence, at times, gives Salem a much darker tone, something I didn’t think was possible.

With a name like Increase Mathers, you would be a curmudgeon too.

With a name like Increase Mathers, you would be a curmudgeon too.

Daddy Dearest

Previews for “Our Own Private America” give the impression the episode centers on the havoc surrounding Increase’s arrival in town. While technically that’s true, it’s disappointing that he doesn’t have many scenes considering how significant he becomes in purifying the town from “the devil’s whores.” Having said that, Lang doesn’t waste any of his limited screen time, bringing his A-game loaded with a special brand of charisma well suited for his role, hitting all the right notes with his steely cold stares.

The introduction of Increase to Salem is a game changer. Until now, the coven and Mary have had a field day controlling the town. There hasn’t been a clear and present danger for the coven, just the pressure to keep its secrets hidden and to complete the grand rite. Also, as previously shown in “The Red Rose and The Briar,” some of the town’s leaders are preoccupied with their moral vices. It’s no wonder the coven takes over so easily. Increase, on the other hand, is the fire and brimstone kind of Puritan who truly believes in ridding the world of witches by any means necessary; but he won’t be so easy to distract. In contrast is Increase’s son Cotton, who innately opposes all of his father’s strict doctrines. Cotton goes through a mental crisis of sorts in “Our Own Private America,” although it’s hard to tell if he’s just a functioning alcoholic at this point. When we last saw him in the woods fending off zombie like creatures with John, he appeared ok so his sudden depression doesn’t ring true. Yet, I can see how Cotton’s despair over his beliefs serves as a great precursor to his reunion with Increase because it shows how he got so wound up in the first place.

Cotton: “Every morning we have a choice; forget our dreams or live them.”

 

John finally shares an intimate moment with Mary that's a little too good to be true.

John finally shares an intimate moment with Mary that’s a little too good to be true.

Sweet Dreams are Made of These…Sort of

In an effort to take back the malem, Mary convinces Tituba (Ashley Madekwe) to use a spell that allows her to enter John’s dreams. Yeah, as if that won’t be a conflict of interest! Tituba points out the dangers of doing this, as well as one of its consequences, losing touch with reality. Mary is desperate to connect with John intimately, and this scene demonstrates her state of mind perfectly. Considering there hasn’t been any previous scenes discussing their kiss, this week’s storyline makes up for it perfectly. Fans of John and Mary will find it bittersweet, while those intrigued by Anne Hale (Tamzim Merchant) will have something to smile about.

After Mary’s plan succeeds, she can’t stop invading John’s dreams, which leads to drastic changes in John’s behavior. Since sex is what Mary uses to manipulate John in her dreams, one gets the impression that’s the cause for his acting out in a sexual nature. Issac (Iddo Goldberg) better look out, he might finally have some competition. I found it odd that no one in town notices John’s strange behavior, or has he always been so promiscuous?

Inevitably, John winds up in Mary’s room. How he gets past her servants in the middle of the night remains unknown, but what we do know is you can’t keep these two apart. Regardless of the magic, it was bound to happen.

Witch in Training

Mercy: “We’re tired, tired of being beaten, and used. We won’t be used anymore. Any of us, we won’t take it.”

As the newest member of the coven, Mercy is turning out to be Salem’s dark horse. While Mary’s initiation to the coven originated out of grief, Mercy’s choice is fueled by the need for power. She’s a loose cannon whose actions have serious consequences. When Mary assigns Mercy the job of frightening one of the families in order to increase the disorder among the townspeople, it goes wrong. What I love in particular about this storyline is how it allows Mercy to bond with Tituba. Now that Tituba has the malum, one can only imagine the true chaos the evil in that box will unleash all over town. With Mercy as a keen observer, I think she’s going to play stupid until she gains enough power to knock Mary off as head witch in charge.

Overall

The pace of this week’s episode is great, and the storyline is steady. Increase’s storyline creates a better dividing line between the coven and the townspeople. “Our Own Private America” feels like the set-up to a much needed dynamic story arc. The special effects, makeup, and wardrobe departments do an exceptional job between the gore of more killings to the beautiful corsets Mary dons during the dream sequences. For the past two weeks, Salem has progressed in the right direction and I can only imagine it will get better by the end of the season.

 

What did you think of “Our Private America?” 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 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), 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.
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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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