Season 1, Episode 4
Airdate: Sunday, May 12, 2014, 10/9c on WGN America
“Replacing demons with heathens is no victory. It seems even when you succeed, Reverend, you find a way to fail.” – Mary
Salem hits major turning points in this week’s episode, “Survivors,” giving its viewers new insight about the show’s core characters without any distractions like, say, oh, another execution. There is heavier emphasis on the power play and inner turmoil among the coven set to take over Salem versus the killings needed to finish their sacrificial ritual known as “the grand rite.” Captain John Alden’s (Shane West) mysterious past becomes a focal point when a familiar face enters town, and the Grande Dame Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) finds herself almost at a disadvantage against an enemy.
What’s A Coven to Do? #WitchProblems
The struggle to secure power, between the old world ways of functioning as a coven and the way Mary sees it, is a hard-line issue causing a rift among the coven’s members. At the center of the fray are Magistrate Hale (Xander Berkeley) and Mary, both of whom are working against each other while keeping up appearances. Early in “Survivors,” we witness a meeting in the woods among Magistrate Hale, Mary, Tituba (Ashley Madekwe), and Rose (Diane Salinger), the latest witch to be brought to our attention. There’s a lot of dialogue concerning “The Hunter’s Moon” and “the grand rite” fast approaching. Since Alden’s return to Salem, many in the coven fear Mary’s romantic past with him will cloud her judgment. Mary assures Rose she is competent to follow through with the task at hand. Magistrate Hale remains doubtful, and in a move that is as much about revenge as it is power, he manipulates Alden by promoting him to a more prestigious position in town.
John: “What if the witches were those we’ve entrusted to lead? A member, perhaps, of our most esteemed board. Well, I hope not because I’m one of you now.”
What’s great about these overlapping plotlines is that while Alden thinks he’s got the upper hand, he’s really as much of a pawn as Mary. Some of the elements in “Survivors” that stand out include the direction and arrangement of the scenes. Despite a limited amount of action sequences, episodic writer Jon Harmon Feldman’s approach to the script is methodical and well thought out in developing the characters. By seeing Reverend Cotton Mather’s (Seth Gabel) failures to please Mary in their witch hunt, and Anne’s feelings for Alden, we gain a better perspective about their motives; this adds a much needed connection between the viewers and the important themes of “Survivors.” In regards to the coven’s storyline, the theme of power bleeds into a lot of the corresponding plot points, specifically Mary’s relationship with Alden. The way Magistrate Hale uses Mary’s feelings for Alden as a proverbial ace up his sleeve creates suspense; this corresponds with last week’s episode, “In Vain,” in which Mary attacks Anne in order to save her good friend Isaac (Iddo Goldberg). The topic of love resurfaces again in “Survivors,” and becomes a part of the catalyst for many of the episode’s memorable moments. The love Magistrate Hale has for his family and Mary’s love for Alden are the key elements that are progressively creating tension among the coven, allowing for some unnecessary bloodshed. We learn a bit more about Mary regarding her place in the coven, which is a nice touch. Rose comments about Mary’s “visions,” which implies they may be unique to her because until now, we have not seen Magistrate Hale, Rose, or even Tituba demonstrate the extent of their powers. Rose once refers to “others” in the coven, so it’s safe to assume there will be more witches coming out soon.
The Curious Case of Captain John Alden
Apparently, Mary isn’t the only one with secrets when a ship makes its way to port, carrying within it a deadly disease and a mysterious seafarer, William Hooke (Matthew Holmes). Hooke isn’t merely passing through Salem; he’s desperate to retrieve and deliver a piece of cargo from the ship—something very valuable. So much so, he’s willing to ignore Mary’s orders forbidding him to go on board to reclaim it. Making matters worse is Alden’s history with Hooke; in a surprising twist, we learn of Alden’s not so noble past. Despite showing himself to be astute and every bit the “war hero” in the town’s eyes, Alden is nothing short of being a murderer, if you take what Hooke says to be absolute truth.
Alden: “You know what happened that day.”
Hooke: “Yes. I watched you spill innocent blood without regret or remorse. Men, slaughtered like animals, all of them dead.”
Alden: “Not all of them.”
This is a great turning point because it gives Alden flaws, humanizing him, thus making him more relatable. War is hell and despite all the grief he gives Mary for marrying George Sibley (Michael Mulheren), a Selectman (a modern equivalent of a councilman who serves on the governing board), Alden has his share of demons, which is a nice touch.
As if learning about Alden’s past isn’t surprising enough, John’s course of actions in protecting Mary and his secret lead him to take a life with his bare hands, literally. It’s somewhat shocking to see such brutality from John. This becomes a critical moment when Alden learns what Hooke is carrying on his way to Salem—a strange, engraved wooden cube. It looks a lot like Lemarchand’s Box, the puzzle cube from the movie Hellraiser. No information is given about what it is, but Alden is smart enough to keep the cube a secret to himself, for now.
The Exorcism of Mercy
Poor Mercy (Elise Eberle), the girl can’t catch a break in Salem as her behavior continues to worsen. Resorting to extreme measures, her father finally performs an exorcism where he literally cuts into her flesh and watches a snake escape through her navel. Considering how vital animals are in Salem, it’s safe to conclude Mary’s power over Mercy will diminish without the snake. It’s great to see another side of Mercy and by the end of “Survivors,” the control Mary once had over her falters, leading to one hell of a revelation when the battle lines are drawn. In fact, after this latest episode, she may be the series’ dark horse, and the ruin of many key players.
I really enjoyed watching “Survivors.” It feels like Salem is making some great strides in the right direction. The pacing between the plot and action match well, and there is more direction toward the secondary characters, like Mercy and Alden. Even though he is a core character, there has been little to no information about Alden’s life before returning to Salem. I appreciate the little nuggets of information; for example, Mary’s last name before marrying George Sibley was Wolcott. It was also nice hearing about Alden and Mary’s relationship in a different context from someone not born in Salem. There’s a lot of talk about Alden and Mary’s big love story but there’s nothing to really show for it until now. It isn’t a very long scene, but watching Mary and Alden exchange words of their former lives is bittersweet. It’s enough to make you forget Mary is the villain.
One of the greatest assets of Salem is the capability for the entire cast to portray their characters in a way that isn’t cut and dry. Montgomery has a very special charisma when she’s onscreen; it’s hard to decipher but somehow she gets away with being sympathetic enough—via her backstory with her baby—that you can’t really hate her for taking out the town that made her life miserable. Then there’s Eberle, who week after week, shows us her major acting chops, from contorting in the throes of full possession to the subtle moments where she’s soft spoken and crying.
Overall, ”Survivors” is a strong episode that does not disappoint when the disorder within the coven is nearing critical mass. With the grand rite fast approaching, it’s anyone’s pick for who will be collateral fallout.
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.
Photos: ©2014 WGN America. All Rights Reserved.
© 2014, Connie Allen. All rights reserved.
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