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Apr 29 2014

Salem – “The Stone Child” Retrospective. Whoa, Mama!

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Season 1, Episode 2

Airdate: Sunday, April 20, 2014, 10/9c on WGN America

Rating:

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

”I have no need to pluck a single leaf from the Tree of Life when the leaf is already dead on the branch.”  Mary

 Magistrate Hale (Xander Berkeley), Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) discuss Salem's witch panic.

Magistrate Hale (Xander Berkeley) and Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) discuss Salem’s future

In the wake of all the death and blood depicted in WGN America’s series premiere of Salem, it’s safe to say nothing much has changed in this week’s latest episode, “The Stone Child.” As the citizens of Salem continue to struggle against the dismal conditions of their times, they must also contend with the beginnings of a massive witch hunt. As Mary’s (Janet Montgomery) plans to carry through her revenge make way, John Alden (Shane West), her old flame, is on his own mission following the death of a beloved family friend, Giles Corey (Kevin Tighe). And, in the most surprising partnership, Alden finds himself working alongside Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel) – the religious bible thumper with his own inner demons.

“The Stone Child” isn’t as visually provocative as the pilot episode“The Vow.” Sure, there’s still an ample amount of gore, and the costumes are as sexy as ever. Yet, this week’s episode doesn’t have as many shocking moments, which, unfortunately, shines a spotlight on some of the series’ flaws. But more on that later.

There’s Something About Mary

Some of the problems with Salem revolve around its inconsistency and proper pace. The exception seems to be Mary. Aside from being a leading character, she’s the most developed in that we see clearly her motivation and her history. “The Stone Child” is another opportunity for Mary to cause havoc and death. This time, she focuses on Bridget Bishop (Antonia Prebble), the midwife whose independent thinking about women’s health makes her prime pickings as a witch. It doesn’t hurt either that Bishop is close friends with Anne Hale (Tamzin Merchant), who is being set up as Mary’s romantic rival for John’s love. Yes, Salem is going with a love triangle.

Mary: “Just think, George. I need only kill nine more innocents before full Hunter’s Moon and my grand rite will be complete.”

Still, it’s interesting to see how determined Mary is to complete “the grand rite,” where innocent blood must be shed. Last week in “The Vow” Mary’s reflection in the mirror shows she is a foul hag. So the question is, is that her new form or is her present one (as a young woman) an illusion? And, will Mary suffer grave consequences if she does not fulfill the ritual? “The Stone Child” never clarifies what all the sacrifices and orgies will accomplish, apart from serving as an offering to the devil.

John (Shane West) pays Mary (Janet Montgomery) a night time visit proving there's a thin line between love and hate.

John (Shane West) pays Mary (Janet Montgomery) a night time visit proving there’s a thin line between love and hate.

What fascinates me is how intact Mary’s sense of humanity is whenever she’s near John. I’m beginning to suspect Tituba’s (Ashley Madekwe) incantations are doing more than summoning hellfire orgies. It’s possible Mary is as much under Tituba’s spell as the town is with Mary. Oh, and the exchange of looks between Tituba and John in their first real scene together speaks volumes as Mary is literally positioned slightly in the middle between them. It has to be noted how spot on the chemistry is between Montgomery and West. It’s emotionally confusing and somewhat depressing because the lengths Mary goes to in order to maintain her power in Salem will inevitably cost her John. Or will it? Is Mary a redeemable character? That will depend on how much we learn about the cast of characters.

Not Quite Rosemary’s Baby

The trouble with birthing babies in the 17th century is a matter of life and death. We witness several young women in the throes of painful labor in some of the most cringe worthy scenes in “The Stone Child.” The parallels between their suffering and Mary’s memories of losing her child are clear. It makes you wonder what events led Mary to trust Tituba when she could have found a way to live through it. Then again, does Mary have any living family in the whole colony? So many questions, yet no signs of an answer anytime soon.

The episode reaches its climatic moment when Bishop fails to deliver a baby, which turns out to look like a “monstrous birth,” and is then accused of being a witch. Making matters worse, Mercy (Elise Eberle)—the girl possessed in “The Vow”— is tied to a cross inside the town’s church as a means to protect her and the people around her. Cotton uses Mercy’s paranormal ability to detect a witch to figure out if Bishop is being truthful. Considering Mary’s mission to spill innocent blood to satisfy the grand rite, this doesn’t bode well for her despite John’s interference to help. It’s a lose-lose situation and it gets pretty bloody before Bishop finds herself headed for the gallows.

This is a turning point in “The Stone Child” because it shows John isn’t going away, and despite Mary’s attempts to get him to leave town, there’s going to be an all-out war between the two of them.

Memorable Moments

  • Cotton and John working together to uncover the real witches of Salem is a nice touch that brings much needed humor to the episode.
  • It’s hard to deny the sexual tension between John and Mary, even though everything that’s happened since he’s returned will mean nothing but heartbreak.
  • Mercy. Although she was nearly absent this week, when she does appear, she makes a major impression. The Exorcist has nothing on this Salem girl.

Overall

John Alden (Shane West) is a man on a mission.

John Alden (Shane West) is a man on a mission.

Salem’s “The Stone Child” is another mixed bag. When it is good, it’s crazy good. When it is bad, it is glaringly so. The best element of Salem thus far is the cast’s ability to deliver solid and committed performances, along with the set design. The entire production provides the perfect gloomy atmosphere for the series. The subject matter of Salem’s infamous history told through the lens of a horror story is great. One of the main issues in Salem is the pacing. A lot of action happens, which, in many scenes, serves as nothing more than a distraction. Then, when the story slows down enough to reveal its characters, the dialogue comes across as too ambiguous which doesn’t really develop the important storylines. Tituba is one of the biggest catalysts for Salem, yet she is hardly seen in “The Stone Child.” We know nothing of her history with Mary, how she got to Salem, and what her motives are in her manipulation of Mary. If the writers are holding back her story for later use, that’s ok. However, don’t assign her such a pivotal role and then make her some vague secondary character.

Yes, there has been only two episodes but if Salem is going to move so quickly, it needs to provide more context. One of the best examples is when Anne Hale barges into a tavern one night to speak with John. The woman is thirsty for a tall glass of whatever that man is serving, which is distracting enough, but when you pair it with her attempts to be assertive, the scene falls a little flat. Merchant is a great actress but something about her portrayal of Anne makes her appear so much younger, it’s difficult to take her seriously. So, when Anne questions John’s strength of character, and he responds, “You remind me of someone I used to know…” we know he’s referring to Mary. However, when did we ever see such a side to her in “The Vow?” It’s a sore reminder to viewers that we don’t know John and Mary very well.

On the positive note, “The Stone Child” does a great job of giving us more insight into Mary’s feelings about her pregnancy, something necessary for viewers to reconnect with her. Then, there are the private moments between John and Mary that work perfectly, and make the love triangle a lot more tolerable. Finally, as much as I don’t like spooky dolls, the final scene with Mary’s voodoo making skills is a nice little cliffhanger.

What did you think of the episode? Is Salem keeping you hooked?  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.

 

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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