Oh, whatever. Just go with it.
Two things happened this week that are both rare and heavenly: Haley’s comet will make a pass-by to earth (no visuals, but there was a meteor shower!) and three of the TV Sluts managed to find ourselves in the same room at the same time. What did we do? Watch television, natch.
Damn, those are some good-looking tv bloggers. From left to right: Arsenic Pie, Maggie Cats, and Clovis.
Arsenic Pie, Maggie Cats and I all caught the first two episodes of Salem, WGN’s bloody and provocative new thriller set in Salem, Massachusetts during the infamous witch trials. How is it? Well, it ain’t your father’s Crucible, that’s for sure.
Salem covers the real history of the witch trials in only the broadest of strokes, something we should frankly expect from a show that takes one of the most poignant episodes of the real horrors of fear-mongering and suspicion in early American history and goes, “yeah, but sexy witches are totally more fun, right?”
Obviously the show places fast and loose with the facts, but fans of history and Arthur Miller will recognize some of the high points – In this incarnation, we see the events through the eyes of John Alden, a soldier who has recently returned to Salem after a long time as a POW in an Indian camp, to find Salem has become a hotbed of witchy activity. John Alden is not to be confused with John Proctor, the upstanding moralist in Arthur Miller’s play, but in real life is one of the contemporaries who wrote about the witch trials and thus how we know many details about that event. (Fun fact, he’s also my great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great-grandfather. True story.)
So who’s leading this sudden upsurge in witchery? Unbeknownst to everyone but us viewers, it is Mary Sibley, John’s former love who has married into wealth and power in his absence and apparently also developed a taste for witchcraft after having a magical abortion in the woods. Yes, you read that right – this show doesn’t just go there, it has a summer home there plus a timeshare with options on New Year’s. In the first two episodes alone we see Mary’s demon abortion, apparitions of an Old Hag attacking a teenage girl, a demon orgy in the woods that looked like something out of evil Burning Man, a frog that is repeatedly expelled and shoved back into a man’s body, and a broomstick appropriated to a use that is far from its traditional expectation.
Watching Salem is kind of like this.
In short, Salem is what American Horror Story: Coven should have been – utterly crazy, completely unafraid of gore and terror, and willing to go the extra mile to bring the squicky and the sexy into the same room with each other. I make no secret of how much I enjoy watching train wreck shows – for that reason alone, I’m going to keep up with this one. But what did the other TV Sluts think of it? Take it away, Ladies…
Will you all think less of me if I say that I liked Salem? I didn't like it in an "OMG this is so thought-provoking and riveting" way, but I liked it in more of an, "OMG. This is so awesomely ridiculous that I cannot look away" way.
Aside from the completely anachronistic "I call bullshit" line from our hero, John Alden, I was interested in how the show mixed fantasy with actual events. It's an interesting take to say, "No, there were legit witches in real actual Salem doing all kinds of bad in order to get rid of people they didn't like" instead of the intense Arthur Miller "Joe McCarthy is an asshole" theme. I think that we are more familiar with the latter, and with the teenage Abigail Williams as the primary accuser. I'm not actually sure which character in the show is supposed to correspond with which character in The Crucible and which character in The Crucible corresponds to real life. I will defer to Clovis on that point.
I am more familiar with the play (English major what) than I am with the actual people in Salem. The Crucible was Arthur Miller's own particular brand of fan fiction, and he took people from the real trials and put them in his play but I'm not really sure how that translates to historical fact. Giles Corey, a character on Salem, appears in the Miller play, as does Brigid Bishop, who I believe at least gets a mention. In the play, Mercy Lewis is just one of the little nasty Salem accuser girls and not the one who is "bewitched" and it's Betty Parris who becomes bewitched. So, I did like that they changed things around. The play does rather beat one over the head with its morality stick whereas the show is morally ambiguous. Also, there are a lot of gross-out moments on Salem, which, sadly, there is a deplorable lack of in The Crucible.
ANYWAY, Salem also diverges from The Crucible in that its protagonist and primary accuser is a grown-up LADY, Mary (forgot her last name). In The Crucible, obviously it is the teen bitch-whore Abigail Williams. Mary, the only inexplicably English and posh colonist in Salem, was a member of the poorz and a SCARLET WOMAN because she was having RELATIONS with John Alden and she became pregnant. Enter her BFF Tituba (who is never hot in The Crucible, but she's gotten a teevee makeover), who is a witch and she convinces Mary to give up her baby to the forest in exchange for what turns out to be social elevation. Mary ends up married to some really old man, but no fear. She totally keeps him under wraps BY SHOVING A MAGICAL FROG DOWN HIS THROAT to keep him quiet. Mary's entire agenda is to punish the swells of Salem for keeping her down all those years, and I am pretty sure she's hoping that the witchy folk can take over Salem and build like Hogwarts or something. Anyway, she's a horrible human being.
I think the most interesting character thus far is Anne Hale, who is the daughter of Reverend Hale. She is both UPPITY and FORWARD, and is not content to work on her sampler. Oh, no. Girl wants to hit on John Alden and draw photos in the graveyard. Shocking. I think there's a lot of growth potential for her character, but her arc is a bit predictable at this stage. Cotton Mather, who leads the witchcraft investigation (legit -- how was that ever a thing?), is kind of an idiot and a hypocrite at this point, albeit hot, so I would like to see some more development with his character. As for John Alden -- I don't know. He just kind of reminds me of Russell Crowe.
Survey says: I think I will keep up with it unless it completely jumps the rails. Well, I think it already sort of went off the rails, so if it goes off further into Dracula land, I may give up on it. It kind of reminds me of Sleepy Hollow in the sense that it's mixing historical events with fantasy while being aware that the show is kind of silly.
You guys. This show is crazy. And by that I mean crazy awesome. But seriously, it's also just crazy. The first two episodes alone fulfilled my "WTF" quota for probably the next 6 months. It's like somebody went into my brain and plucked out all the things I wished a show would be but was too embarrassed to admit, even to myself.
I went into Salem with no prior knowledge; I can't remember if we ever read The Crucible in my high school (we must have, right?) and I don't think I ever saw the movie with Winona. The actual Salem witch trials never really featured heavily in my interests, despite the fact that I was a History major with a semi-focus on early America. So I can't speak to the, ahem, historical accuracy of the events...though I am pretty certain that the Salem witches weren't real witches, so from my perspective the show can basically dowhatever the hell it wants. AND I LOVE IT.
Clovis described it as a train wreck, but I tend to disagree. Unlike American Horror Story, which basically throws every ridiculous plot device at the screen and sees if anything sticks, Salem unfolds in such a way that I think the writers know exactly what they are doing. The plot may be insane, but it doesn't feel random. Sure there's buckets of blood, sex, demons, and all the other good stuff, but it none of it feels out of place in the world the writers have created. And yet, it still manages to shock and surprise.
In short, Salem is not for the faint of heart. But if you enjoy the macabre, the surreal, and adult themes (i.e. sexy times!), and aren't squeamish, I think Salem might be the show for you. You know us TV Sluts will be watching.
Our impression of the banner at the top of the blog.
Salem airs on WGN America (check local listings for stations) on Sundays at 10:00pm EST.