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Series / Salem

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Salem is a supernatural horror series, and the first original series to be produced by the Chicago-based channel WGN America. It premiered on April 20th, 2014.

After seven years at war fighting the French and their Native allies, John Alden returns to Massachusetts in 1692, where he finds his home town of Salem gripped by a witch panic led by his childhood rival, the fanatically devout preacher Cotton Mather. John attempts to rekindle a relationship with his pre-war lover Mary, only to discover that she has married the leader of the town, George Sibley. Unbeknownst to Alden, Mary has exerted a dark hold over her husband, and her control over the Puritans of Salem is growing ever stronger as she delves deeper into the forbidden arts of witchcraft.

The show is very loosely based on the historical Salem witch trials, with a major change: witches are real, and they're pulling the strings behind the scenes to get the Puritans to kill innocent people.

Salem contains examples of:

  • Age Lift: Massively done with John Alden. The real man was born in 1626/1627, which would make him around 66 years old at the time of the witch trials, while in the show he's played by Shane West, a man in his 30s.
  • And I Must Scream: In order for Mary Sibley to control her husband, she shoves a toad familiar down his throat, leaving him unable to speak and so weak that he can't even leave his chair.
    • In season 2, one of the Countess's favorite ways to kill people is by drowning her victim... from the inside out. And the water does not stop flowing even after the victim is dead.
    • In the season 2 finale, Cotton Mather is now the prison for Anne's familiar, the same way George Sibley was that of Mary's. Also, after the Countess' current body is killed by "Satan", Sebastian closes the lid on his mother's body instead of giving her a new one.
    • The series finale in the third season ends with Cotton in hell and he screams at the sight of it. This episode also has Mary temporarily switching bodies with the Countess's corpse.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: How season 2 ends, with John Alden waking up to find Mary's body beside him, after her having given the remainder of her blood to revive him.
  • The Antichrist: John, the child of John Alden and Mary Sibley becomes the vessel of Satan.
  • Anti-Hero: John Alden, a self-professed murderer. Cotton Mather also counts, holding the distinction of being the least hypocritical Puritan, or at least the best-intentioned one in the series.
  • Anti-Villain: Mary Sibley, a witch with Conflicting Loyalty between furthering the cause of her fellow witches, and trying to protect the people she loves.
  • Arranged Marriage: Anne's parents plan to marry her off to Cotton Mather. Incidentally, they start to fall for each other in season 2, neither aware of their parents' plans.
  • Artifact of Doom: The mallum.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Season one ends with the Essex hive and Mary Sibley successfully initiating the Grand Rite.
    • Season two ends with the Grand Rite completed, Little John baptized and the Devil raised from Hell by the Countess von Marburg not to mention the slew of dead or near dead main characters.
    • And Season three ends with Anne fully embracing her villainy, killing Isaac, Mercy, Magistrate Hale and finishing off the Countess permanently in order to take her place as the Devil's Bride. Plus killing the Devil himself so that she can repeat the Grand Rite, offering up Cotton's child as the Devil's future host. She renders Tituba blind and mute and transports her to a slave-ship and further servitude. Cotton ends up choosing to go to Hell, sacrificing himself to save the people of Salem, only for Anne to start the witch hunts up again. The only bright spot is that she spares John and Mary, and they're able to leave Salem and try to make a new life together.
  • Bait the Dog: Increase Mather declares that Gloriana is not a witch and so she will not be tried; but since she is a prostitute she's hereby banished. He does it again after acquitting John Alden from the charge of witchcraft, instead sentencing him to death for treason.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Mary says this exactly to Mercy after recounting how she came to be George Sibley's wife. Namely, "the problem with becoming the Queen is that you have to marry the King."
  • Black Speech: What the Elders of the witches speak, though they seem to know English as well.
  • Blood from the Mouth: The poison used to take Mab out has this effect.
  • Blood Magic: This appears to be the basis of the "grand rite" the witches are planning, requiring the deaths of innocents condemned as witches. Apparently, the power of the spell a witch wants to cast correlates with how much blood has to be spilled.
  • Body Horror: Tons of it. Mary has an extra nipple on her leg, which she uses to feed her familiar (based on real beliefs that witches did this).
    • Mary corrupts a young woman's stillborn child to have a monstrous appearance when it emerges from her body with an unsettling splash as she's huddled in a corner.
    • In order to find out John Alden's secret through necromancy, William Hooke's face is pulled off his dead body and stretched over a frame. Then it talks. In season 2, Mary Sibley outright summons Increase Mather from hell.
    • In the season 2 premiere, Mercy makes slaves out of several men. As to how she does it? Let's just say that their peckers are a tad too literal now.
    • The season 2 finale has Tituba getting her eyes pecked out by crows.
  • Break the Cutie: Rose, one of the witch leaders, claims to have orchestrated Mary's path to becoming a witch with this trope in mind.
  • Broken Aesop: Witch trials are bad... except in this universe, Witches are real. Not identifying witches and stopping them means people die. This misses the entire point of witch trials.
  • Burn the Witch!: Averted; as in the actual witch trials, convicted witches are sentenced to hang, never to burn. Giles Corey is pressed to death (to coerce him into entering a plea), as he was in real life.
    • This is, however, the fate of the Barker family thanks to Increase Mather.
    • Hale says his entire family was burned at the stake, but Mary's response indicates this was in Europe, which is where it was historically used.
    • Mary has Salem's men do this to Mercy and her "coven". Only Mercy survives, though she doesn't go unscathed.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Anne expresses outrage at her father's duties involving the witch hunt, particularly killing people only presumed guilty. John Alden lives for this trope, though he doesn't do it to his father (who's died by this point).
  • Camera Abuse: The camera lens is splattered with blood in "Children, Be Afraid," when Mercy's coven tears Henry Hopkins apart.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Anne has one at the beginning of "In Vain".
  • Chekhov's Army: In the season 2 finale, Mercy's slaves from back in the season premiere return to drive Isaac away from her victim.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Averted. Almost everyone in Salem is a fiercely devout Protestant, and Mercy's father performs an exorcism in secret because he knows he will be prosecuted for performing such a Catholic ritual.
  • Control Freak: Mary herself although she is partly controlled by Tituba who encourages Mary's megalomania, if for no other reason than as long as Mary is powerful then she is safe. Tituba herself is a Control Freak in this regard.
    • This also goes for Sibley himself, making his initial impotent state of And I Must Scream particularly karmic.
    • Anne and Mercy eventually become psychotic megalomaniacs as time goes on.
    • Cotton Mather as well, albeit to a lesser extent than his father.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: It would appear losing her innocence is the only way Anne can learn to control her innate powers. Mary has her drown a kitten in a well to complete her first spell. As the series progresses, she thinks less of killing other creatures, especially when she realizes she can spill her familiar's blood endlessly without worrying about it disappearing.
  • Costume Porn: Just look at Mary's wardrobe.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: George Sibley tries to get a message out indicating that his wife is a witch... by stabbing himself in the thigh and writing on a small piece of paper with his blood. Too bad he gets caught with it anyway.
  • Crapsack World: Salem is not a nice place by any means.
  • Creepy Doll: The poppet Mary puts in Anne's room.
  • Deal with the Devil: This is the source of the witches' powers, in line with the traditional view of things.
  • Mother Nature: The Essex Hive were originally a pagan cult that surrounding the worship of nature and trees. They worshiped a vague representation of Mother Nature as they repeatedly referred the earth as "she" or "her".
    • At the beginning of season 2, John Alden makes something like this in his desire to kill all the witches.
  • Devoted to You: John Alden and Sebastian von Marburg (And arguably Dr. Wainwright) to Mary.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Rose claims that she has seen and manipulated everything that has happened, including Mary killing Mercy. Turns out Mary turned Mercy into a witch, and Mercy then swiftly beheads Rose.
  • The Dog Bites Back: George Sibley had Issac whipped and branded him as a fornicator. Years later he begs Issac to help him. This trope is lampshaded by both of them, and encouraged by John Alden. While torn over it, Issac ultimately tells Increase Mather when he suspects that something happened, and Sibley is rescued.
  • The Dragon: After Mercy frees herself from Mary's control, she decides to join the witches. She later assumes this role to Mary.
    • The Starscream: By the season finale, Mercy now plans to take Mary down.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: The inner dynamics of the coven are quite a complex matter. Mary seems to be their quasi-leader, but everyone from the elders to Tituba and Hale are beginning to doubt her effectiveness after John Alden returns to Salem. And Mary herself, their Dragon, has her own ideas about how things should be run.
  • Ear Ache: John Alden shoots off part of the magistrate's left ear before he and Isaac escape from having witnessed the witches performing a ritual.
  • Eternally Pearly-White Teeth: Averted. Mercy's friends/followers are young enough to still have their natural teeth, but they're gnarly as hell.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Anne is the apple of her father's eye-his cold-blooded, murderous, eye. He even gives her an amulet that has anti-witch magic to protect her from members of his coven, though she just thinks it's a pretty necklace.
  • Exact Words:
    • In "Ashes, Ashes", Increase promises Mercy's girls that if they testify against Alden they'll be spared the fires. After they do, he has them all hanged and tells them they have been spared "the flames of this world and the next."
    • In "Night's Black Agents", when Cotton has run away from Salem, Tituba tells him that if he doesn't go back, his child will die. Of course, Tituba never specified that it was his child with Anne...
  • Face–Heel Turn: After the Countess threatens Cotton's life, Anne decides to help her.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: True to life, Giles Corey merely says "More stones" when being pressed to death.
  • Familiar: Discussed by John and Cotton Mather—later shown to be the case with Mary, who stores her toad familiar down her husband's throat, preventing him from speaking. Mercy Lewis' is a snake put in her stomach.
    • Tituba's is a spider. Meanwhile, Anne Hale's is a little mouse.
  • Fairytale: In sharing her life's story to Mercy, Mary retells it as a fairy tale, with herself as Queen of Night, John Alden as a prince, and Tituba as a fairy that grants her all the world in exchange for her heart.
  • Fiery Redhead: Anne Hale, one of the few people to speak out against the witch hunt.
  • Foreshadowing : When Tituba talks about the threat to Cotton Mather's unborn child in an attempt to make him go back to Salem, she says "I can see its little heart beating!" This immediately tips the viewers that something is off, since Cotton and Anne have barely been having sex long enough for Anne to even conceive, let alone be far along enough that the baby would have a heartbeat. Sure enough, it turns out in "Wednesday's Child" that Tituba was being economical with the truth, and Gloriana, Cotton's old lover, is the one that's several months pregnant with his baby.
  • Friendly Enemy: Alden and Mather pretty much hate each other, but they make a rather effective team when it comes to hunting down witches.
  • Gray-and-Gray Morality: The conflict is of dark witches versus brutal witch-hunters. This could even be Evil Versus Evil, with innocent people such as Bridget Bishop and Giles Corey caught between the "grand rite" of the witches and the zealousness of the witch hunters.
    • John lampshades this in his last conversation with Cotton.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Nastily averted by Mary, who up to that point seemed quite the good girl. The slave Tituba not only uses magic to abort her child, but apparently it's sacrificed to the Devil as the beginning of Mary's slide into evil.
    • It's later revealed her child is still alive... raised by the coven.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Cotton Mather to Gloriana, and later to Anne Hale.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Cotton realizes he's doing this in time to check it. Increase crossed it a long time ago.
  • Historical Domain Character: Most of the main cast:
    • Cotton Mather, a very influential Puritan minister who is shown taking a direct role in hunting witches by the show (whereas in Real Life he did not attend any of the trials although witnessing two hangings, while his writings have been alleged to be the source of the witch panic).
    • His father Increase Mather also gets portrayed as a directly involved witch hunter, while in actuality he merely attended one of the trials.
    • Tituba, a slave woman who was among those accused of witchcraft, gets portrayed as a ''real'' witch. In reality there's speculation that she may have inadvertently helped instigate the affair by dabbling in occult rituals at the insistence of her master's daughter, who panicked along with her friends when they were caught, accusing people left and right.
    • The real John Alden did none of the things he's portrayed as doing, and he was in his sixties by then. In fact, Alden was among those accused, but fled town, returning when the witch trials had ended, at which point he was cleared by acclamation.
    • Giles Corey was married in real life and his wife was also tried for witchcraft, but overall his depiction in the show is perhaps the most true to history in the brief time he appears in the series. He is executed by pressing, and cries out "More Weight!" before dying, as he famously did in real life.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Increase Mather is portrayed as a brutal witch hunter. He was not. In reality, though he did believe in witches and that they should be punished (like most Puritans then) he also said it would be better for ten to go free rather than having a single innocent person hanged-in the wake of the Salem trials.
  • Hollywood Costuming: And how. Mary's outfits in particular resemble Renaissance Faire gear than anything worn in 1690s Salem Village. Note also the many, many adult women (even "respectable" women) running around with their hair down.
  • Hollywood Exorcism: Mercy's father gives her one, though it doesn't have the usual "The Power of Christ compels you!" bit. Notably it includes making a cut on her stomach, and then a snake slithers out. It actually worked.
  • Hot Witch: Mary and Tituba. Anne Hale is more of a Cute Witch.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Mercy intended to eat Isaac bit by bit so she could control his soul in one of her schemes to revenge herself on Mary Sibley.
    • his is also how George Sibley's body is disposed of by Sebastian. He ends up in the bellies of Salem's elite.
  • Interrogating the Dead: Tituba calls up William Hooke's soul by necromancy to find out John Alden's secret, channeling it through his dead face. Later, Mary Sibley raises up Increase Mather with this in mind.
  • It Only Works Once: For some reason, after Mercy's snake familiar is exorcised from her, she's now capable of staying in control of herself after Mary Sibley tries to put it back.
  • Love Triangle: Mary Sibley and Anne Hale both have feelings for John Alden. It gets downplayed later in the season as Anne has her own witch powers to come to terms with.
    • Season 2 has Anne Hale, Cotton Mather, and Hawthorne.
    • Mary/Sebastian/Wainwright may count as well. However, Mary, despite sleeping with Wainwright, only considers him a friend and ally, constantly rebuffs Sebastian, and cannot fully let go of John Alden.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Anne Hale is the long lost daughter of Countess von Marburg and the last of the true witches.
  • Marital Rape License: Mary claims that George Sibley did this to her. The flashbacks we see appear to confirm it.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: Mary's reflection is that of an old hag, one she claims represents the state of her soul.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Petrus the Blind Seer has a stuffed Pogona lizard (a bearded dragon) as one of his familiars. The Pogona is from the deserts of Australia, a place that wouldn't be discovered by Europeans for at least another 80 years.
  • Morality Pet: Isaac for Mary.
  • Mr. Fanservice: John Alden with no shirt, sweaty from chopping wood.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Mary. Also Tituba, who is supposed to be posing as Mary's servant.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Thanks to her new Seer powers, Tituba gets a glimpse of the future now that the Devil is on Earth - namely to the end of the world. Horrified at what she and the Essex withces have caused, she immediately tries to avert this disaster.
  • No Dead Body Poops: Averted when a young midwife is hanged after being accused of witchcraft. When she finally succumbs to the noose, the camera explicitly shows her urinating at the moment of death.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: When asked what the witches want, Cotton Mather replies "The same thing we want. A country of their own."
  • Oblivious to Love: John Alden is unaware of Anne Hale's feelings for him, and he doesn't trust that Mary Sibley still cares for him no matter how many times she risks herself to protect him from the witches.
  • Off With Her Head!: While Rose is gloating about her foresight to Mary, Mercy comes out of nowhere and decapitates her with a razor.
  • Parental Incest: Implied to be going on between Mercy and her father. It's one of the reasons she does what she does to the men in Salem.
    • Also implied to be going on between the Countess von Marburg and her son Sebastian. His comments to Mary about surrendering while protecting your true self hint at his feelings towards the relationship
    • One of the first hints that Little John isn't entirely normal come when he plants a kiss on his mother
  • Pet the Dog: As of the latter part of season 2, Isaac is now recognized as a "truth-teller," and is no longer called a fornicator. He is given his title by the magistrate himself, in front of the people of Salem.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Tituba suspects Mary's decision to invade John Alden's dreams to be this, since she repeatedly used them to have dream-sex with him. Although she loses control at one point and gets briefly trapped in a nightmare, she succeeds not only at extracting the information she needed from John, but as a side effect, it makes him lust after every woman he passes by.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: After Mary is stripped of her powers by the Devil in Season 3, she hallucinates Rebecca Nurse, a woman whose death she brought about by a false accusation of witchcraft, who confronts her with this crime. Mary tries to protest, saying she had no choice, but Rebecca retorts that she always had a choice. Of course, this is all a hallucination brought about by the Sentinel, who encourages Mary to commit suicide - only to have her turn the tables and call him out in turn, pointing out his own lack of choice and obedience to the Devi.
  • Retargeted Lust: When Mary starts to invade John's dreams, it reignites his passion for her. To try to stave off those feelings, John goes to the whorehouse and hires five separate whores.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Gloriana, a sex worker whom Cotton Mather is apparently in love with.
  • Shaming the Mob: Cotton Mather successfully gets a mob to refrain from killing a family suspected of witchcraft. He's a zealous witch hunter, but he does believe suspects have the right to a fair trial and to face their accusers.
    • Isaac has his moment in season 2, loudly decrying the hypocrisies of Salem's citizens.
  • Shout-Out: Anne Hale names her rat-familiar Brown Jenkins.
  • Spanner in the Works: John Alden's mere presence in Salem is screwing up the witches' preparations for their Grand Rite. Increase Mather later becomes this as he basically appoints himself the inquisitor of Salem.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Anne's a witch too.
  • Tonight, Someone Dies: Played straight for the first two episodes, the third being the first to subvert this.
    • Exaggerated in the season finale. Casualties include Anne's parents, Increase Mather, Isaac (the mallum's first victim), and possibly John Alden. The latter two are revealed to have survived—barely—as of the season 2 premiere.
    • The season 2 finale has a decent body count as well, including the Countess (well, her current body, at least). At the beginning of the episode, John is confirmed dead, but Mary brings him back, possibly at the cost of her own life. The episode ends with John waking to find Mary's body beside him.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Mary Sibley still has feelings for John Alden, and is torn between her allegiance to the witches' cause and said feelings. Anne appears to have a budding crush on him as well.
  • Visual Pun: George Sibley literally has a frog in his throat.
  • Voodoo Doll: Mary makes a poppet and plants it in Anne's room. She later uses it to threaten Anne's life to gain leverage over the magistrate and make him follow her order.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Cotton Mather, arguably. He's brutal and overzealous in his effort to hunt down witches, but they do exist, while everything he says about them appears to be true. However, he's also being tricked by them into condemning innocents. For what it's worth, his partnership with John Alden is starting to point him in the right direction.
    • Cotton's father Increase is even worse. Though he has a better intuition than his son, he's also much more ruthless. His attitude seems to be "Kill everyone accused of witchcraft, and God will judge who's guilty or innocent."
    • Anne Hale, after learning of her heritage as a witch, fully embraces her powers, believing that she can use them for good. She still holds to that belief despite betraying Mary and imposing her powers over her own husband Cotton.
  • Witch Hunt: Obviously. Though Mary claims she's manipulating it to kill the actual Puritans, in order to make the sacrifices necessary for the Grand Rite.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Mary pulls an impressive one on Cotton, prompting him to mortally wound his father.


Mary in the Pillory

Salem S2E11

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