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“SALEM: Season 2, Episode 1” (TV Review)

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To say that the first season of WGN America’s SALEM pushed boundaries with what could be done on a non-premium cable channel is certainly an understatement. Graphic nudity, insane violence and some top tier practical SFX paired with the living and breathing environment of SALEM made the show a simultaneously provocative and compelling horror series, and with each subsequent episode, the show seemed to raise the bar a little higher in terms of storytelling and controversial content. However, in the second season premiere of SALEM, entitled “Cry Havoc”, that bar is cleared and then some, offering some of the most shocking and intriguing moments on the series to date.

Of course, the series quickly catches the audience back up to speed, with so many characters now in different places: Mary Sibley juggles her responsibilities as a powerful witch, community leader and mother; John Alden embarks on his own personal vendetta; Cotton Mather finds himself banished from Salem; Anne Hale deals with the guilt of her parents’ demise; Tituba attempts to keep a thumb over Mary and Mercy deals with betrayal in her own sinister way. But there’s a greater danger on the horizon in SALEM, and the blood spilled in “Cry Havoc” is just the beginning.

For gorehounds, “Cry Havoc” will be an especially delightful episode, providing the series with a wealth of harrowing moments. Dismemberment (in the most literal fashion), plague-ridden bodies and brutal murder all appear in the episode, while there’s also a fair share of simply gross moments to go along with them, such as insects burrowing under skin and willing eye removals. But to fans of more restrained horror, there’s plenty of creepy atmosphere to go around, and Mary’s first face-to-face with Mercy ends in a rather unsettling fashion. But perhaps the most impressive macabre moment comes near the end of the episode, in which SALEM’s newest villain reveals her powers in a terrifying (and shockingly practical) fashion.

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SALEM itself also works greatly in this episode, with the pulpier melodrama balancing against the surreal elements with great ease. Nick Copus’ direction is steady and confident, using a patient hand to help craft the narrative as well as the SFX. Speaking of, Jack Lynch’s work on “Cry Havoc” is incredible, especially when Mercy implements a unique way of “possessing” a local in an absolutely jaw-dropping practical effect. And the show has never looked as beautiful or as epic as here, with SALEM truly feeling like an immersive, organic universe with a cinematic scope.

“Cry Havoc” also has the benefit of sporting an incredible cast, including two new cast members who make a strong first impression. Janet Montgomery, Seth Gabel, Tamzin Merchant and Shane West all do a great job in the premiere, while Ashley Madekwe and Iddo Goldberg also do well but are unfortunately limited in screen time. Lucy Lawless and Stuart Townsend impress in their inaugural episode, adding an element of mystique to their introductions that will surely lead to fascinating places throughout the season. But the MVP of “Cry Havoc” would be Elise Eberle, as she adds a whole new dimension to the oft-victimized Mercy that is as intriguing as it is intimidating.

Overall, SALEM comes out of the gate all-guns-blazing with “Cry Havoc”, which will work as narrative crash course for fans old and new as well as a terrifying tale on its own merits. With strong performances and strong SFX, SALEM is looking to get more intense as ever as it pushes the envelope and expands its mythology. If weird, wild and imaginative horror if your thing, accept no substitutes.

SALEM will be returning to WGN America this Sunday, April 5th at 10 p.m.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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