“SALEM: Season 2, Episode 11” (TV Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
One of the things this writer respects the most about SALEM is that, despite maintaining an excellent serialized narrative and visual continuity, every episode takes on a different shape based on its individual storyteller. Luckily, one of season two’s constant directorial presences, Nick Copus, has proven his episodic contributions to be among the more intense and scary offerings in the series’ history. And with Copus’ most recent (and last) episode this season, “On Earth As In Hell,” SALEM ups the fright factor by tenfold while still offer the same satisfying shocks as the shows fans have come to expect.
“On Earth As In Hell” takes place immediately after the events of last week’s episode, with Mary facing the wrath of her puritan townsfolk and Magistrate Hathorne while John and Cotton begin their exorcism of John Jr. Meanwhile, Marburg and Sebastian plan their next move against Mary and John to recapture their child, with Anne Hale caught in the middle of the witch war. And the episode even gives a fair amount of time to Isaac, who publicly decries the town among their many hypocrisies. It’s a fairly simple episode that covers fairly little ground, but each of the moments provided resonated in a captivating, emotional way unseen on most horror television.
However, the horrifying highlight of this chapter of SALEM is the exorcism sequence, a terrifying and engaging sequence that has yet to be rivaled in terms of pure, unadulterated horror so far this season. Although slightly derivative of- you guessed it- THE EXORCIST, the invasive cinematography, creepy writing and hallucinatory scares set this scene apart from any other wicked reveal that SALEM has had to offer, and genuinely puts the audience on the edge of their seat as our heroes are tested further and further by the demon. Not only is it top-notch horror, but it is stellar filmmaking as a whole that is more dread-inducing than most big screen genre fare, let alone horror television.
As much as credit is due for Nick Copus for his confident and chilling direction, equal compliments are due for the solid screenwriting from Joe Menosky and Adam Simon, who last teamed to write the excellent episode “Dead Birds.” While Simon usually offers a mischievous streak within his prose, this episode offers straightforward scares while also sneaking in some disturbing drama as well, the culmination of which offers both heartbreaking and jaw-dropping moments in equal measure. And while some of the characters underserved as of late are continued to be left out of the proceedings, including Tituba and Mercy, the stage setting aspects of SALEM’s second season feel all but set which gives all the developments from here on out the aura of danger.
“On Earth As In Hell” does, however, make the most of the stars who are on display, including some great, theatrical performances from some woefully sidelined characters this season. Of course, this episode is nearly completely stolen by Iddo Goldberg, whose grandiose and compelling showcase in this episode rivals that from the mind of Arthur Miller himself. Likewise, Oliver Bell, Joe Doyle and Jeremy Crutchley are given an excellent forum for their talents in this episode as well, which is a welcome change of pace. And the rest of the SALEM cast, including a voraciously villainous Lucy Lawless, an emotionally versatile Janet Montgomery, a shockingly vulnerable Shane West, a believably intense Seth Gabel (in full Max Von Sydow mode) and a eerily enigmatic Tamzin Merchant, are dependably in top form, disappearing within their fictional counterparts effortlessly.
Overall, “On Earth As In Hell” allows SALEM to do once again what other horror shows do so rarely: balance drama, scares, provocation and twists shock with effective results. There are few series that, in their ante-penultimate episode, still has the ability to shock and terrify their audience while still brilliantly handling their overarching narrative. And with the amount of close calls SALEM has thrown our way in these past several episodes, one can only imagine why- and how- SALEM will eventually start sending familiar faces into the great beyond. If the series keeps up this standard of quality until the very end, that bittersweet end might just be worth it from the jarring journey alone.