“SALEM: Season 2, Episode 13” (TV Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
As fright fans may be able to tell you, you can’t have the devil on Earth without expecting a little damnation. And damnation there was on SALEM’s second season finale, a relatively busy and brutal episode that spans only the short time since John Jr. became Lucifer’s vessel at the hand of Countess Marburg. While the repercussions of said damnation won’t be entirely clear until SALEM’s (presumed) third season, there’s enough death, and fates worse than death, in “The Witching Hour” to satiate even the most bloodthirsty SALEM fan, with accompanying practical effects to boot. And considering the thoughts and images that SALEM leaves us to contemplate over the next few months, no character is going to come back to season three untested as this chapter in the series had anything but happy endings.
However, just because SALEM’s second season didn’t have a happy ending doesn’t mean season three won’t have a promising beginning, as the series leaves off in a much more fascinating place than the season that came before it. Anne and Cotton’s storybook romance quickly swerved into nightmare territory, with Cotton finding himself in a state sadly familiar to powerful husbands in SALEM and Anne finding herself closer than ever to the corrupt, Lovecraftian witch she is likely destined to become. Meanwhile, Isaac’s new leadership position puts him face to face with the woman responsible for his true love’s death, Mercy Lewis, who reminds us that she is still a wild card even outside of Marburg’s good graces. And despite a knock-down, drag-out fistfight with the Countess, Mary Sibley found herself knocking on death’s door, seemingly sacrificing what is left of herself to resurrect her ill-fated lover, John Alden.
But then there’s the characters who seem to have little future in SALEM at all, especially considering John Jr.’s discontent with their treacherous behavior against Mary Sibley. On one hand, there’s Tituba, who suffers a terrible death in a superbly directed sequence that is much more Argento than Hitchcock; considering her somewhat inconsistent and lessened role this season, her death wasn’t the most surprising but was still shocking in execution. Then there’s Marburg, another not-so-surprising addition to the body count whose death is still all-the-more effective considering whose hand it comes from and how it’s delivered. That jaw-droppingly violent sequence, paired with the parallel scene with Marburg’s corpse (with impressive practical SFX taking a page out of LIFEFORCE’s textbook), makes the genre side of SALEM’s finale one of its strongest elements, and helps establish John Jr./The Devil as a terrifying force to be reckoned with for next season.
SALEM co-creator and writer Brannon Braga sat at the helm of “The Witching Hour,” which is likely why the finale balances so many tones and visual languages at once. Whether it’s the Italian horror influence of the bloodier sequences, the modern-esque epic witchery within Mary and Marburg’s stand-off, the more continuity-driven period drama with Mercy and Anne or the fantastic interludes with Marburg, Braga handily tackles a wealth of material while providing a satisfying cherry on top of a truly terrific season with his episode, all the while providing his own patient sense of suspense to the proceedings. The fact that SALEM still allows the narratives to build up and breathe is impressive enough, but to match that with the pressures of tying up loose endings and paying off a season of narrative threads is a rare task that Braga pulls off expertly.
While the cast has been perpetually incredible from the first episode of this season forward, this episode offered some of the strongest performances on the series to date. Janet Montgomery absolutely rules this week, with her emotional range working overtime to incredible effect, while Lucy Lawless and Oliver Bell both giving the SALEM vet a run for her money. Meanwhile, Seth Gabel, Tamzin Merchant, Joe Doyle, Iddo Goldberg and Elise Eberle all stand tall with stellar performances this week, while Shane West and Ashley Madekwe make the most of their limited screentime on this episode (a sad fact that ran throughout this season as a whole).
Even standing on its own terms, SALEM’s second season finale is a fitting end to a damn fine season, leaving blood and darkness in its wake with a respectable recklessness. At this point, this writer would be thrilled to see SALEM return for a third season, especially considering how much of a leap in consistent quality SALEM took from its already impressive first season. SALEM creators Adam Simon and Brannon Braga pulled no punches from “Cry Havoc” through “The Witching Hour,” and if this is just the second step down an even more wicked path, this writer will hope for many more witch wars to come. In fact, the only real disappointment is that more horror hounds haven’t jumped onto the SALEM bandwagon, as they’re missing out on a series that is as genuine to the genre it represents as it is consistently compelling. However, with seasons like this behind them, SALEM’s audience is only destined to become bigger- and more vocal- by the episode.