“SALEM: Season 2, Episode 2” (TV Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
For all the brutality and bloodshed on display, this writer sometimes forgets just how fantastical SALEM (and, to be honest, witchcraft in general) can be at times. While the show is very much steeped in horror, the higher concept magic and SFX always seem to immerse this writer deeper into the show’s universe in a way other horror shows seldom can. And doing so, it’s also a reminder that the heightened performances, dream logic and stylistic flourishes are all what make the show so entertaining, especially when matched with strong writing to boot.
Of course, SALEM’s second episode, entitled “Blood Kiss”, does not skimp on its visceral side either, including a horrifying opening scene in which Mercy meets the repercussions of her actions in “Cry Havoc” and we get to see a more sadistic side to the yet-unnamed child of Mary Sibley. In fact, this episode might hold one of the series’ highest body counts, with ramifications from both the witch war and the destructive Grand Rite pox laying waste to dozens upon dozens. And “Blood Kiss” also allows fans to know Countess Marburg a bit better with a duo of creepy sequences, including a nightmarish conversation with Anne Hale in which the episode finds its name.
But as mentioned before, this episode of SALEM also feels a bit lighter thanks to its focus on the fantastic and surreal. Mary’s preparations for the next step of the Grand Rite is much more magical than it is sacrificial, while Anne Hale’s scenes are definitely strong enough to make this writer excited for her direction on the show. John Alden also finds help through Mary’s mystical aid from “Cry Havoc”, with hints that their friendship will either be completely deceptive or somewhat symbiotic in the future. Hell, even Mercy’s gruesome storyline has a Sam Raimi-esque nature (and grisly payoff) that will make those who enjoy the darker arts in the show revel in what’s to come.
“Blood Kiss” is a properly solid follow-up to “Cry Havoc”, with violence, witchcraft, and some excellent and near unpredictable writing once again elevating expectations for the show. Brannon Braga and Adam Simon have proven themselves trustworthy in their path for the show, especially in the case of Sibley’s increasing vulnerability as well as Marburg’s hedonistic and incestuous lifestyle. For a show that like to play with the taboo, SALEM is certainly exploring new territory by the episode with said content, and doing so within a terrifying and gorgeous framework. And the episode also carries a strong visual style thanks to guest director Allan Arkush, who provides an old-school mentality to execute both the practical and digital effects nearly seamlessly.
The performances in this week’s episode of SALEM is also equally as impressive, especially as we get more to explore with Tamzin Merchant and Lucy Lawless, who both deliver big this week in their own respective ways. Furthermore, Ashley Madekwe and Iddo Goldberg get more to do in “Blood Kiss” than in “Cry Havoc”, which is a bonus considering “Cry Havoc” MVP Elise Eberle is largely out of action this week. Meanwhile, Oliver Bell, Janet Montgomery, Joe Doyle and Seth Gabel are all on the top of their game, while Shane West does well in what little screen time he appears within “Blood Kiss.”
At this rate, SALEM is looking to keep its tone both diverse and disturbing, which seems to be a welcome change of pace from other soul-crushingly bleak horror series. Certainly, an injection of the fantastical as well as Allan Arkush’s sensibilities worked wonders for “Blood Kiss,” which only left hints of the show’s depraved side while rolling with the momentum of the jaw-dropping “Cry Havoc.” And the episode seems to be one that could win over hardcore horror fans, who may see the more violent and surreal content as a good entry point over the macabre melodrama that fuels the witch war.