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“SALEM: Season 2, Episode 3” (TV Review)

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With the third episode in the second season of SALEM, the narrative of the series is now running full steam ahead, with character development jumping leaps and bounds in directions we may not have necessarily expected. Such boldness is nothing new for the horror series, which often revels in unpredictability and misdirection, but rarely does a TV series add subversion on so many layers as the show begins to mix it’s trademark brand of edgy melodrama with in-story politics. And while those dynamics definitely make this episode, entitled “From Within,” a less action-packed affair than the previous two episodes, it certainly is equally as compelling.

In terms of those leaps and bounds, one can merely look at some of the riskier character moves that the series is taking this early into the season. For instance, Mercy Lewis’ plot for revenge is looking to take the path less traveled, with Mercy’s scarred flesh looking to stay for longer than one might expect. Likewise, the return of George Sibley in full form was a shock as well, especially considering his reluctant partnership with the woman who has been keeping him a silent prisoner for so long. And both the storylines of Dr. Wainwright, who might be SALEM’s equivalent of Victor Frankenstein, and Isaac, who this writer suspects might eventually become his creature, are definitely being pushed beyond expectations.

On the other side of the episode, there’s a slower yet necessary pair of subplots also help push the story of Mary Sibley along, and, surprisingly, further her descent into vulnerability. The first would be that of John Alden’s hunt for Mary, which leads him to one of Mary’s male witches and a pair of sequences that emphasize just how gruesome the series can be. The second would be Mary’s political prize fight against the sexist yet popular Hathorne, which risks the power dynamic in SALEM and continues to set up Hawthorne as the non-witch villain for season two. Both sub-plots may not be the most engaging of the episode, but in their appearance, this writer sees a pattern: despite being advertised as “Witch War”, it appears as if Mary Sibley is more so making enemies on every side, between Countess Marburg, Alden, Mercy and Hathorne all positing themselves as worthy foes.

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Outside of the stellar writing on this week’s episode, credit should also be given to the make-up and practical SFX, which will likely be a force to be reckoned with in 2015’s Chainsaw Awards. Of course, Mary and Tituba’s power play against John Alden’s tortured informant proved to be one of the most gutwrenching moments of the season, while a child’s water-vomiting scene might go for the hour’s most queasiest moment. There was also a top notch impaling against a potential rapist that was pulled off with equal parts spectacle and shock, and also hints at how powerful Anne Hale truly may be. But there’s no SFX in “From Within” stronger than Mercy’s charred visage, offering one of the most consistently strong and effective images on the show to date.

Once again, SALEM benefits from its ensemble cast, with certain cast members flourishing more than ever before in this season. Certainly, Stuart Townsend, Ashley Madekwe and Jeremy Crutchley offer a greater emotional and physical insight to their characters this week, especially when working off someone as effortlessly ingratiated into their role as Janet Montgomery. Elise Eberle, Tamzin Merchant and Michael Mulharen deliver intense performances, while Sammi Hanretty, Shane West and Seth Gabel all do solid work with supporting fare this week. Perhaps the only missing piece of this week’s performance puzzle would be Lucy Lawless, whose brief and near-silent appearance at the end of this week’s episode felt somewhat shoehorned and out of place, especially considering the despicable place at which her character was left at the end of “Blood Kiss.”

On one hand, SALEM is very much so a show rooted in pulp and exaggeration, but on the other hand, the series’ attempts at being edgy and genuinely scary are more effective and less desperate in nature, thus allowing said pulp to grow organically. Week by week, this writer is becoming more impressed by how well the show balances its thematic material and storytelling prowess, especially as the cast and storylines begin to build. And as a horror show, the program’s devotion to practical SFX whenever possible certainly appeals to this writer’s tastes, and the increasingly gory nature of said SFX make for a more fulfilling experience in seeing just how they’ll top the week before.

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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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