“SALEM: Season 2, Episode 9” (TV Review)Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
It’s very rare that a horror show like SALEM can get this far into a season while remaining largely unpredictable. The series has expertly played its narrative cards, and with every direction you think they might go, they choose a less expected path in a way that is not only satisfying but organic to the characters on display. Hence, in their latest episode entitled “Wages of Sin”, SALEM once again pulls the rug out from under the audience, sending one major character to the pits of hell while dragging others through their figurative hells as well.
Surprisingly, SALEM does this while setting up the stage for a bigger showdown, thus covering the events of less than a single day throughout the episode while still doing enough to shock and intrigue its audience. Of course, some will relish the emotional reunion between Mary Sibley and John Alden, while others may be more intrigued by the game of manipulation from Sebastian and Countess Marburg on Mary. Meanwhile, SALEM’s power couple of Cotton and Anne seem to be facing dark fates, as Cotton is sent to a potential execution following Wainwright’s betrayal and Anne finds a horrifying consequence to her pure blood power.
In a way, “Wages of Sin” may be SALEM’s darkest episode so far this season, which says a lot for a show that indulges in subject matter such as cannibalism, castration and self-mutilation on a weekly basis. Mary’s legitimate emotional reaction to learning her son may be sacrificed is perhaps the most realistically desperate we’ve seen the character, while Anne’s encounter with the Devil may be the most twisted thing we’ve seen happen to her on SALEM yet (despite being handled surprisingly tastefully). And from there, SALEM only got darker, with Wainwright’s encounter with Sebastian being an inevitable but still horrifying scene and we also learned at the murderous lengths of Hathorne’s corruption as well.
Luckily, SALEM keeps the action quick and fun, for the most part, thanks to an excellent script from Al Septien & Turi Meyer as well as David Grossman’s capable direction. With the breakneck pace at which SALEM had to cover ground this week, Septien and Meyer found a way to raise the stakes tremendously while further play with the fragile alliances and boiling hatred in between characters. Meanwhile, Grossman delivered in wringing out some of the most intense performances on SALEM so far this season, all the while capturing the mischievous spirit that keeps the series so sensationally wicked every week.
“Wages of Sin” also gives its adept and talented cast many opportunities to shine. While Janet Montgomery’s performance is nothing short of selfless and powerful this week, the most refreshing turn in this episode might come from Shane West, who has seldom been given the opportunity to stretch his dramatic muscles this season Seth Gabel, Jeremy Crutchley, Joe Doyle and Stuart Townsend all turn in great performances as well, while Ashley Madekwe, Tamzin Merchant and the unfortunately underused Lucy Lawless also offer their unique feminine gravitas to the proceedings. And the episode also offers an excellent vocal performance from Xander Berkeley, returning for the first time since his character’s unfortunate demise last season.
Overall, “Wages of Sin” is yet another flat-out fantastic episode of SALEM, and while this episode might be lighter on the practical SFX that horror fans love, there’s still enough engaging storytelling and tension to keep the audience on the edge of their seat. SALEM is finally taking the pulpy elements in which the series took root and transforming it into genuine substance, which is all the more satisfying when the performances and technical aspects are so damn good. And although SALEM’s audience might have a smaller audience than, say, THE WALKING DEAD or AMERICAN HORROR STORY, the standard of quality on SALEM’s second run has been far more consistent than those two shows combined, and things are only looking to get nastier and more nightmarish before the season closes.