Salem Review: Demons, Sex and Regret

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Could the entirety of the Salem witch hunt have happened because of an overly long war and a scared pregnant girl? 

Okay...  that's a bit simplistic in comparison to what went down in Salem Season 1 Episode 1 - but it's as good as any other asinine theories out there about the Salem witch trials. It was pure crazy, so why not toss in a disturbing love story at the heart of it all?

There's a lot to enjoy about the Salem pilot. They didn't pull any punches with the fear factor, sex (or sensuality) and they're putting a completely different spin on the situation than ever before. People love what-if scenarios and the Salem witch trials are ripe with opportunities given there is so little closure on the entire event.

Cotton Mather was a real dude who had direct impact on the Salem witch trials. He laid their groundwork and it was because of him that spectral evidence (like the ghost demon Mercy saw in her room) was allowed at the trials and was used in convicting people (for a while, anyway).

In case you want to write him off as a loon, his other writings are widely agreed to be among the most important of his era, giving historians a look into the world at that time. Generally, Cotton didn't form an opinion one way or the other. He just wrote about what was happening. He seems like a fine character around which to form this story, don't you think? Who's to say he didn't see a witch hanging from the ceiling and just never wrote about it?

Many of the characters are based upon real people, but a lot of creative license is taken with them. Mercy Lewis was one of the afflicted and believed John Alden partly responsible for the death of her parents during the war. He was actually accused of witchcraft. Mary Sibley thought up a "witch cake" used to seek out witches (made of rye and accused witch urine; yummy!) and Tituba one of the first tried. 

John Hale was alive and well during 1692 and a Puritan pastor. Giles Corey? Accused of witchcraft, refused to admit or deny and was -- you guessed it -- pressed to death.

But this isn't historical fiction. It's based on history. The witch trials themselves were hogwash, so what was said in the court documents can't be taken as fact. When it comes down to it, Salem is a genre series made to compete against the same. It's horror (and horrific).

The stars are from shows that have had large cult followings and no doubt Salem is hoping to find one of their own. Working against them is the limited availability of WGN America and the inability of some people to just enjoy shows like Salem for the romp they are and not take them too seriously.

So what about stories of the series Salem?

The idea here is that witches and demons were in Salem long before the trials. Tituba (who has an accent that pops up when it damn well pleases, thank you very much) had been bumbling around Salem for a while before Mary needed her services to end a pregnancy.

A young, unwed pregnant girl in a Puritan town has to either face the wrath of the Puritans with their stocks and forehead branding or, apparently, sell their soul to the devil (who looks a lot like Moloch who later messed with Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow).

It's hard to blame her for her decision and the scene was freaky deaky! There is some weird sensual energy Tituba drums up when she's around Mary. Maybe that will be explained someday along with why she chose Mary to become so powerful when Tituba was already so powerful herself. Poof! The baby was gone with some not-so-holy water, semi-nudity and a gal's fingertips tracing her body from lips to belly with that water. Gasp!

Of course, Mary's lover John didn't die in the war. He was captured and he held onto his half of their silver "vow" coin with every intention of returning. Like Mary, I wonder why he was making money in New York City rather than sending her letters of his well-being, but I'm sure that's coming. 

Mary, having sold out to the devil, marries one of the town's influential Puritans (your fault John!) and enslaves him, taking his wealth and power for herself. I thought the scene where Mary forces her familiar (a toad) out of husband George Sibley's throat was wicked! That weird thing on her leg was supposed to signify a nipple. Hmmmm. It was a good chance for her to get as naked as is allowed on non-subscription pay TV.

Old frenemies, John and Cotton come to a sort of understanding about the witches. They're polar opposites, but perhaps not as much as Cotton would like to let on -- how about that sex scene?! Woah there! Cotton isn't the Puritanical preacher he's leading everyone to believe.

Cotton thinks witches want their own world. Turns out he's right. Mary intends to use the witch trials as a way for the Puritans to hunt and kill each other so that the witches can rule Salem. Mary is going to have to fight her love for John (since he had the audacity to return) as well as the John, Cotton and Isaac trio as they try to "out" the witches for what they really are. I think. 

Really? Who cares? Salem has everything I love in this type of genre programming -- hot guys, hot girls, sex, supernatural forces at work and scream-inducing oddities like the frog and Mercy biting off her fingertip (WTF?!). It also makes me run to my computer to discover the real history behind the event. Why wouldn't I want to watch this every week? I can't think of one reason. 

How about you? What did you think? Were you looking for a strict historical period piece (the costumes are grand, you have to admit) or did you come in with the right frame of mind (checking some of your brain at the door) and a desire to be entertained? Hit me up in the comments and let me know what you thought.

Grade the Salem premiere!


Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.0 / 5.0 (23 Votes)

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter and on Google+.


I was so pleasantly surprised by this show. This is how you do witches (take note AHS). I have always been infatuated with the Salem Witch Trials and this is a great take on it. Too many things in the past have focused on the hysteria of the trials, focusing on the fact of there actually being witches is AMAZING. I loved seeing the transformation of Mary from a scared little girl to an empowered woman drnk with power. I also loved seeing Shane West getting a chance to shine again after Nikita. This show has just the right amount of creep factor and I can't wait to see where it goes from here!

@ kandi1212

Someone called it AHS Lite, and I thought -- do witches actually walk around in black gowns with pointy hats like they did on AHS? That's what I call lite! Glad to have you on board. I can't wait to see what's next, either!!

@ Carissa Pavlica

AHS Lite!?!?! Wow they need to get a reality check on what witches are supposed to be. Don't get me wrong I love the idea of young witches being young witches an I was super excited for AHS to take on witches but I couldn't even make it through the season. This show is far more captivating. I am glad that I have this site to turn to to discuss it with people because I get the feeling I won't be able to convince anyone I know to watch it lol.

@ kandi1212

The last season of AHS was horrible in my opinion. Bad storytelling, bad shockfactor and horrible horrible pacing. So far this show hasn't done any of that :).
Maybe people will watch it when it has a few more episodes?


Well. I am not sure what to say. Did I like the supernatural elements? Yes I did. Was some of it just a tiny bit on the edge? Yes it was, but not so much that it was too much. Do I despise Mary? A little bit, but at the same time I am interested in what she will do next. Must be confusing to be all evil and then have your big good love walk in. I am not sure however if I actually liked the show. The first thing that confused me was the mention of an French-Indian conflict that had a duration of 7 years. Those three elements scream French-Indian war to me, but since we are in the seventeenth century here... Please let them be talking about the French-Iroquois conflicts or another conflict.
Next, Tibuta freaks me out and not in a good way and the girl biting off her finger, also not a good thing. Maybe that was a bit over the edge for me after all. Honestly, I have no idea what to think about the show at this point. It shocked and interested me, but I am not sure if they can keep that up for more than one episode. I'll reserve real judgement for when I've seen more episodes.

@ nasne

So you found it too frightening? Too gory? I haven't seen anything past the pilot, but I hope you stick around to see more!

@ Carissa Pavlica

Well, that's my problem. The moment the show ended all I could think was, I don't know what to say. It wasn't too frightening or too gory, it just didn't blow me away. That doesn't mean i didn't like it or that I am not interested at all. Just that I am going to wait and see where the next episodes take me.


Is there going to be a roundtable for this show?


This show kicks ass.

@ Amy

Finally! A comment! Welcome and TOTALLY AGREEEEEE! Bring your friends and neighbors to the party! ;-)

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Salem Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

All the world shall be yours in return; all the world.


John: Judge not, lets ye be judged.
Sibley: Who said that?
Jesus. You might have heard of him.