Season 1 | Episode 7 | “Our Own Private America” | Aired June 1, 2014
If we were going to rank the first half of this season based solely on what proportion of each episode Shane West spends with his shirt off, “Our Own Private America” would be number one by a landslide. Even when John did finally put a shirt on, he left the first three buttons undone, allowing for some shapely heavage (aka man cleavage). Warning: Don’t try this at home, guys. This fashion trend can only be pulled off by John Alden, Johnny Depp and men on the covers of romance novels. Mary and John were pretty much living in their own romance novel for most of this episode. Things got pretty steamy during Mary’s repeated visits to John’s dreamscape but, as always with this show, things took a dark turn. Here’s a breakdown of the episode, in case you were only paying attention during John’s shirtless scenes.
We’re on a boat! This ain’t your daddy’s yacht, though. People are coughing and groaning and making sounds that generally indicate intestinal distress and/or impending death. A silver-haired gentleman with an expression of permanent disappointment tells his fellow shipmate that there’s a witch aboard the ship who is causing the sickness. This scary man is Increase Mather, played by the ever-stern Stephen Lang (Avatar). If I had to guess, I’d say his name comes from the effect he has on the stress level of everyone around him.
At the end of the last episode, Mrs. Hale caught Anne snooping around and finally told her daughter, “We need to talk about your dad.” So here we find the two Hale women having “the talk,” which turns out to be pretty laughable. Mrs. Hale puts on her serious face and tells her daughter that the magistrate is actually … a spy. Ha! Good one, Mama Hale. To her credit, Anne reacts with outrage and disbelief. First she calls her father a traitor, but then she just flat-out calls B.S., telling her mother that she doesn’t believe this ludicrous story. For this brief second, I actually kind of like Anne. I know I should give her more credit than I do, but for some reason I have a hard time not being irritated by her.
Off tending to his “spy” work, Magistrate Hale swears his loyalty to Mary as the coven leader now that Rose is dead. Then he pays a visit to the brothel for some, er, extracurricular activities. Or is it a work call? As the young women are writhing around him, suddenly a message appears on one of the ladies’ bare backs. Hale reads the message and tells Mab of a potential snag in their master plan. He’s speaking of the impending arrival of Increase “Wet Blanket” Mather, whose mission in life seems to be ruining everyone else’s fun.
Mary still needs to get her hands on the Malum, which is currently in John’s possession. What better way to find out where he’s hidden the box than to sneak into his dreams and get him to reveal its location? And if this method happens to require that Mary and John get to second base in the process, so be it. Tituba is skeptical, pointing out that Mary could easily get lost in John’s dreams and not be able to find her way back. I can see it now: Mary and John spend the rest of the season having dream-sex on a beach in Hawaii, while intermittently sipping margaritas, until one day Cotton inexplicably shows up wearing only a strategically placed banana leaf. (You know he’s got to be in John’s dreamland somewhere.)
Mary’s foray into John’s dreams doesn’t last quite this long, but just long enough to get hot and heavy with her former lover in a sunlit graveyard. Both Mary and John wake up short of breath, looking pleasantly disheveled. Tituba wears a knowing expression that says she’s well aware that the two were doing more than just having tea and discussing secret hiding places. John jolts awake to discover some very real marks on his chest from Mary’s nails.
Back on the boat, Increase is having a civil conversation with the ship captain about how the witch is preventing them from reaching their destination. When asked how he plans to find the witch, Increase says that he already has, and proceeds to calmly double-stab the captain in both hands, pinning him to the wooden table. Bam! You just got Increased!
Mercy is enjoying her newfound power over her peers, as well as everyone else in Salem. She and her friends are sitting around gossiping about boys, braids and “bundling” (whatever that means) when Mercy suggests they play a fun game where they drop an egg in a glass, and it will supposedly show them the face of their future husband. Sneaky girl that she is, Mercy slips something into sweet Dolly’s drink that makes her see a skull in her glass. The girl freaks out and runs off to get ready for her date with smelly Joe Barker that night. Once again, I can’t help but be reminded of Mean Girls with how Mercy is abusing her magic with her friends. But it’s all part of Mary’s master plan.
Frustrated and confused by his, ahem, vivid dreams, John seeks out someone to talk to about his feelings. Naturally, he goes to see Cotton. (Mostly because Cotton is John’s only friend, so his options are pretty limited.) Cotton is talking to a jarred fetus/his father/God when John walks in, which should show you just how deep Cotton’s daddy issues really run. John is adorably self-conscious when he asks Cotton about his view on dreams. Cue Cotton’s philosophizing about reality, and life, and blah blah blah. Basically he tells John to follow his dreams. Then Cotton is like, “OK, now let’s talk about my problems.” John is a warrior, so his advice is this: Use whatever weapons you have. If you have doubt, use it. (This could be either incredibly wise or wholly nonsensical. I’m not sure.) Cotton tells his friend that he believes God brought them together for a reason. “To drive each other insane?” John responds wryly. (Seriously, just get married, you two.)
I didn’t even have time to Google “bundling” before my question was answered: Apparently the Puritans had a tradition of bundling young prospective couples together so they could spend the night in bed while ensuring that no sexual contact was possible, either by stitching a barrier in the sheet, or wrapping both parties in sacks. Mercy’s friend Dolly has the good fortune of being bundled with Joe Barker, who, while he’s no Harry Styles, seems nice enough. A teenage girl in 17th-century New England could do much worse. Just as things are getting going with the bundling, Dolly starts to hallucinate, seeing boils on Joe’s face, so she flees the bundle and starts screaming. This is not acceptable dating etiquette, even in Puritan society.
The next morning, the Barkers and Dolly’s family, the Trasks, are fighting in the street. Mrs. Trask accuses Joe of trying some funny business between the sheets, but Mrs. Barker is having none of it. John wakes up to this ruckus after another sleepless night of Mary getting in his head (among other places). The good news is, she found out where the Malum is hidden — in Giles Corey’s grave. John is already crotchety from his dream-sex hangover, so he greets the outside world with even more scowling than usual. As he walks through the streets, he imagines naked women giving him sultry looks. Mad with lust, John jumps on the next woman he sees, who turns out to be Anne. He pushes her up against a wall and kisses her passionately, much to her excitement. John suddenly realizes what he’s doing and, bewildered, excuses himself, leaving Anne exhilarated but confused. Then John pays a visit to the brothel to distract himself. Side note: These prostitutes must be the busiest working gals of any town in America. Between John, Hale and Cotton, they’re working around the clock.
Despite his midday orgy, John still finds himself dreaming about Mary. She gets a nasty surprise, though, when their make-out session features a surprise guest: Anne! She tells Mary she’s there to “learn,” but before the three of them can get going, Mary is thrust into the forest, where she’s running in a panic. She watches John hunt and murder a group of men while wearing what appears to be war paint. Mary is trapped in John’s dream, unable to find her way back, even as Tituba tries to call her back. Suddenly Mary gasps back into her own self. Tituba scolds her for her unnecessary dream romps with John, but beneath her “I told you so” is genuine concern. She tells Mercy to come with her to retrieve the Malum, while Mary regains her control.
Out in the streets, tensions are high. The townsfolk demand that the Barkers be killed, and Cotton is the only one to step in, telling everyone to calm down. I’ll repeat that in case you think you read it wrong: Cotton is the voice of reason. He tells everyone that the Barkers deserve a fair trial. Well, you try telling a crowd of tired, scared, paranoid Puritans to just be patient and follow the proper witch-accusation proceedings. Cotton turns to Hale for some backup, but Hale is completely unhelpful. In fact, the look on his face seems to say, “Cotton, why you gotta go and ruin my perfectly good angry mob?” The people are somewhat pacified for the moment, so Cotton retreats, only to find Gloriana there, apparently very turned on by Cotton’s bravery. With a shocking show of restraint, Cotton tells Gloriana, “Not now, babe.” Well, he does it with a little more tact, telling her that he wants to be with her not as a “customer,” and that he needs some time to sort things out. Who is this cool-headed Cotton and where did he come from?
Acting particularly not cool-headed is Cotton’s better half, John, who decided to take his bookish friend’s advice and “live his dream.” John barges into Mary’s room, and the two immediately start reenacting one of the scenes from John’s dreams. Emboldened by Cotton’s words, John spills his heart to Mary and tells her that he wants them to be together. Mary starts to regain her self-control and tells John to stop. She wants it too, but it’s impossible. John is hurt at first, but then he senses that Mary isn’t telling him something. (Or a lot of somethings: that she was pregnant, that she gave up the baby, that she’s a witch …) “What happened?” he asks. But Mary just tells him to go, that she’s gotten everything she needs from him. (Ooh, harsh.) Understandably angry, John gathers his clothes and leaves in a huff.
Cotton is startled by two unfortunate discoveries: 1) that the burning smell wafting through the town is from the Barkers, who are being burned at the stake, and 2) his father is in town. Increase takes a few moments to insult Cotton’s collection of “feeble tools of reason.” (Because who needs reason when you have fear, ignorance and big hats?) Among other things, Increase takes credit for arranging the burning of the Barkers. (What, was that the first thing he did when he got off the ship? “‘Sup, Salem. Where’s my welcoming party/witch burning?”) Increase also tells his son that he’s not too old to be whipped by his father. I really wanted Cotton to say, “Is this a bad time to tell you I’m dating a prostitute, Dad?”
Next stop on Increase’s homecoming tour: casa de Sibley. Mary finds the elder Mather lurking in her bedroom, where he’s taken it upon himself to criticize her unseemly choices of décor. To her credit, Mary is really good at pretending to be glad to see Increase. She fawns all over him like he’s the Brad Pitt of witch hunters. When he’s on his way out, Mary delicately asks Increase how long he’s planning to stay in Salem, much the way one would ask a loud relative from out of town how long they’ll be visiting. Looking extremely self-righteous, he tells her that he’s going to stay until every last witch in Salem has been burned. Great.
So we’ve upped the villain tally by one. After Rose’s death last week, it makes sense to add another adversary for Mary — and everyone, basically. I really don’t think Increase is liked by anyone on either side of the battle for Salem. At this point, I think the only thing that might briefly distract Increase from his mission to annihilate the witches is if Mary tries to seduce him, since he seems to be pretty keen on her. One thing is for sure: Daddy Dearest is going to shake things up in Salem.
What’s your first impression of Increase Mather? How long will he last before Mary has Mercy slit his throat? When will Cotton get to have his cathartic confrontation with his father, where everyone cries and then they hug each other and go fishing together? Is there any hope for Anne and John? Or should someone get Anne a copy of He’s Just Not That Into You? Maybe they should try a nice bundling for their first date.
Salem, rated TV-MA, airs Sundays at 10/9 C on WGN America.