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'Salem' recap: Papa don't preach

Season 1 | Episode 8 | “Departures” | Aired June 8, 2014

Since the dawn of time, there has been at least one consistent thread of conflict among all humankind. This conflict is known scientifically as “daddy issues.”

Even as far back as the Garden of Eden, when God told Adam and Eve, “Hey, kids, have fun in paradise, but don’t eat from that fruit tree, K?” Adam and Eve were basically like, “You’re not the boss of me!” and did it anyway. (OK, so that’s not exactly how it went down, but you see my point.)

Whether it’s low self-esteem, a constant need for validation or a distrust of authority figures, daddy issues come in all different flavors. Cotton can never seem to earn his father’s approval, so he drinks and dallies with women of easy virtue. Anne tries to understand her father, but the more she does, the more she loses respect for him. John, we learned, was not the man his father wanted him to be either. Salem is a grab bag of paternal discontentment, and Increase Mather is making a decent run for Worst Father of the Year.

At the beginning of the episode, Increase is lamenting the decaying moral state of Salem, which has become a breeding ground for drinking, sex and general depravity. It’s basically the Vegas of 17th-century New England, but with fewer sequins. Increase, who has apparently named himself captain of the Fun Police, is determined to eradicate the witches from Salem in an effort to cleanse them of their evil influence. He doesn’t yet realize just how much his son is involved in Salem’s perversion-a-palooza … at least, not until an awkward run-in at the brothel.

Cotton and Gloriana are enjoying a little afternoon delight when Increase pays an unexpected visit to their den of iniquity because, as the reverend puts it, it represents the “commingling of sin and sorcery.” (That should be Salem’s new town slogan!) This marks what I think is the third time Cotton has found himself scrambling to hide from someone at the brothel, and this time he went with the cower-under-the-bed-in-his-underwear option, which was surprisingly effective. Increase may have never found out about Cotton’s affair with Gloriana if not for one damning detail: The younger Mather’s Bible is in plain sight in Gloriana’s room. Oh, the irony.

In the course of his raid of the whorehouse, Increase discovers Mab’s secret stash of witchy things, and just like that, Mab’s fate is pretty much sealed. I mean, we’ve seen what Salem does to people who aren’t even actually witches, so imagine how quickly they’ll kill a woman who is blatantly practicing witchcraft. But before that happens, things get a little interesting when Increase decides to interrogate Mab about who else in Salem is a witch.

First, Increase takes a break from his witch hunt to berate his son some more. Drinking buddies Cotton and John are enjoying happy hour (or what normal people call lunchtime) when Increase decides to come and ruin that for Cotton too. Geez, this guy is determined to embarrass his son at every possible opportunity. He rags on Cotton for drinking, for being too cowardly to enlist in the militia and, oh yeah, FOR SLEEPING WITH THAT WHORE. I think I hear Cotton actually gulp when Increase tells him he knows about him and Gloriana. Cotton is so grounded.

In other Increase-ruins-everything news, Mary is so paranoid about Increase unexpectedly dropping in to check on his dear friend George that she sends her “sick” husband off to Boston to see a doctor, ensuring that Increase won’t catch on to the fact that George is merely under the influence of her pet toad. Nothing gets past old Increase, it seems.

Anne’s father is looking much less evil by comparison. His only real crime is, well, some light murder … and infidelity. But all in all, he’s a much better father than Increase. Anne doesn’t exactly see it this way, though. When he returns from giving Mab the “keep to the code” speech to let her know she’d better die before giving up the names of any other witches, Anne pounces on Hale and starts sassing him like there’s no tomorrow. Hale acts affronted by her implication that he’s anything but honest with his family, and he insists she ask him anything at all. She asks if he believes Mab to be a witch, and he tells her no, he doesn’t, thankyouverymuch. Anne is taken aback by this, and by the fact that her father is less sucked into the mass-witch-hunt hysteria of Salem. Of course he’s lying, and of course this is the one time that they’ve actually caught a real witch, but what’s another half-truth between father and daughter? Anne’s not-hating of her father only lasts for a minute, though, and then she’s criticizing him for not standing up to the Selectmen if he believes Mab is innocent. Man, you just cannot win with Anne.

Increase must have sent out a Facebook invite to everyone in Salem, because the whole town comes out to see him torture Mab for information on her fellow witches. It’s pretty brutal. He repeatedly dunks her in the water while grilling her about who else in Salem is a witch. Finally she cracks and gives him a name: Gloriana. (GASP!) I’m assuming this is the “distraction” Hale came up with when he told Mab, and it definitely works. Cotton flips out, finally standing up to his father, telling him that this whole thing is madness and that they’re putting innocents to death on their misguided witch hunt. Increase gives his son another “disappointed in you” glare and slaps him across the face. You can tell Cotton is like, “Daaaad, you’re embarrassing me,” but he’s too preoccupied with saving his lady’s life to really care. These two need some serious Dr. Phil or something ASAP.

If that public display of family drama-rama isn’t enough, things only get more embarrassing from there. Cotton tries to reason with his father (a completely futile effort), telling him to check Gloriana for the Devil’s Mark, because a witch would have one, and Cotton is pretty certain she doesn’t. (And he would know.) Increase actually agrees to this, but insists that Cotton look for the mark … while he watches. So awkward. Cotton is forced to undress his girlfriend (I guess? I don’t know if they’ve had time to DTR) while his creepy father watches and judges them. This scene actually makes me more uncomfortable than the toad-suckling scene from the pilot. On the plus side, they don’t find a mark, so Cotton is like, “So we’re good, right?” And Increase tells him that the Selectmen will decide her fate at the trial. We all know how they like to err on the side of death when it comes to anyone accused of witchcraft. (RIP Giles Corey, Bridget the midwife, the whole Barker family, etc.) This does not bode well for Gloriana.

Cotton goes to find John, because that’s what they do when one of them is having a bad day: hang out together and drink and gossip and braid each other’s hair. They talk about their fathers, and Cotton explains why Increase hates him (“for what I am and for what I am not”). Then Cotton starts talking about how John is basically the perfect man, and how they should run away together and get married … OK, maybe I imagined that last part. John agrees to talk to Increase and try to convince him to spare Gloriana, because a bro always helps another bro save his prostitute girlfriend from being murdered for witchcraft. It’s in the Bro Code.

Increase knows what’s up as soon as John walks in. (Probably because anyone who has ever met John knows that he’s not one to just drop by for a social call.) John plays it cool, subtly mentioning that they both know Gloriana isn’t a witch. “She has bewitched my son,” says Increase. Nice play on words there, pal. Instead of talking about Cotton, John uses inception or something to get Increase to realize he sort of does love his son a little bit. Maybe. First John tells Increase about how Alden Sr. didn’t approve of him, despite the fact that John is a brave “war hero” with excellent facial hair, and really, what more could a father want in a son? When Increase asks why John’s father let John make all those decisions he so disapproved of, John says, “He knew the difference between loving his son’s choices and loving his son.” Who needs Dr. Phil when you’ve got Dr. John Alden? Wow — way to go, John. That was beautiful.

While this whole Gloriana distraction is brewing, some other shenanigans are going down in the woods a few miles away. Isaac, who was supposed to be taking George to Boston, comes back to find John and tells him that George is bleeding in the woods somewhere after the carriage crashed, and George took the opportunity to remove the toad from his stomach. So, moral conundrum: Do they leave George there to die? After all, he did brand Isaac and send John off to battle … plus he’s, you know, married to the love of John’s life. So John tells Isaac to just leave the douchebag to die, but Isaac has a little trouble with this notion.

Part of John’s beautiful speech about loving your disappointing children must have stuck in Increase’s mind because the reverend announces to the town that Gloriana will not be tried as a witch. BUT (there’s always a but) she is nowhere near innocent, and she is henceforth banished from Salem for being a ho. Cotton is devastated and rushes to give Gloriana one final kiss before she’s carted away. Cotton is understandably upset at his father for, you know, being a huge dick, but Increase is like, “You’re welcome.” He sees it as a favor to his son that he “removed temptation” from him so that Cotton is in a better position to possibly become governor one day. (Ha!) Great, another absurd expectation to put on your son, who already believes he’ll never live up to your standards.

Continuing his town-wide tour of sabotage, Increase happens upon Isaac, and he inquires as to how Isaac managed to get back from Boston so quickly. That’s basically all it takes for Isaac to spill everything to Increase — or at least enough that the reverend rushes out to find George. At the same time, Tituba is tracking George as well, knowing that he’s free of Mary’s toad spell. The Seer and Tituba get there first, slipping George a potion that puts him out of it. Then Increase shows up, gathers up his friend, and takes him back to Salem to stay under his care, ensuring that no witches will be able to harm him again. Tituba comments that the potion will wear off after a day, and then George will be free to tell his BFF Increase all about his horrible toad trauma and the witches who were holding him captive.

Well, I’d say Increase has sufficiently turned the town upside down since his arrival. He has managed to ruin pretty much everything: Mary’s plan for control over Salem and the Grand Rite, Cotton’s relationship with Gloriana, and, with the death of Mab, most likely the extramarital affairs of half the men in Salem (if the brothel has to close without its madam). Will Cotton lash out against his father, or will he embrace the destiny Increase imagines for him? How will Mary stop George from spilling the beans about her to Increase? Did Anne really come to John to discuss her father’s secrets, or is that just an excuse because she wants to make out with him? If Mab was going to kill herself anyway, what was the point of the whole Gloriana distraction? I mean, I didn’t really like her either, but come on, that seems kind of mean.

At least now there’s nothing stopping Cotton from acting on his feelings for John. I’d like to see what Increase has to say about that romance. Were you guys happy about the “departures” that did and didn’t happen in this episode?

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