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'Salem' (WGN)

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'Salem' recap: Don't speak

Season 1 | Episode 9 | “Children, Be Afraid” | Aired June 15, 2014

Things are coming to a rolling boil here in Salem — and I’m not just talking about the random cauldron that the Elders are always stirring in the forest for no apparent reason. Increase Mather has turned the town on its head, and in this week’s episode, he finally confronted Mary about her husband’s witchcraft-related condition, leading to a surprising arrest. Meanwhile, Mercy continued her campaign to get her own spin-off on The CW, and John played house with Anne and an adorable boy who doesn’t talk. And even with all that going on, there was still time for John to take his shirt off and have a steamy conversation with Mary about … something. (I don’t know, I was just staring at his pecs.)

Here’s a rundown of “Children, Be Afraid.”

Increase starts off the day by visiting the jail (you know what they say, “The early bird gets the witch”), where he releases Emily’s drunk of a father (because although he’s guilty of public intoxication, negligence and being a terrible human being, he’s not guilty of witchcraft) and then approaches Mab’s cell to see about her hanging. When he finds her, she’s already dead, having poisoned herself the night before. Determined to see her hanged anyway, Increase takes her body and parades through the streets, spouting depressing nonsense about death and the Devil and blah, blah, blah, all the way to the gallows. He ties the noose around the corpse’s neck and pulls her body down to snap her neck. Ever heard the expression “beating a dead horse”? Well, I’m starting to think Increase Mather may have coined that phrase, only he probably meant “beating dead whores,” and someone just wrote it down wrong.

A bit later, Mary finds Increase enjoying a hearty meal (I know I’m always hungry after manhandling dead bodies and lecturing my neighbors on good and evil), and she asks to take George back under her care. Increase is having none of it, and he even goes so far as to imply that the curse put on George came from within Mary’s house. (J’accuse!) Mary gets a little nervous, but she strikes a compromise by asking that someone who is familiar with George’s condition be allowed to care for him in her stead. Increase nominates Isaac, and Mary goes on her way.


Cotton — already prone to overindulging in the drink every now and then — is not coping well with the loss of his lady friend Gloriana, whom his evil father banished from Salem. (Because apparently Puritans are not really that cool with the notion of a reverend marrying a prostitute. Go figure.) Lucky for Cotton, he still has one person who cares about him: John. The captain finds his inebriated friend face down in the grass, looking like he has no intention of ever moving from that spot. No doubt aware of his extreme lack of positive motivational skills, John arrives with backup. Anne’s perky face pops out at Cotton and asks him in her silky voice, What can she do to get Cotton back on his feet? She tells him that she’s recently come to terms with the fact that we’re all “our fathers’ children,” so best to just suck it up and make the best of it. Somehow this is exactly what Cotton needs to hear, so Anne and John hoist their drunk friend up and carry him off to get cleaned up.

Mary whips up a potion that will make George sleep again so that she can do some mind voodoo on his dream self, but getting him to drink it will be complicated. She meets Isaac and begs him to give her husband the “tonic” that will help him with the awful pain he’s in. Isaac takes the bottle and runs off to babysit George while Mary goes to meet with the Elders.

Increase seems to sense Isaac’s low self-esteem and preys on it. He tells “Isaac the Fornicator” that his story is used by Puritans far and wide as an example of God’s will, that Isaac is actually “chosen” by God. Rather than walk through life staring at the ground, ashamed of the mark burned onto his forehead by George Sibley, Increase says Isaac should hold his head high. More than that, the reverend says he wants to take Isaac with him into the world and show him what it’s like to live in the light. The persuasive words of a powerful man appear to have the desired effect, leaving Increase with a seemingly loyal servant to watch over George.

After helping John get Cotton back on his feet, Anne asks John to return the favor by helping out at the orphanage with some little tasks, like fixing the roof and breaking through to a traumatized adolescent who doesn’t speak. All in a day’s work for the amazing Captain John Alden! According to Anne, the boy watched his parents get killed by Indians. (How much do you want to bet John was involved … and he actually killed them?) Always efficient, John goes with the kill-two-birds-with-one-stone technique and asks the kid if he knows anything about roofing. Who knows why, but this actually works. (Clearly I understand the male psyche even less than I thought I did.)

Mercy comes looking for Mary, only to find Tituba with her tarantula familiar. This may be the first time we see these two interact without giving each other death glares the whole time. Mercy is intrigued by the idea of “familiars,” which Tituba describes as gifts from the Devil to do their bidding. She then feeds her tarantula by letting it bite her neck, which is a much more practical method than a toad suckling from a thigh nipple, I might add. (But probably more painful.)


Mary’s meeting with the Elders in the woods is mostly an excuse for them to ream her a new one because so much has happened under her command of the witches: Rose and Mab are dead, and Increase is on a tear. Mary offers them the Malum as a way for them to keep her on a leash, but they spit on her gift, telling her they already have everything they need to control her. I assume this is somehow a reference to John and her love for him, but they don’t make any direct threats, so it’s unclear exactly what they have on Mary.

Speaking of John, he’s out in the alley by the orphanage teaching his new buddy how to chop wood, which of course must be done shirtless, because clothing inhibits man’s ability to exert his dominance over nature. Of course Mary walks by as John is looking like he’s modeling for the “Sexy Men of Salem” calendar or something. Their brief discussion about why on earth Mary would actually care about the well-being of her wretched husband is interrupted when Anne comes outside to bring John some water. Mary’s eyes flash with jealousy before she makes her abrupt exit.

While John is busy helping orphans and chopping wood and basically trying to see how many staples of sexiness he can exemplify at one time, Cotton is drowning his sorrows in yet more alcohol. His wallowing is interrupted, however, by his father, who witnessed Cotton stumbling through town holding one of Gloriana’s scarves and rubbing his face in it. Rather than try to console his son, Increase tells him to stop being so obvious about the whole “I-fell-in-love-with-a-prostitute” thing and get his life together. Increase even gives an almost-sweet speech about how he didn’t love his wife, but when Cotton was born, it finally showed Increase what love was. His son points out the irony that Increase sent away Gloriana, who had done the same thing for Cotton.

Back at Witch HQ, Mary tells Tituba they’re at DEFCON 4, and George will be waking up soon and spilling the beans to Increase. Mercy asks why they can’t just kill George, and Mary explains how all her power over the town and the Selectmen comes from George, and that she acts as his mouthpiece. Tituba and Mercy continue snipping at each other until Mary screams at them to leave her alone so she can focus on the problem at hand.

Once she’s alone, Mary goes into the dream world and invades George’s mind. They’re sitting in a rowboat on a beautiful lake, having a civil conversation. Then Mary starts beating George with a paddle and pushes him overboard, expecting him to sink to the bottom of the water. The idea is that this will keep his mind dormant, leaving him a vegetable. No such luck, though, as Increase appears in the dream on the shore of the lake. Mary is startled and wakes up in a panic.

When she conveys to Tituba that Increase is guarding George’s mind, Tituba tells her that she’s concerned that they won’t be able to control Mercy, that the girl is a loose cannon. Mary is understandably irritated, because — HELLO! — bigger fish to fry and all. Tituba tells Mary that she loves her, and that she’d do anything for her. Mary responds with a groan of frustration, saying that she wishes her friend didn’t love her so much, that it would make it easier for both of them. This is the first time Tituba has mentioned out loud any romantic feelings for Mary, although we’ve seen her express this physically dozens of times. (All that oil rubbing for various spells? It makes a lot more sense now.)

Anne goes to find Emily to tell her that her drunk father was looking for her after Increase released her from jail. She finds the young girls in the woods. Mercy is somewhat … intense toward Anne, who acts nervous but holds her own against the intimidating young witch. She invites Anne to join them in their weird circle of witchcraft, but Anne declines and flees back into town.

Back at Increase’s home, Isaac is feeding George the potion Mary gave him when Increase bursts in and catches him. He’s furious, yelling at Isaac about how he’s a failure, and that he “pisses in the well of possibility.” (What a great expression.) The reverend demands that Isaac tell him who gave him the potion, and Isaac confesses that it was Mary, but it’s just a tonic for pain.

At the same time, the girls in the woods are chanting a version of “light as a feather, stiff as a board” to control Tituba’s familiar. The spider drops from the ceiling into George’s mouth while Increase is distracted by Isaac. When he finally notices George gurgling, Increase opens the other man’s mouth to see a mess of spiderweb binding his mouth. (Gross.) So much for George’s testimony against the witch who cursed him. Well done, Mercy! I guess …?

Next on the docket for retribution is Emily’s father. He finds his daughter sitting alone outside the orphanage and tells her that he still plans to sell her to the whorehouse. She refuses, standing up to him in his drunken state. He starts beating her, and suddenly a voice comes from behind him. The girls are standing there, all wearing white dressing gowns. They descend upon Emily’s father and start to literally tear him apart, enjoying the whole messy ordeal. I think it’s safe to say Tituba was right about Mercy and her gaggle of girls.

Just as it began, the episode ends with Increase shouting in the streets that he’s found another witch to hang. He comes to Mary’s house and asks her if she recognizes the bottle of potion she gave to Isaac. Looking fierce, Mary claims that the bottle was only a tonic for pain, and she chugs it to prove her point. Since her throat isn’t immediately obstructed by spiderwebs, Cotton steps in to suggest maybe the tonic and the curse were unrelated. Upon hearing Increase mention spiderwebbing, Mercy speaks up and tells everyone that she saw Tituba feeding a tarantula from her neck. Increase arrests Tituba, who gives Mercy the most evil of glares as she walks past the girl. Mary looks dumbstruck, and probably more scared than we’ve ever seen her. Mercy smiles at her as if to say, “Aren’t you proud?” Suddenly Mary isn’t running the show in Salem, it seems.

Just how unhinged is Mercy at this point? And how did she get so powerful so fast? I’d say Mary owes Tituba a big fat “You Were Right” cake — hopefully one with a nail file baked into it, so she can break out of jail. What will become of Mercy’s now-homicidal groupies? Not that Emily’s father didn’t deserve to be ripped apart, but they looked like they were enjoying it way too much. What will the Elders say when they find out about Mercy’s little power trip? What is it about chopping wood that makes a kid decide to lift his years-long vow of silence?

Does part of you wish John and Anne and Stephen could run away from Salem and have an adorably normal life? Why do some witches grow extra nipples in weird places, while others have to let their pets bite them every time they feed? If you can shed some light on any of these questions, please feel free to leave a comment below. Until next week, heathens!

Salem airs on Sundays at 10/9 C on WGN America.

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