Season 1 | Episode 10 | “The House of Pain” | Aired June 22, 2014
It’s hard to say who’s had the worse week: Cotton — who can’t even succeed in killing himself, let alone anything else in life — or John, who spent the whole day traipsing through the spooky woods, only to come back and find himself under arrest for being a witch. Tituba takes the cake, though, since she had to endure not only grueling physical torture, but also listening to Increase blather on for hours on end. Then again, John did get peed on by Cotton, so I think he’s a close second for Salem’s “Worst Week Ever” trophy. From the top, here’s the play-by-play of this week’s episode.
“House of Pain” doesn’t take long to live up to its title, opening with Increase practicing some disturbing self-flagellation. This is just an appetizer for what’s to come, but it’s still one of the most skin-crawling scenes to date. Meanwhile, Mary prowls around her house looking for Mercy so she can ask her just what she was thinking, going rogue and outing Tituba as a witch. Mercy cowers under a table and tells Mary that she did it for her, to protect her from Increase. Not exactly in an understanding mood, Mary reaches out to grab the girl, but all she finds in her hands is a spider, which she crushes in her fist. For a newbie witch, Mercy sure has picked up some fancy tricks.
Unfortunately, Anne is less adept when it comes to mastering witchcraft, and she ends up on the wrong side of a magic mask. In this instance, “curiosity killed the cat” turns out to be more like “curiosity teleported the cat into the middle of the haunted woods.” But really, who sees a creepy mask and thinks to themselves, “I should put this on my face!”? Has she never seen The Mask? Let’s just skip over the part where that thing is totally made out of a dead person’s face, and instead focus on how Anne is almost surely aware that her father is a witch now. Though she does spend several minutes muttering about how it’s all a dream and pinching herself. Good luck with that, Anne. You can pinch yourself all day long, but none of this is a dream, honey. Well, except for all those dream-walking scenes in the last few episodes.
After his morning self-mutilation session, Increase gets back to his Extreme Makeover: Whorehouse Edition project, transforming the brothel into his own “Penance ‘R’ Us.” Mary futilely asks that Increase return her servant to her, but all she gets in return is sass. Luckily, Cotton steps in before his father can insinuate anything too awful. Again I point out the hilarity of Cotton Mather being the voice of reason.
Inside Increase’s “House of Pain,” the reverend introduces Tituba to his toys, all of which have names that sound like heavy metal bands, like “skull crusher” and “tongue tearer.” Cotton tries to reason with his father, reminding him that he once killed an innocent man in what he thought was the ruthless pursuit of “truth” (referring to Giles Corey). Increase tells his son that any horrible acts he has to commit now are only due to Cotton’s lax governance. Just in case Cotton had forgotten for a second that he’s a despicable human being and everything is his fault.
John is once again chopping wood shirtless (thank you, Salem writers) when Magistrate Hale comes to enlist his help in finding Anne. John gives Hale his most exasperated look that seems to say, “Ughhh, you people are so needy. I just want to chop wood by myself.” But despite being a grumpy misanthrope, John is a hero at heart — if a flawed one — so he begrudgingly agrees to help track down Anne.
Cotton’s new favorite hobby is day-drinking and wandering around in the woods while mumbling to himself about what a douche his father is. Drunk and distraught, Cotton tries to drown himself, saying he’ll make his home in Hell and await his father there. (Drama queen much?) Much to his disappointment, Cotton doesn’t actually die, and then curses himself for being too weak even to off himself. Welcome to the Cotton Mather Pity Party. The best part is when Cotton hears something ominous in the woods, and he takes off his boot to use to defend himself. Don’t come any closer, evil spirits! Cotton has a shoe and he’s not afraid to use it! Then he watches a butterfly crawl out of a stag’s skull, which triggers some kind of existential epiphany. “Life comes from death … death comes from life … I am the Walrus …” etc.
Back at the House of Pain, Tituba has made it through a good portion of Increase’s toolbox without giving up the name of any real witches. Increase is nowhere near tired yet, so she stalls him for a few minutes by telling him how she came to be in Salem. She was a young girl when the slavers came to her village. She was taken on a ship and brought to New England. Tituba tells him that she saw a demon’s red eyes staring at her from the fires of her burning village, and that’s how she came to serve the Devil. She tries to explain to Increase that his witch hunt is really just a fear of otherness. “There are no witches, only poor people hunted and harried … for no other reason than that they are not you.” Well said, Tituba.
Hale and John are still having a jolly old time getting to know each other as they follow Anne’s trail through the forest — or so they think. As they soon discover, it’s not Anne’s tracks they’re following, but Cotton’s. This realization comes only when John looks up to find Cotton peeing on him from a tree, laughing to himself in amusement. This is far and away the funniest thing to ever happen on this show, and possibly in all of television history. To his credit, John does not immediately rush up the tree and knock Cotton to the ground. Instead, he tries to get Cotton to come down so he doesn’t hurt himself, but Cotton declines, telling his friend that he “felt the Earth” under his feet (after he took his boots off to fight the demons in the woods), and that nature is his teacher now. John’s like, “Whatever, man,” and leaves his inebriated buddy to continue his nervous breakdown in peace.
Once he picks up Anne’s real trail, John tracks her to a group of Native Americans who tell him (in their language) that they saw her, but she headed away from them. Hale is shocked to find that John speaks their native tongue, and he doubts that the “savages” are telling the truth about not having taken her. John says they thought she was crazy (which they consider to be closer to holy), so they let her be.
Anne plops herself down on a fallen tree to contemplate how completely screwed she is, being that the sun has set and she has no idea how to get home. Suddenly it starts to rain (real rain, not Cotton’s urine), and Anne starts laughing to herself. Just then she hears some whispering, and a demon reveals himself, saying, “At last you found your way home.” Anne tries to run away and finds herself in John’s arms. He calms her down, then asks her how she managed to make it so far into the woods without leaving any trail. Not wanting to tell him about her father’s witchy teleporting mask, Anne quickly kisses him on the cheek to distract him. He doesn’t totally buy it, but I think he just wants to get out of the forest (or, more likely, get away from Anne’s father).
Severely battered and bruised, Tituba is still holding her own against Increase. She tells him that she will never betray the one true love of her life. Latching onto this tidbit, Increase uses it to pry a confession out of Tituba. He tells her that love is never equal. Does her lover truly return her devotion? In tears, Tituba whispers a name to Increase, and in an instant, the pain ebbs and relief washes over her.
Increase finds Mary, her eyes red and puffy from crying, and he tells her that Tituba has confessed the name of the leader of the witches, who is also Tituba’s lover. Mary is clearly at the end of her rope, looking like she’s strung tighter than a violin string, but she pales even more when Increase tells her the name that Tituba gave him: John Alden. Drinking in her shock, Increase asks if Mary would accompany him to make the arrest.
Walking out of the woods, John is greeted by a welcoming committee. They announce that he is under arrest, and at first he rolls his eyes. “What for this time? Swearing in public?” But when they tell him he’s been accused of witchcraft, John’s sense of humor evaporates. Mary watches, paralyzed. It’s Anne who puts up a fight, telling her father to put a stop to this. Before anyone can save him, John is sitting in a cell, staring quizzically out into the night wondering what happened. Next to him is Tituba, smiling to herself despite the cuts and bruises that cover her face.
Wow. So Mercy outs Tituba as a witch in an effort to protect Mary and eliminate her competition for Mary’s attention, and then Tituba frames John as a witch to protect Mary and eliminate her competition for Mary’s attention. Basically, this whole thing is just a convoluted rat race for Mary’s heart. At this point, I don’t know if she’ll be able to forgive Tituba for laying down John’s death sentence. How is she going to save John from Increase’s wrath? Without any of her allies, Mary’s power is limited, especially if she doesn’t want to reveal herself as the leader of the witches.
I’d like to think Salem wouldn’t kill off John Alden, but I worry that they might pull a Game of Thrones and go with the shock factor over keeping Shane West on the show. Let the record show that I refuse to accept a Salem without shirtless wood-chopping by John Alden. How will our studly hero get out of this mess? Maybe his quiet young friend Stephen will come to his rescue. Or will Hale help Mary save John since he helped save Anne in the woods? Is Cotton really going to live in that tree now? Is John’s impending death the thing that will snap Cotton back to reality and get him to sober up? Surely he’ll race to the aid of his
boyfriend and try to protect him from Increase.
Perhaps we’ll see a father-son showdown in the finale, Star Wars-style. Although Increase makes Darth Vader look like Bill Cosby. Sure, Vader occasionally Force-chokes someone when they disappoint him, but I’ll take a quick stranglehold over being slowly tortured in a workshop that looks like something out of Saw XII: House of Pain.
Share your thoughts on Darth Vader, tree-climbing and enchanted masks in the comments section.
Salem airs on Sundays at 10/9C on WGN America.