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'Salem' season 1 finale recap: The end is only the beginning

Season 1 | Episode 13 | “All Fall Down” | Aired July 13, 2014

Throughout Salem’s first season, we’ve seen a toad suckle at Janet Montgomery’s thigh nipple, we’ve seen a tar pit of demons writhing in hellfire, we’ve seen Shane West chop wood shirtless, and we’ve seen him get urinated on by a drunk preacher. It’s been a wild ride, to say the least, and the final episode was as jaw-dropping as the preceding 12 combined. Occult rituals, star-crossed love, exploding heads, patricide—the Salem finale had it all, and so much more.

The episode opens right where things left off last week, with Mary and John in the middle of the woods after she teleported them out of the jail cell. John stumbles back and looks at Mary in confusion, slowly piecing together the truth he’s been blind to for the past few weeks: that the woman he loves is a witch. Mary turns away from him, in part so he won’t see her tears, and also because she can’t stand to see the look of betrayal on John’s face. She tells him that she only wants him to save himself, so he should just keep running, even if it means she’ll never see him again. John takes a moment to process everything, but rather than overthink it, he just decides to kiss her. They each hold out their halves of the broken coin that they shared as a symbol of their love all those years ago, which now seems even more fitting, considering how broken each of them has become, along with their relationship.

John asks Mary again to run away with him. Mary is resistant at first, but then she agrees, saying she has to take care of one last thing, but she’ll meet John in the woods before sunrise. As she leaves, John opens his palm to discover that the coin is miraculously whole again. Symbolism! Though Mary and John may not remain whole for the duration of the episode …

Leaving the woods, Mary is struck by a dismembered hand, courtesy of Mercy. You can always count on Salem to balance out the emotional component of the show with some blood and gore. (“Here, have a heartfelt romantic scene—and now, IT’S RAINING SEVERED LIMBS!”) This is Mercy’s way of acting out, letting Mary know how upset she is at how the older witch let her friends die. Mary looks at her the way you might look at a rabid dog you tried to rescue, only to have it bite you. Mercy pulls some more of her creepy parlor tricks, echoing her disembodied voice through the woods, threatening to get back at Mary when she least expects it.

Unsurprisingly, Cotton is drunk. You can’t really blame him, since his only friend was just sentenced to death and it’s partially Cotton’s fault. Isaac finds him looking disconsolate while a group of men remove Cotton’s “tools of useless reason” (i.e., books) from his room, per Increase’s request. Isaac tells Cotton that he should go say goodbye to John, but Cotton doesn’t think he can handle it. Astute as always, Isaac tells him that while we don’t have any control over how or when we die, we can still say things that matter. (As true today as it was in 17th-century Salem.) “Sometimes words are all we have left,” he says. This is perfect, because Isaac, though devoid of any power—magical or otherwise—has significantly altered the course of everyone’s lives through his words. He told Increase that George was bleeding in the woods back in episode 8. He lured Increase into the forest so Mercy could attack him (not that it really panned out). In the last episode, he told Mary to go save John, because he knew it was what she really wanted, and that she had the power to do it. Later in this episode, at Mary’s behest, he’ll deliver a note (with words) to Cotton that will impact the entire town. For now, Isaac’s pep talk is enough to get Cotton off the floor and down to the jail to find John.

At the Hale house, Magistrate Hale comes home from “shopping” with a week’s worth of supplies. This includes a live peahen (or some kind of small turkey—I don’t know, I’m not up on my bird species), which he promptly decapitates, using its blood to open a hidden door to a secret passageway. It turns out Hale has a secret panic room in case the whole town gets annihilated by a demonic ritual. (Handy!) Anne is flabbergasted by all of this (probably mostly from the shock of holding a live bird while her father ripped its head off), but Hale explains that he used to take her to this room when she was a child, and she would use her magic there. He later erased her memories of it until she was ready. Or until Salem’s witchy shenanigans forced him to tell her anyway.

Increase finds Cotton at John’s empty cell, and Cotton wonders if his father already had John killed before he could even see his friend’s beautiful scowl one last time. Increase says that, although John may be guilty of many things (treason, heresy, drinking, having great hair …), Papa Mather never actually thought witchcraft was one of them. However, Increase knows that John is in love with a witch, and that she (Mary) will be discovered with him after having broken him out of his locked jail cell, thus proving that she is, indeed, a witch. Ta-da! Now presenting: Increase Mather’s Master Plan, brought to you by sadism and Taco Bell. At this point, Cotton is basically like, “Daaaaad … Why do you always try to murder all my friends?”

Salem 1x13 Cotton

Image credit: WGN America

Meanwhile, Mary is chatting at George while she packs her things, but then Tituba shows up and tells her that she is not leaving Salem without completing the Grand Rite. In order to persuade Mary to comply, Tituba tells her that the child she gave up seven years ago is actually alive, and a “treasured” companion of the Dark Lord. As long as Mary finishes the Grand Rite, her child will be fine, Tituba tells her. Despite Mary’s anger at her former friend for manipulating her using her heretofore-assumed-dead/unborn child, she agrees to do the Grand Rite, but then she is TOTALLY LEAVING THEIR SORRY ASSES BEHIND FOREVER AND GOING TO FIJI WITH JOHN. (Or Boston. Whatever.)

Once again, Isaac plays the role of clueless errand boy to Mary, who tasks him with leaving the Mallum somewhere in the woods on his way out of town, so he can leave Salem in the dust and find the better life that he deserves. She also gives him a note for Cotton and a big sack of money, but before he goes, Isaac tells Mary how he hopes she and John get their second chance too, because they’re the only real friends he’s ever had—except for his horse that died. (Awkward.)

John is twiddling his thumbs and looking pretty in the moonlit forest, waiting for Mary, when suddenly he hears the bloodhounds that Increase sent after him (which explains the random bloody rag Increase handed to that guy in the last episode). John rolls his eyes and starts running the opposite direction.

Mary teleports into Increase’s room, where he’s writing in his diary about how perfectly his plan is going. (Psych!) Mary tells him that she knew he expected her to be in the woods with John, so naturally she came here to mess with him instead. Then she’s like, “Hey, thanks for doing all those murders for me for my evil ritual,” gloating about how she got the Puritans to make the sacrifices for her by using their fear and paranoia to manipulate them. (I mean, I hate to say I told you so, Puritans, but …) All the while, Mary is going all Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, flying around the room as Increase tries to attack her, until Cotton bursts into the room after reading the note Isaac delivered. Mary immediately makes herself appear to be chained to a chair, pleading with Cotton to save her from Increase’s wrath. Increase tries to explain to his son that Mary is a lying witch, but when the elder Mather starts beating Mary, Cotton runs a sword through him, killing him. Cotton holds his father’s body, looking lost and confused and broken. Mary tells him to flee Salem, and never tell anyone what happened there.

With Increase’s death, the Grand Rite is complete. While Mary chants something about “the Dark Lord’s birth” over Increase’s corpse, the Mallum opens in Isaac’s hands, revealing a small stone. The sky takes on a red tint, and suddenly the stone explodes in Isaac’s face. (And that’s why you don’t play with demonic artifacts.)

In the Hale bunker, the Grand Rite alarm (a visibly rotting apple) tells them that the ritual has begun. Anne gets upset when she realizes that everyone who isn’t a witch in Salem is about to die. When she tries to leave to go help them, Hale slaps his daughter, which sends her into a tantrum. Anne starts shouting, “I am not you! I am not a witch!” This would sound more convincing if she weren’t simultaneously flinging objects across the room with her out-of-control telekinesis. As Anne’s eyes turn a flaming red-orange, the small room becomes a whirlwind of flying debris, and then BOOM, the top of Mrs. Hale’s head is blown off. Seconds later, Magistrate Hale is pinned against the wall by a projectile piece of wood that pierces his skull. Who’s not a witch now, Anne? This ties in with what Mary said to the Elders earlier in the episode about a Hale descendant who is powerful enough to take her place as their “chosen one.” Anne certainly isn’t the naïve little girl she was at the beginning of the season.

In the forest, John has been caught by Increase’s men and their dogs. Just as John is being hanged from a tree, an arrow severs the rope and saves his life. In a spectacular surprise, the Mohawk tribe has come to John’s rescue again. After he catches his breath and gets his bearings, John picks up a tomahawk and joins the fight. Most of Increase’s men are killed in the onslaught, but then John is shot in the chest and goes down.

Elsewhere in the woods, Mercy is met by her band of suffering adolescents. Wearing a crown of thorns and a thimble, Mercy addresses the group, announcing that she will take her rightful place as Queen of the Night, since it was she who beheaded Rose, not Mary. And Mercy wants to make her former mentor pay.

Salem 1x13 Mercy

Image credit: WGN America

In a quick “Where are they now?” roundup, we see Cotton trudging away from Salem, looking forlorn; Increase’s body being devoured by the hounds that tracked John; Anne standing in the wake of her destruction; Isaac dying from the Mallum’s plague; and John being carried off by the Mohawks, his fate uncertain. Mary stands before the Elders as they present her with a young boy. She stares at her son in disbelief, then embraces him and bursts into tears.

And that, my friends, is how you end a finale. Just enough closure to feel like there was some resolution, while opening up a whole new Pandora’s box of potential madness to look forward to. Not a single character is where they were 13 episodes ago. Granted, that’s because half of them are dead, but the ones who are left have undergone some startling transformations. Mary went from a power-hungry witch with a black heart to a woman willing to leave it all behind for a chance at true happiness. John went from a brooding cynic and haunted veteran to a brooding romantic, albeit one who has learned that you can’t always save people from themselves. Cotton was a conflicted minister who was enslaved by his own sinful desires, but then he was freed by the solace of reason. Anne has tapped into her (apparently ample) witch powers, becoming a potential rival for the impending power struggle among Salem’s witches. Mercy started out as a scared little girl who was tortured by her God-fearing father, and now she’s planning to claim her place as “Queen of the Night.”

Like any great finale, this one had as many new questions as it did answers. What will become of Mary and John’s son? Will Cotton really leave Salem? Can the Mohawks save John? How will Mercy take her revenge on Mary? After a season of nonstop suspense, Salem delivered an ending that was shocking and satisfying, which will only make the wait for season 2 even more painful. Until then, here are some possible themes for next season: “Salem 2: John and Cotton Take New York,” “Mercy Lewis’ School of Witchcraft and Murder,” “Rosemary’s Baby: How to Reconnect with Your Demonic Child,” or “John Alden Paints with All the Colors of the Wind.” Tune in next season to see what happens!

Salem on WGN America

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