Straddlers! I’m writing to you at three past the witching hour, up late to concoct a dark and complex brew for you. We’ll be covering Salem, a occult-themed historical drama full of canon queerness, witchy TV Tropes, magick panic, and horrible colonial patriarchy. To
combat accentuate the darkness, I’ll also sprinkle in relevant moody playlists and suggested reading.
This show aired this year on a channel called WGN America, which I don’t know about because I’m ignorant of TV and too busy hiding under a rock made out of cheap and commitment-free digital streaming services. Salem just got added to Netflix, which is how I learned about it. You can also snag the entire first season on Amazon. We’ll be taking these recaps two episodes at a time, to mimic the way we binge watch in the 21st century.
Some of you might remember me from Star Trek N00b, so I’ll be talking nerdy to you. Channel yer inner Hermoine and check out a few of these books that seem pretty damn relevant.
The Malleus Maleficarum: This book is a terrible reminder of when humans really fucked the world up. Basically, some Catholic dude wrote a witch-hunting guide back in 1486. It set off a witch panic and played a major role in the torture and murder of tens of thousands of people. Over what?
Yes, the Malleus says witches could create illusions so men will believe that their DICKS AREN’T ATTACHED TO THEIR BODIES. Yes, this is exactly the type of paranoia that would instigate a centuries-long genocide of mostly women.
However, the Malleus is also one of the earliest texts to describe witches and is partially responsible for the negative witch stereotypes we know of today.
The Crucible: We all read it in high school. It’s about the depressing horrors of the Salem witch trials.
*Your lesbian witch erotica of choice here*: Please leave suggestions in the comments. It’ll be like a nice soothing eyewash after the oppressive witch slap of history.
Now that you’ve got your grimoires and quills ready, let’s get on with the show!
The scene opens on the town of Salem, Massachusettes. They really don’t beat around the bush here with Puritanical hellfire and punishment. The town buzzkill and biblethumper George Sibley is branding this guy’s forehead with an F for Fornication.
We’re introduced to resident bad-boy, John Alden, whose father was apparently a VIP in Salem. He’s the only one who dares to question Sibley, getting sassy with quotes from the bible.
But the whole town knows that Sibley hates John because he’s a little punk who likes to flip bible quotes around to critique the patriarchy.
Even though it smells like burning flesh right now, Mary totally has the hots for John.
Anyway, John’s skipping town to go join the war effort so that Sibley doesn’t hang him. He smooches Mary in the county graveyard and promises that King William’s War will just last a year. WRONG!
After John marches off to war, we meet Tituba, a powerful witch and the only woman of color I’ve seen so far in Salem. She leads Mary off into the woods. Mary’s freaking out, because she’s pregnant! and oh hetero Jesus, this is the kind of thing that gets you BRANDED as a harlot in Salem.
Tituba’s a super relevant name in history, since she was the first accused with in the real-life Salem Witch Trials. She also gets named-dropped in AHS:Coven, as Chelsea points out.
Turns out Tituba’s running a Planned Parenthood out in the woods, because she’s able to get rid of Mary’s baby problem within a few minutes. The only caveat is that Mary has offered her innocent baby’s life up to some demon with a skin condition, and now the Dark Ones totally owe her a solid.
Seven years later…
Whew, how time flies! John returns to Salem, which is in full-blown witch panic mode.
This sweaty preacher dude is Sibley’s son, Cotton, who has inherited the witch-hunting torch from his father. Talk about the repressed priest — when he’s not busy proselytizing and hanging witches, he’s out at the brothel with his lover Gloriana and addressing his delirium tremens at the bar.
Gloriana appears totally unimpressed by the reverend in bed.
Magistrate Hale is the only person in town who openly criticizes Cotton’s witch hunt. Which is understandable since he’s:
While John doesn’t buy into any of the witch panic, he does notice that there are some freaky things afoot. He accompanies Cotton to the home of Mercy Lewis, a young woman who seems to be possessed by demons. (Mercy’s also featured in The Crucible.)
Holy shit, this scene was scary. Poor Mercy’s being tormented by something awful.
Turns out this Walking Dead extra is lurking in Mercy’s bedroom. I’m gonna ride the Nope!mobile outta here.
So what happened to Mary over the last seven years? Well she just became a super powerful dark witch who now runs the entire town of Salem, since she married Sibley Sr.
She’s so evil that she’s even grown an extra nipple on her leg to feed her frog familiar. Guess where she stores this frog? In her husband’s freakin’ throat, so he can’t cry for help! Damn, Mary.
Mary’s upset at John Alden’s return to Salem, and she joins Tituba in her bedroom, where they have a steamy ladies’ empowerment scene. Tituba reminds Mary that she’s grown into a super-scary witch all by herself, one who runs all of Salem. “What’s John Alden compared to all that lies before you?” Also, pretty sure they’re bangin’ each other.
Mary’s ready to join the ranks of other Alternative Lifestyle witches like:
Poor, empty-headed Cotton decides to chain up Mercy, the possessed girl, because he thinks that she can somehow sniff out witches like a bloodhound.
Turns out that Mary’s got the whammy over this poor girl, and decides to target Giles Corey, a friend of John Alden’s who witnessed her abortion in the woods with Tituba. Corey is blackmailing Mary with news of Alden’s unborn child. So Mary decides that he’s gotta go!
Mercy CHOMPS OFF HER OWN FINGERTIP, spits it out, and points at Giles. If that’s not a damning false accusation, then I don’t know what it.
Poor Giles is dragged away and executed in the public square by Reverend Cotton, who should never fucking touch a game of Clue. The real witches are thrilled that the people of Salem are killing innocents, because the deaths will help them complete a tricky Level 50 Mean Witch Spell.
That night, Mary needs to join her witch circle/conference call. She and Tituba don’t use Skype to dial in — instead, they use a wooden dildo that Tituba’s screwed off the top of her broom! They use some flying ointment as lube and they sex it up. Go WGN America!
Mary freezes in that incredibly awkward position and telepathically joins her witch conference call, which is basically an old Nine Inch Nails music video.
But guess who witnesses the witches’ rites? That’s right, John Alden and Isaac, the guy with the “F” branded into his forehead!
Will they team up to bring the evil queer witches and Lucius Malfoy to justice? Or will they get the hell outta Dodge?
Bonus: Ladies’ Night in Salem playlist!
The theme of this episode is the MNDR Nighttime remix of Austra’s Spellwork, because of all the fire and magick!