I started watching this show right when it started last year. And it’s bombastic, to say the least. I do think it can be problematic to fictionalize real life tragedies by giving credence to how they became tragedies in the first place. I think we can all agree that the real life Salem witch trials was a senseless event that claimed the lives of innocent human being due to mass hysteria. Saying there were real witches in Salem is tricky because in some ways it validates the hysteria. But fictionalizing this event has a long history as well and witches are usually just so… entertaining. Salem takes an interesting approach.
Several years before the infamous trials a young woman, Mary, finds herself pregnant and unmarried. Believing her lover, John Alden, dead she makes a serious decision to sell her soul to rid herself of the pregnancy and gain the abilities of a witch. Years later Mary is leading the witches of Salem, having exacted revenge on George Sibley, who she blames for… quite a lot, by marrying and incapacitating him, leaving her as his proxy and a powerful force in town. She’s also begun preparations for the Grand Rite (basically the big MacGuffin of the first season) when Alden returns to town.
The first thing that I liked about this show was the fact that it pulls zero punches. It’s completely insane. From familiar sucking at witches teats, to a possessed girl biting off her own finger while identifying a new witch, it’s really balls to the walls crazy pants. I didn’t even mention when someone vomits nails or the character that is actually referred as Isaac the Fornicator. But that’s what happens when a show isn’t on a network that anybody knows anything about. Salem airs on WGN. So… whatever that tells you. But less expected viewers generally leads to more risks and, I think for this series, it really pays off. Playing it safe would most likely lead to something tepid, and no one could accuse this show of being tepid.
What this show does that is interesting, though, is instead of taking the stance that the villagers are scared for a valid reason, in Salem the witches are manipulating the villagers into accusing each other, and inching the witches ever closer to the body count they need to complete the Grand Rite without ever lifting a finger.
The cast I mostly enjoy, with a weak point in Shane West as John Alden. The character could be charismatic, but falls flat. I have no problem, in general, with West but I don’t really think he works here. Janet Montgomery as Mary Sibley is the strong point, mixing equal parts malice and vulnerability. Elise Eberle also entertains as bonkers Mercy Lewis. And Ashley Madekwe plays a mysterious Tituba. All these characters are factual, but it should be noted that their resemblance to history is naught. In reality, Mercy was one of the young girls who’s fits led the villagers to fear witches in the first place and Sibley was a participant of little significance. Tituba is probably the most historically significant character on the show, along with Cotton Mather, the holy man behind the trials who’s painted far more sympathetically here than I anticipated.
Another thing I feel needs to be bbroughtto attention is the difference between a witch and a wiccan. I have never considered witches as anything to do with Satan and it always annoyed me when they were portrayed that way. But then I thought about it a little differently. Certainly Wiccans have nothing to do with the devil but witches aren’t quite… real, though often witch is used in place of Wiccan. Witches, on the other hand, have a long history of being whatever fanatical religious people need them to be. This incarnation of witches fall firmly in the realm of what the Salem Puritans were afraid of. Which, frankly, is the only thing that would make sense for this show.
History, also, should be taken with a very large grain of salt. Given it’s supernatural themes it should also go without saying that this is not historically accurate. But still there are small nuggets of events or character we recognize. Those looking for a piece of historical fiction should certainly look elsewhere, this is a supernatural show.
Salem is not a show for everyone. It’s sometimes gross, sometimes over the top, and always pretty insane, but if you can let it be what it is, and not what you were expecting or wanting it to be, then it can shine on it’s own. Is it great? Probably not. But it is tremendous fun.
Salem airs Sundays at 10:00 EST on WGN.
Reading: The Heiresses by Sara Shepard
I was fully prepared to give my first negative review on my weekly roundups with this book. Usually I have more than one book that I read during the week and I have a bit of a choice. But this week I had a rather strong reaction to this book even when I thought it was useless shit. And, don’t get me wrong, this is shit. I picked this up on the description alone and only realized when I got it home that this was by Sara Shepard of Pretty Little Liars fame and that this is the first installment of a new series. For adults. Now, make no mistake, I love Pretty Little Liars, the TV show. I also read a lot of YA books so there was a hot second when I considered reading the books. But, then I heard a few things and decided I’d rather just still to television. The books seem even more far fetched and overly long. Sixteen volumes? Overkill. I also gave ABC Family’s version of Shepard’s other series, The Lying Game, a shot and enjoyed it well enough, though it was no PLL. The Heiresses is more of the same. Five cousins from the Saybrook diamond dynasty seemingly have it all, but typically each have their hidden problems. When Poppy Saybrook, everyone’s favorite cousin and president of the company, is murdered her cousins, Rowen, Corrine, Natasha, and Aster start to receive threats that they may be next.
This was soapy and awful but also, after awhile, wildly entertaining. In the first few chapters I thought I would put this down, but then I didn’t and actually started to enjoy myself. Don’t get me wrong, this was pure trash, but every once in awhile that sort of thing really hits the spot. This had all the elements; family secrets, rampant scandal, murder, and inevitably, mystery. The characters are essentially stock; the wild child socialite, the perfect sister who’s crumbling inside, the guy’s girl in love with her best friend, but eventually they seemed to take off and become real enough that they almost became natural.
I had an experience like I had with this book once before. Many years ago while working at camp for the summer and saw the trashiest looking book I’d ever seen. It was called Gossip Girl and no one was talking about it because no one had heard of it. So, I picked it up, read it, and realized with dismay that it was the first in a series and that I cared about the characters just enough to read what turned into something like ten volumes of absolute crap. I am deeply afraid this is going to turn into a similar situation.
Would I recommend this? Probably not. It’s not good. Really. But I can’t say that I didn’t end up having a good time with this piece of crap and I can’t say that I wont end up picking up the next volume.
Listening: Vienna Blood Waltz by Johann Strauss II because sometimes you just need a good waltz.
Random: I was all prepared to write about how spring was basically here and I’ve been able to resume my schedule of long walks through various parks and neighborhoods. I was even planning on including a few photographs of the beautiful scenery. I was planning on writing it out on Friday evening after I came home from work. But then Friday happened, and it was such a bitch of a day that I realized I have to write about it instead.
Friday started with my taking my car in for a much needed oil change. It had been way too long since the last one and I was a little nervous because the car seemed to be dragging a little and I really shouldn’t have waited as long as I waited. But sometimes my fear of what professionals think of me sort of hinders my life and only exacerbated the situation. Anyway, there is this process that takes place at good old Alternative Solutions. I bring the car in, they hoist it up to do what they need to do (usually the old oil change), and I sit in the waiting area hoping that this little window isn’t going to open. Sometimes it does and whoever is in the back passing something forward. The guy behind the desk then goes to the phone and starts communicating with whoever is on the other side, usually about car parts. He gets whatever answer he’s looking for and then walks around the desk to the (usually) various people who are waiting for their cars. At this point I am practically holding my breath like that scene in A League of Their Own when a telegram arrives from the war office and Tom Hanks reads it and every married woman thinks they might pass out until he stops in front of the recipient. This particular time, it was me. Luckily it was the serpentine belt, which wasn’t terribly expensive, the bad news was that I walked out of them having spent a hundred and fifty dollars more than I had anticipated.
Still, that’s not the worst. Cars do need maintenance after all. So I proceeded to pick up two of the littles for whom I babysit at school. I got there about a half hour before they were both nicely settled in the backseat and read my book for awhile. When it was time to leave I turned the key in my ignition and…. nothing. I tried again, just for good measure. And then I kept trying because I had two small children in the back seat wanting to get home and watch Star Wars on iTunes. Apparently, when I turned off the car to read I left on the headlights, which promptly drained the battery. I texted their dad to say we would be late while I called AAA and he offered to come with jumper cables, which was a pretty favorable outcome, so I headed over to the playground with the littles while we waited. All was fine as I helped the smaller one climb over the equipment. But then the older one wanted me to join in a game of tag. He tagged me and, naturally, I chased after him. I chased after him as he ran onto the grass, but apparently his dexterity didn’t extend to me because as I ran into the grass I hit a giant slick puddle and before I registered that anything was happening I was flat on my back on the ground, my arms flung akimbo. I couldn’t even move for about thirty seconds.
And then, of course, I realized how hilarious it was. It was a full on, cartoon style fall. It was only a few minutes later when I realized I was going to have to go to the little’s house and watch them for two more hours with sopping wet clothes that I stopped laughing. Meanwhile, the kids were all starring at me, shocked, as if they’d never seen an adult make a fool out of themself. I guess they hadn’t met me.