Salem: The Vow (1×01)
Synopsis: John Alden returns from war to his hometown of Salem which is in a state of panic, with locals convinced witches live amongst them
Rating: ★★★☆ ☆
Let me preface this with the fact that I had absolutely no expectations of this show. Not because I thought it was going to be bad or anything, but rather just because I wanted to go into this with as little preconceived notions as possible. I have loved witches since I was a little girl, nothing about them spelled horror to me, only fascination.
After studying the European witch craze during the Inquisition at university, I was pretty curious to see where Salem would go with the story. My love of the subject left me with not only a vast knowledge of the historical trials, but also a wide library of pop culture knowledge on witches.
Salem‘s entire preface is that witches are real, they plaster that pretty much all over their marketing, and these witches are the ones running the trial. The pilot doesn’t really convince me that this is a big issue. Sure there is a witch hunt starting, but it seems like the witches Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) and Tituba (Ashley Madekwe) are pretty much safe.
Shane West’s John Alden plays a skeptical soldier come back from war, and acts all the part of the brooding protagonist. He’s come back after presumed dead, and returned to his hometown of Salem right at the beginning of the witch craze. Seth Gabel’s Cotton Mather plays off of West’s Alden, as opposites of the spectrum.
Armed with the might of God and vast knowledge on witchcraft, he seeks to not only bring an end to the witches in Salem but also bring forth the witch hunts.
If the first episode is suppose to be a reflection of the season, it is going to be a wild ride. From sensual deals with the devil to what look like tar pit orgies to forest rituals, the show doesn’t hold back on the shock factor of how dark it can get. I’ll reserve my judgement for whether or not I think the supernatural special effects are helping or hurting the show until the next few episodes.
The witchcraft references feel like they are right out of my textbooks, and I can tell the writers are pulling from some source materials. I’ll be curious to see how far they will go with the witch trials, i.e. the interrogation scenes and the torture, as their sources that they draw from. In my opinion, simply making a series about the witch trials, without the supernatural element, might have drawn me in more. Seeing the dynamics between people change through a witch hunt would have made for much more inspired dialogue.
As WGN’s new original programming, it has yet to really make a unique impression with its style. The supernatural elements feel like something out of Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, while the dialogue fails to really hold my attention steady unless it’s Shane and Janet weaving their magic.
The cast is brilliant at their delivery. Seth Gable is mesmerizing as a conflicted Cotton Mather. Xander Berkeley plays a perfectly duplicitous Magistrate Hale. Ashley Madekwe is stunning and enchanting as Tituba. In the end it was the cast and not the subject that was keeping my attention in the show.
I am excited to see where John and Mary take their relationship, especially with Mary’s powers in play. Not only that, but where Mary’s relationship with Tituba will go. I’m not really sure if they are trying to reference Tituba as a voodoo witch of some sort, but she seems to hold a dominance towards Mary. After spending a season watching American Horror Story: Coven push the envelope with what they were willing to show, I’ll be interested to see how dark and how twisted Salem will go with their witchcraft.
Check out our interviews with Salem’s Brannon Braga (Executive Producer) and Shane West (John Alden) from Wonder Con 2014 as well!