“Salem” is a scripted TV show on the WGN America network. It turns the 1692 witch trials into fictional baroque melodrama–because they weren’t hysterical enough in their real form, ha ha.I confess I have a liking for the show. It doesn’t claim to be historically accurate; rather, it uses facts as a basis for its own purposes, perhaps the way the real Salem judges did. It’s a bit like when Demi Moore played me in her film version of The Scarlet Letter, passion over substance, but it is great– what’s the word I should use here–“fun”? Or something like that.
The TV show “Salem” is based on the premise that witches are real and actually sympathetic, when you get to know them. I love the main character, the beautiful Mary Sibley, played by Janet Montgomery. Impregnated then deserted by John Alden (who goes off to war not realizing what he has done), Mary is inculcated into witchcraft by Tituba, also a lovely young woman with problems of her own. The main gist here is that women become witches because they have awful husbands/fathers/lovers and this is their only way of assuming supreme power over their lives and society. Or else they’re just really, really greedy…Trying to stop them is Increase Mather, stern and sadistic patriarch, and his son, Cotton–a reluctant witch-finder; he is kind of a “wimp”, browbeaten by his father. At the end of the season, when forced to witness Increase’s torture of Tituba, he has a psychotic meltdown in the woods. Other interesting characters are John Hale (a 17th century version of a hippie, with his long, gray ponytail and mellow manner), outwardly an upstanding member of the community but secretly a warlock, and his red-haired, willowy daugher, Anne (Tamzin Merchant). Anne wants to be good, not just for the sake of her own soul but to bring a breath of fresh, pure air to Salem. What’s stopping her? Let’s see: all the other girls her age are in a coven, her own father wanders the forest with Satan and, when John Alden returns to Salem, Anne falls in love with him–thereby attracting the attention of the jealous and very powerful Mary Sibley. Outside the orphanage which she runs, Anne remarks wistfully to John that she wishes Salem could be a place free of evil and accusations for just one day. Shortly after this, Anne learns her father is a shape-shifting warlock and John Alden is himself arrested for, you guessed it, witchcraft.
The show has been renewed for a second season. Personally, I hope Mary Sibley finds happiness. I think that, in spite of sealing a pact with the devil, turning her elderly husband into a comatose fool by means of suckling a toad, casting spells so that young girls go crazy and letting her former lover John Alden possibly swing on the gallows, she’s a good person at heart–just historically, not to mention geographically, challenged.