A Salem Community
Sunday on WGN America

Salem S01E01: "The Vow"


Witches have been a popular television staple since Elizabeth Montgomery first twitched her nose as Samantha Stevens on Bewitched in 1964. Since then there have been dozens of series about witches or featuring witches, and they range anywhere from the wholesome Sabrina, The Teenage Witch to the WB's more adult-themed Charmed, to the mostly unhinged drama of American Horror Story: Coven. Now joining those ranks is WGN America's first original scripted series Salem, a dark and twisty look at one of America's most infamous time periods. 

Off the top of my head I can think of four on-going shows in addition to Salem that feature witches: The Vampire DiariesThe OriginalsTrue Blood, and Witches of East End (a moment of silence for the fallen The Secret Circle, please). But whereas TVD usually relegates its resident witch to the sidelines in favor of vampires and love-triangles, and whereas Witches of East End focuses a bit too much on the soap for my liking, Salem straddles the boundaries between every day supernatural and horror. It treats its witches, including Janet Montgomery's leading lady Mary Sibley, as something dangerous. No one's getting turned into a newt, and no one's lighting candles with just a swish of their fingers. There's seriously dark magic at the center of the series, which can only be a good thing at this point. Even if I wasn't interested in Salem's main plot to destroy the Puritans, I'd still watch the show because it's the first series in a while that has witches that doesn't make me wonder where they got their witching license. American Horror Story's recent witch-centered season started out strong, but eventually fizzled into Ryan Murphy's patented brand of craziness. Salem is slow to start, but builds toward a climax at the end of the pilot that at least hints at a larger and darker story.


Driving most of the first episode, and I suspect much of the season, is the love story between Mary Sibley and John Alden (Shane West), who went to war in 1685 and returned seven years later to find the town in the grips of mass-hysteria. He's the most rational man in Salem at this point, hardened by the horrors of war, but what John doesn't know is that the sexy times he engaged in with Mary prior to leaving resulted in a pregnancy, and that Mary and her shady friend Tituba (Ashley Madekwe) performed a magical abortion in the woods that left Mary a different person in the aftermath. When John and his wig return in 1692, Mary has already married the richest asshole in town, George Sibley, and is also the most powerful witch in Salem, controlling much of what goes on with the steely resolve of a woman who's finally found her confidence in a male dominated society. I have no doubt that secret abortion will come back in to play later on this season, as Mary's trying her best to keep it quiet. She even went so far as to have the one person who knew about it (outside of Tituba) stoned for witchcraft. That night in the woods signaled not only a change in Mary's character, but also, I suspect, a change in the town, and might have been what brought magic and witchcraft to Salem.

The series' reliance on shocking and sometimes disgusting imagery works to sell the series' specific version of witchcraft. But beyond the old ladies munching on young women, people wearing bloody animal heads in the woods, and the toads living inside people to do their witch's bidding, there is an actual point to Salem, it just takes awhile to discover what it is. Mary and the other witches in town, including Xander Berkeley's Magistrate Hale, want to turn the witch-hating Puritans against one another to the point they'll destroy each other in their hysteria. They enlist Seth Gabel's Cotton Mather to lead the charge, which he does, not realizing he's a pawn in the witches' master plan. 


Mary's agenda to destroy the Puritans who've persecuted her kind is an interesting twist to the infamous time period in American history, and it puts the power in the hands of women—something unheard of for the time period—but also in the hands of those our textbooks have taught us were wrongfully persecuted. This deviation from history will give birth to some interesting storylines down the road, I'm sure, but it does take the pilot an awfully long time to get this point. The revelation makes for a clever ending, but it also means viewers spend most of the pilot wondering WTF is happening, because so much is left unexplained until the episode's final moments. It felt like the series cared more about making viewers jump than it did about setting up the story for most of the hour. Truthfully, it makes sense for the series to keep its secrets close, slowly building this new world and carefully choosing when to reveal information, but it might not be enough for the casual viewer who wants answers quickly or who isn't keen on the supernatural and only came for a taste.

Salem has the makings of a fun, exciting, and horrifying journey and it was wise of WGN America to choose this particular series to launch their scripted programming slate rather than Manhattan, its series about the 1940s and the birth of the atomic bomb. Following the success of Fox's Sleepy Hollow, the popularity of genre television is certainly on the rise and Salem is original enough to stand out and interesting enough to make viewers want to return to it, but the series will need to make a more conscious effort to dole out answers if it wants to retain its audience. Creepy imagery only gets you so far, and I wish WGN America had sent out more than just the pilot so I could have gotten a better feel for the overall tone and stability of the series, but as it stands, the Salem pilot is just creepy enough and gives out just the right amount of information for a tantalizing taste that leaves viewers wanting more. It will be interesting to watch how John, a man who's essentially an outsider in his hometown after being away for so long (and thus the audience stand-in), slowly discovers and uncovers the truth about his former lover and the town he's returned to. But it will be even more interesting to watch how this twisted version of events plays out over the course of the next nine episodes. It'd be super cool if the show kept the toad swallowing to a minimum, though. That crap was gross.

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 6/28/2015

Season 2 : Episode 13

60 Comments
Comments (81)
Submit
Sort: Latest | Popular
I gave it a chance. I wanted to like it. After all, I was born and raised in Salem, Massachusetts and I am a fan of the witches and warlocks genre. But, this show is a mockery of my birth city and the genre. It has no substance and it's only life comes from gratuitous gore, sex, and shock factor. It iseems an insult to the history of Salem.
Reply
Flag
Obvious, over the top, nonsensical, bordering on offensive trash. There is a way to make entertaining fictional television about a real time and place, and this isn't it.

I barely made it through the first episode. Puritans calling themselves Puritans. Frogs feeding off sexily placed thigh boils. A local whore house in a town that whips and brands people for fornication. The "cinnamon" servant who brought the witchcraft to the innocent heartbroken woman in the first place. The wooden dildo that puts the HWC* into a trance. It would be laughable if it wasn't so tragically horrible.

I see it's been renewed for a second season though, so I guess there is an audience for it. To each their own I suppose.
1
Reply
Flag
I thought the pilot had some really exceptional moments and the writing was strong for most of it but some of the cheesy moments were really cheesy. I guess the shock value scenes.

The pilot wasn't all that focused but it was good enough that I'll tune in Sunday to see how it goes.
Reply
Flag
Good pilot, only complaint is I wish they hadn't killed off Giles Corey so quickly. He was a really interesting character (played flawlessly by the always brilliant Kevin Tighe) I really liked the relationship between him and John Alden but it felt like it was cut short too quickly. Other than that, the show was pretty good.
3
Reply
Flag
It was gross,disgusting but yet quite delicious. I delayed watching it till now as too many shows on Sun. It was enough to attract me to watch the second episode.
Reply
Flag
NO SEX SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE OS BAD ten lashings for you. :) WOW I loved it, it was dark and twisted which is what I excepted, Shane west is delicious and just perfect for his role and Seth gable as said below channeled one of my favourite villains in arrow count vertigo which was perfect a little touch of crazy is great.
Reply
Flag
Shane West and Xander Berkeley were great in Nikita. It looks like they'll be facing of again in this series. Seth Gabel was channeling some Count Vertigo in this premiere.
2
Reply
Flag
watched it..i think the trailer was way better than the pilot.i expected more for a first episode ,i'm gonna watch 2 more episodes and then i'm gonna decide is i'll wach the rest of the season...for now i give it 6,5..i liked the addition of ashley madekwe..
1
Reply
Flag
Going to give Salem a second chance I lost interest 30 minutes in, I will record it tonight, watch it on the Sunday morning and reevaluate
2
Reply
Flag
I expected to hate it. Honestly, I wanted to hate it, since I dislike all the actors (especially that lady with the useless role in Revenge). But it was kinda fun. And I like the fact that witches are badass and not whiny bitches in the background (TVD I'm talking to you).

Especially Janet Montgomery seemed wooden (to be gentle) in Human Target, and I didn't think much of her talent. But she is great here, and I like the fact that they give the lead witch a bare face, no wine lipstick or smokey eyes (puritans, I know, but not many series care about historical accuracy when vamp eyelashes are involved).

I'll watch again next week, hope it lasts.
3
Reply
Flag
Ashley Madekwe was awesome in Revenge, Janet Montgomery is awesome especially in Human Target !! U must not be watching TVD lately far from whining!! actually they are Kicking Ass
1
Reply
Flag
I was looking forward to this and I was not disappointed. Great gruesome pilot!
4
Reply
Flag
Same here!
3
Reply
Flag
The lore is clearly derived from "The History of Witchcraft" by Montague Summers. It has the intensity and special effects of Sleepy Hollow (but not the fun) and the graphic and period nature of Black Sails. If they can reduce the sexual imagery (I was amazed what a prime-time non-cable show could get away with) this could be a great show. Not safe for all ages!
1
Reply
Flag
WGN & WGN America are two separate channels. Salem is most definitely a cable show on a cable network
Reply
Flag
lost interest after 30 minutes, TVD Originals, The Secret Circle Charmed were much better!!!
1
Reply
Flag
TvD- definitely not
Originals- not really
Charmed- I guess so
TSC- definitely not
5
Reply
Flag
the Originals is so much better is unreal!! after that I not going to waste my time
Reply
Flag
I thought it was very weird but I am willing to give it the 4 episode test to see if I should give up on it or not. So far I like my witches from OUAT better then these weird ones from this show.
2
Reply
Flag
This show was amazing, Shane West is why I showed up, creepy weird magic, a reverend backdooring a hooker and shouting bible quotes is why I am going to stay!
5
Reply
Flag
Although Shane's wig is the worst.
2
Reply
Flag
He could use a hair cut.
Reply
Flag
I realize that this show isn't necessarily for everyone, but I personally love this particular brand of crazy. I think I may be the only person who actually liked the Lost finale, purely because the writers had the guts to just go for it.

I liked the retelling of the witch-naming fits with Mercy Lewis leading Cotton Mather around like some kind of gollum-style finger biting bloodhound. I also enjoyed how the show focused on more than just John and Mary and how all of the characters got their own flaws and complications. If the show continues on this unique and daring path, Salem will definitely turn into appointment viewing for me!
10
Reply
Flag
You're definitely not the only one who liked the Lost finale. In fact, a lot of people loved it, including me. It's just that we were not as loud as the minority who still pollute the internet with mass-hatred towards the shows finale. There's also that small (albeit extremely obnoxiously loud, ignorant and annoying) minority who simply didn't get the ending because their brain capacity simply isn't cut out for television that forces you to think. The critics like to call them "casual viewers" but I like to call them morons.

Just like majority of those "casual viewers" found Salem to be too slow it wasn't at all. It just required a person to sit still and actually concentrate on the plot instead of playing Candy Crush Saga whilst simultaneously live-tweeting about how hot Shane West is.
4
Reply
Flag
sorry "found Salem to be too slow when it wasn't at all."
Reply
Flag
Pro's: Great name for a show, good concept.
Con's: Its too PG rated.

The con's have it i'm afraid. Hopefully it'll get canceled in a few episodes and then pitched to a real network that can give the show what it needs, adult concepts with adult content.

This show would have been better if the writers from Spartacus, GoT, Black Sails, Banshee etc did this.
11
Reply
Flag
Not everything needs bare boobs. They are special channels for this, you know.
2
Reply
Flag
No, but when the show itself feels the need too and then simply faulters with implied adult content it highlights how woeful it is.
Point 1: The birth scene and the strategically placed gown.
Point 2: The attempted seduction scene between the witch and familiar feeder.

Writer Fail: So what do you think? (after pitch)
Executive Fail: Just one question i'm confused by some of the scenes so what is our target audience.
Writer Fail: The lucrative 13-17 yr old market, lets not fall into the trap like those writers from GoT.
Executive Fail: Excellent idea, we don't want millions of viewers each week to watch our show.
6
Reply
Flag
I didn't expect much from this show going in, so, it definitely exceeded my expectations. It had its issues, but I was entertained by its occasional gruesome twistedness.
I call that a win.

I also liked the different take on witches. I tolerate the silly handwaving easy magic every other TV shows have witches doing, but goddamn...I really hate that stuff. I honestly pine for a show one day that portrays Wicca realistically, but that show would probably bore people to tears & not last a a full month. Till then, I'm very cool with this show not being witchy like Charmed, TVD, ect.

For those reasons, I'm definately in for the next ep :)
2
Reply
Flag
I thought it was fun. It likely isn't going to win any awards but it seems like it is going to be a fun romp into a dark part of our history as a country. It is dark, literally, damn someone use a light in the show.

There really isn't a lot to compare it to currently so it has me for at least a few episodes.
2
Reply
Flag
Finally a real witch show I can watch! OK, American Horror Story: Coven was special, but the minute Stevie Nicks opened her mouth I stopped taking it seriously.
7
Reply
Flag
That's when you started to not take it seriously?
2
Reply
Flag
Good point...
1
Reply
Flag
Looks promising. I actually liked the slow pace with things being revealed bit by bit rather than dump entire story on me in first 20 minutes.

Also can we have at least one redheaded witch?
6
Reply
Flag
You mean like this one?

I'm guessing that Abigail Cook turns out to be the redheaded witch you're looking for

Puritans don't have cleavage ;)
Reply
Flag
There are redheads in the show, I'm just not sure which is witch.
Reply
Flag
I see wut you did there :)
it's the girl who was sketching in the graveyard.
That little rebel girl is just a witch waiting to happen

Reply
Flag
Yes, Tamzin Merchant. It will be fun to see who is witch and who will jsut be hung for it.
Flag
Am I in bizarro land? It's very odd for me to be in the minority that hated a show in the comments. Usually I love these type of shows even when everyone else hates on them (and hey, a Nikita reunion - yay), but it was a chore for me to just get through the first episode. I can't see watching any more unless I am really bored.
6
Reply
Flag
Ill join you in bizarro land becuase I hated it too. I cant really put my finger on why but It probably had something to do with it being all to predictable. That and I know too much about the real Salem that the setting of a other worldly Salem just rubs the wrong way. All the almost nudity in the world couldn't save this show, but I dont think that will stop them from trying.
3
Reply
Flag
I thought the pilot was good, and though I don't really know where they are going, I liked Salem's take on witches. They are actually scary and creepy. I will continue watching.
3
Reply
Flag
If the witches in the real Salem were like the witches on the show, I'd have been rooting for the Puritans, despite their many faults -- these witches are far worse. This goes beyond "female power fantasy" and straight into "they're evil monsters" territory.

Honestly, set up as it is, I don't see how the writers can hope to make the witches even the littlest bit sympathetic. They're vile, manipulative, murderous, and abusive of their power. If that's what "powerful women" are in TV these days, I think real life women should be insulted.
10
Reply
Flag
A witch is not a woman to be defended, it is an evil person. Why do we need redeemable bads in shows ALL the time? I'll love it if there is pure evil and the good ones win.

Of course, Mary will be sympathetic because true love blablabla but I would prefer it if she was beyond salvation and Captain had to make some tough choices.

Real women are not insulted, because witches are not portrayed as "powerful women" but as "evil persons who need to be stopped". Not everything is about Girl Power. We are our own worst enemy if we turn everything in a feminist battle.
3
Reply
Flag
Oh, I agree. I was more responding to Kaitlin's assertions about "powerful women". She loosely equated the witches with "women on TV".
1
Reply
Flag
Based on just this one episode. it didn't seem the writers were trying to make the witches sympathetic at all. Seems more so far like they are meant to be the villains...it's all really just shades of gray though, innit? The Puritans in this ep were also vile, manipulative, murderous power abusers themselves, & also went into "evil monsters" territory.

btw, just sayin' but oodles of women being accused of witchcraft in Salem back in the day doesn't mean there were any actual practicing witches there at the time. Even if there were, the reality of witchcraft as I understand it has zero similarity to the stereotype of witches we all see on TV & in movies...this show included
3
Reply
Flag
Your perspective seems correct to me, but that being the case, I'm not sure how you maintain a show where virtually everyone is an evil monster, at least not without redeeming some of them immediately.
Reply
Flag
Staff
I don't know, Sons of Anarchy is 99% evil monsters and it seems to do pretty well for FX.
3
Reply
Flag
You know, I've never seen an episode. Maybe I should now.
Flag
::shrug:: We will just have to see how it goes...John Alden is likeable enough & for now, since the show is about him, that's enough for me.
Reply
Flag
wgn did a great job with this pilot.
1
Reply
Flag
I agree 100%.
It had a little bit of lots of things for me.
Reply
Flag
'Percy' and 'Michael' together again! Other than Shane West's wig, not bad at all for a first attempt at original programming. Also got a 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl' reunion for Iddo Goldberg and Ashley Madekwe (who have been married for a few years). At least Ms. Madekwe got on a better Sunday show than the 'Revenge' she left. Loved Janet Montgomery and Seth Gabel finally dialed down a character he is playing that could have been played completely over the top which is how he usually plays a quirky character. Its better than network. I'll keep this one on the DVR.
1
Reply
Flag
I wonder if people realize that genre is not actually a specific category at all. I know every two-bit critic and writer on the planet loves to use it as if: "Hey, I'm writing Genre Fiction"... Okay, that is like saying "Hey, I'm writing something that can be categorized or put into a specific spectrum of species of objects"... So, I say again what exactly is "Genre Fiction" besides being literally a type or category of fiction--that one can obviously ostensibly show on a chart or list somewhere. For example why don't we call this little romp of WGN's a Historical-Fantasy-Drama. That seems to be a category we can create and fill it with members of this class-- hell it can be mereological based concept if we so desired too... Then we can study how each part of the object in question relates to each other and be bogged down in the endless questions of when does specifically something become synonymous with "Historical-Fantasy-Drama"!
11
Reply
Flag
Yeah, that always confused me also, but now I'm just used to genre meaning fantasy/sci-fi/horror when in a certain pop-culture context, so I just roll with it. It wouldn't be the first word in history to have multiple meanings and have the dominant meaning change in the everyday vernacular.
Reply
Flag
We don't have to stand for it becoming proper parlance if you ask me. That is why you hear stupid things like people who in their 40's and 50's saying "My Bad".... We need like the French have a commission that determines the proper lexical and syntactical usage of words. Otherwise English will become nothing but a mongrel language spoken by semi-literate morons.
2
Reply
Flag
I regret that I have only one up-vote to give for your post.
2
Reply
Flag
Who's getting Stoned? Stoning has never been a popular Western European means of dispatching a witch. In England all witches were hanged. In Germany burning alive. However, more often than not most died of drowning; this is of course due to the famous Swimming a witch technique of finding out who's got the EVIL in them. Now, Stoning was popular in the Middle East... I guess these writers are oblivious to little things like history books and reading. Why in the world would anyone actually want to be intelligent about a historical outrage like the Witch Hysteria of 14th-16th centuries. Let's turn that horrible period of history into a b-grade soap drama for the masses... This is why i think most of the Hollywood writers need to be sent to the beet fields of MN for self-criticism and re-education in true Maoist-Marxist Style with just a soupcon of Khmer-Rouge...


It will be a great day for Television if you ask me.
1
Reply
Flag
yeah pilot episode was awful . love the production value. but wait to see if it will get better
1
Reply
Flag
Sorry, this was absolute rubbish. Could not even finish it.
6
Reply
Flag
I really enjoyed the pilot and expect Salem to pass my 4 episode test. Shane West is great at the brooding outsider character. Seth Gabel as the wild eyed fanatical (also hypocritical) priest is well cast. Of course Xander Berkeley plays his part of the two faced magistrate to the perfection that Xander brings to his villains. The pilot did not bother too much with introductions, it just dove right into the action. I appreciated that very much. The introductions were made as the story went along. I like the alternative nature of the story of Salem with the witches wanting the Puritans to destroy themselves. Correy (sp) was great, too bad he died too early. I would have liked to see more of his character. The witches are not sympathetic characters. There is little to like about them. They are evil, but the Puritans are even less sympathetic. I do not like religious fanatics. This series will be fun to see who wins my sympathy. The only character, other than Correy, that I currently like is Shane's John Alden. I do like the redheaded artist, but she was not featured as much, I hope to get to know her as the series progresses.
More+
5
Reply
Flag
I agree with you on Corey. He was killed off way too soon. We didn't really get to learn much about his relationship with John Alden. Wish they would have given him a few more episodes.
Reply
Flag
Definitely going to be watching this a while to come, great show so far. This is one of the best "witch" projects I have seen, with AHS being too campy and the others just focusing too much on the romantic side, Salem introduces its characters quite nicely, like John, who is faced with this epidemic when he returns to war, and his wife who leads the witches and shows the transformation of woman (or even man) to witch. I'm definitely tuned in.
11
Reply
Flag
Follow this Show
Members
3,395