“SALEM: Season 2, Episode 7” (TV Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
It’s not often that a series that trades so often in the sensational like SALEM slows down its action to offer something contemplative. But in the latest episode, “The Beckoning Fair One” helmed by horror master Joe Dante, SALEM takes a moment to breath while investigating the interpersonal dynamics of SALEM’s most sinister inhabitants. Luckily for the viewer, that narrative gamble pays off as the episode sets the stage well for the impending witch war while still offering every demented aspect that makes the show so endearing in the first place.
Of course, “The Beckoning Fair One” is also an important episode in SALEM’s second season as it formally brings back Increase Mather, now a spectral force working at Mary Sibley’s whims while working against Countess Marburg, whom he’d battled many years before his death. Death has given Mather a new sense of tragedy and fury, which makes his presence all the more intense, and his scenes with Mary Sibley show a new, vulnerable side to Mather that was not seen in SALEM’s first season. It’s a bold move to make this far into the second season, but with so many characters secretly working against one another, it’s somewhat refreshing and fun to see the ghost of Increase Mather as one of the few completely honest and no-bullshit voices on the series.
That’s not to say the rest of SALEM is at all frustrating; on the contrary, in fact, as “The Beckoning Fair One” finds a wealth of entertainment to mine from the unique pairings this week. Whether it’s Marburg and Anne Hale, Cotton and Wainwright, Wainwright and Hathorne, Tituba and John or Mary and Increase, SALEM was able to create intensity and conflict like a lightning storm this week, with contained bursts that all extend to the greater conflict of power within the town. And as great as it was to see Mercy back in her own skin, and surprisingly looking more ravishing than ever, it was even more great to see her in full evil swing, with her subplot going in dark and disturbing ways that provided a great parallel to the subtle manipulation from our other characters.
It’s also interesting to see the understated differences in directorial style within “The Beckoning Fair One,” as Joe Dante injects a bit of his own flavor into the episode. There’s almost a dreamlike aura to Mercy’s temptation of the child from the cotton mill, and is much more of a fairy tale-esque take on her witch powers as the show has ever really explored beforehand. In fact, the shots themselves are a bit more heightened this time around: the Increase Mather scene is a bit more fluid in its camerawork, while Marburg’s intimidation of Anne Hale is shot low and close as to give Marburg a domineering presence. Hell, even the reveals of horror in this episode are presented in a way cohesive to Dante’s sensibilities: the revelation of the dinner meat could have been ripped out of THE ‘BURBS.
Luckily, Dante also helps SALEM stay consistent with its incredible cast, and in fact, there’s almost an electric synchronicity with performances in this episode that is never quite as apparent, although that may just be an oversight on this writer’s part. Stephen Lang, Lucy Lawless, Tamzin Merchant and Janet Montgomery are absolutely incredible in “The Beckoning Fair One,” just bringing their A-game to some seriously intense and devious material this week. Seth Gabel, Ashley Madekwe, Joe Doyle, Elise Eberle and Stuart Townsend are also equally impressive in the episode, while Jeremy Crutchley, Oliver Bell and Shane West are also great in their limited time in this episode.
Overall, “The Beckoning Fair One” is certainly a change of pace for SALEM, but perhaps just the change that was needed in such a chaotic and unsettling series. Both the return of Stephen Lang and the direction of Joe Dante helped elevate the episode while also inspiring even more impressive and complimentary performances from the rest of the cast. And in essence, the episode serves as a calm before the storm of the witch war, which will undoubtedly bring carnage to the last six episode of SALEM second season.