WGN America‘s Salem The Red Rose and the Briar TV Show Review. Salem: Season 1, Episode 6: The Red Rose and the Briar began with John Alden (Shane West) and Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel) holding the witch Rose (Diane Salinger) captive from last week’s episode. Now, the dashing duo were mixing up a brew of dog urine and other chemicals to paralyze their captured witch.
The plan, to drag Rose to the woods and suspend her beneath the newly risen Saturn. It is said that a witch suspended beneath the ringed planet cannot tell a lie. They had hoped she would reveal the names of those in the Coven, what the Grand Rite is, and how the magick box called “Malum” played in to it all. Seth Gabel is very good as Cotton Mather, his investment in the story feels authentic. John Alden’s character still feels like a caricature to me, this may be due to a combination of direction, and Shane West.
As John and Cotton prepared to inject Rose with the dog urine concoction, she took hold of John and appeared in the form of his dead mother, claiming she was Satan’s favorite whore. John regained his senses, took the needle and stabbed Rose in the chest with it.
At the Sibley house, Tituba (Ashley Madekwe) was clearly unhappy that Mercy Lewis (Elise Eberle) had come to stay. The girl was “rough around the edges”…savage. After dismissing George Sibley (Michael Mulheren) and Tituba, Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) told Mercy a story. Mary’s evolution from the girl from the ashes to the rise in to “The Queen of the Night.” At one moment Mary thought she might slit Mercy’s throat with a razor, but Mercy stirred and asked if the ash maiden did indeed become the queen. In Mary’s memory she had begged Rose to turn her back into the ash maiden, but it was not to be. Janet Montgomery continues to put in one solid performance after another as Mary Sibley…it is when the writers show Mary’s vulnerability that Janet is able to truly shine.
In the next moment, Mary conjured a cosmic door, Mary and Mercy were now in the woods. Mercy, frightened, was sure Mary planned to kill her. Mercy ran and screamed. Petrus “the Seer” (Christopher Berry,) Cotton and John heard the scream, but ignored it. Mary had different plans for Mercy and initiated the girl much the same way that Tituba had initiated her in the beginning. Instead of killing Mercy, she now belonged to the Coven.
In another part of the wood, John and Cotton made it to a clearing that offered a perfect view of Saturn. They bound and hung Rose from a tree. Rose told John that Mary had nowhere to run after he went away all those years ago, but did not reveal Mary’s deal with the devil. The light from Saturn shone on Rose, Cotton demanded Rose tell him about the Grand Rite. She told him it meant death for Cotton, John and their kind, and that it was not only innocent blood that could bring about the Grand Rite. As Saturn passed, Rose broke free, climbed to the top of a tree, bit her wrists, creating a shower of blood. She spoke an incantation that caused the dead to arise…Rose then escaped. Diane Slinger is very good as the witch, but this was a trying scene to watch. I love an old crone, but there is nothing fearful about a stereotypical old witch contorting herself and spewing guttural threats. This contrived scene is to be blamed on the writers. There are myriad other choices, far more terrifying than climbing up a tree and “blood rain” (both of which have been done, are NOT scary, nor entertaining to sophisticated audiences,) to keep this story moving forward…and afloat.
Mary met up with Rose in the wood and asked why Rose had brought the “Malum” to Salem without her knowledge. Rose claimed that it was for Mary’s sake, it was there for John Alden. Rose knew of their love, but in order for the Grand Rite to work, Mary’s heart needed to be broken. “And death is the worst kind of heartbreak.” Rose then confessed that it was she that orchestrated John’s departure all those years before. Mary was not alone in the wood and Mercy came from behind to behead Rose. John and Cotton had been fighting the undead heroically. Their struggle came to an end with Rose’s death.
While making their way back to Salem, John and Cotton encountered Mary out for an evening stroll. Cotton told Mary that the two were out tracking the movement of Saturn. She asked John if he was studying astrology. Cotton then left them alone and John walked Mary home. In the end, Anne Hale (Tamzin Merchant) saw a figure pass her bedroom. She followed the black robed figure into another room. When she approached the figure, the cloak fell away…revealing a strange mask. Behind her in an instant, Anne’s mother said they needed to have a discussion… about Magistrate Hale (Xander Berkeley.)
Cinematography by Michael Goi and Costume Design by Joseph A. Porro are “off the charts” wonderful here in Salem. A story in a time and place for both of their talents to shine.
Where Salem misses the mark is in the writing. You have no story when we (the audience) don’t care about the main characters. The writers did a very good job in the first episode to introduce John Alden and Mary’s past romance to us. This is the set-up, the A story, the human connection that will make us tune in week after week. We are vulnerable to this. Everything else, the witches, the witchcraft, Salem’s history, the off-shoot stories all need to threaten or support the main set-up.
Are they or are they not going to find their way back to one another? All stories have different scenery…here we are in 17th century Salem, but it is the human story, the vulnerability to love that we can all relate to. There is just not enough of John and Mary’s story unfolding effectively to balance out and support all of the other stereotypical witchy “stuff” to make it consistently compelling.
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