tek's rating: ½

Salem, on WGN America
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So... some of the characters are based on real historical people, though I'm sure there are lots of historical inaccuracies (other than the obvious supernatural elements of the show). And I also wanted to mention that the show's theme song (Cupid Carries a Gun) is by Marilyn Manson, which is amazingly apt. The show is reasonably interesting and pretty dark. (I mean, you gotta expect a show based on the Salem Witch Trials to be dark, right? Especially if it turns out there are real witches.) Anyway, I like the story and the acting and everything.

It starts on September 21, 1685, which just so happens to be my birthday (minus 290 years). A man named Isaac Walton is being harshly punished for fornication. His punishment is overseen by George Sibley, who is the richest man in Salem, and one of the town's selectmen. Anyway, he's cruel, because he's a Puritan. (The opening scene reminds me of "The Scarlet Letter," except much worse.) Anyway, there's a man named John Alden, who has a much more modern perspective, which means he and Sibley don't get along. John's parents are both dead, and his father was a town selectman. And um... John is in love with a woman named Mary. He goes off to fight in a war, vowing to return to her within the year. (Apparently the war in question was King William's War, which started in 1688. But at least that's better than what I initially guessed it was, the French and Indian War, which didn't start until 1754.) Some time passes, and we learn that Mary is pregnant with John's baby, a fact which is vitally important to hide from Sibley (and everyone). She gets some help from a woman named Tituba (who we later learn is Mary's servant as well as a friend since childhood). Tituba is a former slave, and a witch. She takes Mary out into the woods one night to perform some freaky ritual that, as near as I could tell, made her unborn child simply disappear. (But it's kind of hard to tell what was really going on.)

Seven years later, John Alden returns to Salem. Everyone there thought he'd been killed in the war, but apparently he'd just been captured by Indians. Anyway... John learns that Mary is now married to George Sibley, who is basically an invalid. She uses her marriage to him to influence much of what goes on in Salem (and takes his place as a selectman on the town council). This being 1692, of course there's a major "witch panic" going on. The infamous Salem Witch Trials are presided over by a minister named Cotton Mather, whose father, Increase Mather, is a famous Puritan minister, himself. I guess John and Cotton knew each other as kids, but they weren't exactly friends. Cotton is very dedicated to rooting out witches, and seems to be concerned about measuring up to his father. But he doesn't seem quite as cruel as George Sibley was; at least, he's not exactly happy about "doing what needs to be done," even if he's quite willing to do it. Also, it's kind of hard to see him as particularly Puritanical, considering he frequently visits a prostitute named Gloriana. Anyway... John doesn't believe there's any such thing as witches, but Isaac Walton takes him to spy on a ceremony in the woods that convinces him otherwise. So, in spite of continuing to disagree about a great many things, John and Cotton will sort of end up working together.

Meanwhile, we learn that Mary is now a witch, herself. She seems to be their leader ("the chosen one"). Another witch is Magistrate Hale, who I guess is head of the town council. (He and Mary don't always agree on certain things.) And he has a daughter named Anne. She's an artist, who seems to take an interest in John. And she doesn't have any idea her father is a witch. And of course Cotton and John don't know that any of the witches are witches. Because the real witches are tricking the town's Puritans into thinking innocent people are witches. This was Mary's plan; there's something called the Grand Rite, which will unleash a plague. It requires thirteen innocents to be killed before a certain moonrise, or whatever. And the innocent people the Puritans execute as witches will serve as those sacrifices. (Ironic, no?) Also, there's a girl named Mercy Lewis, the daughter of a reverend (who is of no importance to the plot, himself, since Cotton is now the main reverend in Salem, I guess). Anyway, Mercy was, like, possessed, or something. And then she ends up being used kind of like a dog, to sniff out witches (though Mary is secretly controlling her). But eventually Mercy frees herself of Mary's control, and Mary ends up turning her into a witch. After that, Mercy becomes a rival of Tituba, and also starts influencing a group of girls in town.

Eventually, Increase Mather comes to Salem, and he's way more of a hardass witch hunter than his son, with whom he is very disappointed. In an effort to set Cotton back on the proper path, he banishes Gloriana, as well as taking control of the witch trials. And... a bunch of other stuff happens. I don't want to spoil how the first season ends, but it's all very dramatic and it looks like there are going to be some big changes. I'll say more, if and when I see season two.

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