While catching up on backlogs of work, I “binge watched” (kind of fucking hate that term) the first season of Salem on Netflix. I have had it on my queue for a while now, but never seemed to get to it for some reason or another. I decided to finally watch it after hearing interviews of the shows stars on the Nerdist podcast, and it sounded like a program worth watching.
I was pleasantly surprised by this program and am eagerly awaiting for more episodes. C’mon, Netflix! Get your shit together. After finishing the first season, I came to a few realizations and of course had to explore them further. As always SPOILERS ahead.
So, if you are not familiar with American history, the television program is a highly dramatized telling of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts in the 17th century with much a lot of attractive people being suggestively naked and having simulated sex because it is on extended, not premium, cable. Yeah, that kind of sounds like a crap show, but it is actually pretty good. The major narrative revolves around a few central characters and their relationships and goals, specifically Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery), John Alden (Shane West), Cotton Mather (Seth Gabel), and a few others. Basically, at least in the first season, Mary is trying to bring about a great plague to the Puritans as retribution for the crimes they have committed against witches, Natives, and others. Most everyone else who is not a witch is trying to stop her. A few more events occur but I’ll let you watch the show to catch the full nuances.
The entire first season has a running theme of choice and consequence. Every character at some point is faced with a major decision and moment that has extreme consequences for either themselves, others, or both. Mary’s choices will negatively impact everyone in Salem, John’s choices will either condemn or save various people. Cotton’s choices, particularly those concerning his father, will have immediate dire consequences. Yet, the show never really makes judgments on the choices made by the characters. In fact, many times the audience is made to sympathize and understand why they perform the actions they do which is really the first lesson present; We make choices in life and must live with the results regardless of our foreknowledge of said consequences. This is most apparent in Mary’s story arc as she loses control of her circumstances and must live with the fallout of her actions; like a plague and power hungry, tyrannical rival.
Interestingly, while the show does force characters to own their choices, it also makes a point to note how the characters are also the products of others’ machinations. John Alden commits treason and murder during his service in war, but he was only there because of George Sibley’s distaste of him and forced military enlistment. Mary Sibley is literally a creation of the coven in order to bring about a terrible plague. Essentially, many times we are the result of other’s interests and actions no matter how much we may not desire it or fight against them. This is best seen in the character of Anne Hale. Her entire life she tried to live righteously and help those in need purely out of the goodness of her heart only to find that she is actually a witch because of the actions and machinations of her father; a powerful elder witch in the Salem coven. The first season ends with her turning and killing her father so she should be an interesting character in season two.
Ultimately, the first season of Salem boils down to individuals and groups vying for power and control. Witches versus Puritans, John versus Salem/Mary, Mary versus men in Salem/her coven, Anne versus nearly everyone, Cotton versus his father, etc,; whichever conflict or relationship you examine in Salem, it simply is about control and power. Yet, the great truth, and laughable lie, that the show demonstrates is how much bullshit the concepts of power and control really are. Every character, or characters, who believe they are in charge are almost immediately knocked off their pedestal by other characters. And even when they are on top of the hierarchical food chain, they have to make various back handed deals and plays to keep even the facade of power and control which is the final lesson; Power and control are the illusions and stories those in charge use to keep up the appearance of power and control because in truth they have only what others allow them.
Thus endeth today’s lesson.