Salem Finally Introduces A Genuinely Frightening Puritan

Somehow Cotton Mather continues to be the most reasonable, rational person on Salem—and it's pretty weird. But at last we're getting a Puritan who kills accused witches first, asks questions later, and quite literally expects God to sort them out.

One of the oddities of Salem is how little we've gotten to know the village itself. The Salem witch trials, after all, involved a great deal of isolation and paranoia, and it would be helpful to know why the citizens of Salem are so quick to suspect one another without simply being told on an episode-by-episode basis. But at least this week, we got to see a touch of frenzy among the townsfolk.

Salem Finally Introduces A Genuinely Frightening Puritan

After last week's insanity, Mercy is comfortably living in the House of Seven Gables (a cute nod to Nathaniel Hawthorne and a real house in Salem Town) as Mary's protege. And like Mary, she is using her newfound power to sew uncertainty and chaos. The girls of Salem seek Mercy out for a bit of fortune telling, but instead of showing a girl her future husband, Mercy shakes her with an omen of death before her pre-marital bundling—and a subsequent vision during the bundling stirs up trouble between two local families, the Trasks and the Barkers. Mary seems to have found herself a very willing apprentice.

The problem with having more witches around, however, is that you have more superpowered people to control. While Mary is off walking through John Alden's dreams, she sends Mercy to project herself into a Goody Trask's home in order to frighten her. Mercy is so drunk on her newfound power, however, and so resentful of Puritan society that she possesses the woman and slits her throat. Tituba is annoyed by Mercy's excess, but it has the desired effect. The people of Salem have pointed their fingers at another set of suspected witches, the Barkers, and they are out for blood.

Salem Finally Introduces A Genuinely Frightening Puritan

Once again, Mercy's story proves more interesting than Mary's, which involves lots of steamy dreams with John Alden. While Mary's purpose in invading Alden's dreams is to obtain the Malum (and get a little illicit sexytime), it actually has the effect of inflaming her jealousy at Anne Hale's affections. All those erotic dreams give Alden waking hallucinations, during which he suddenly seizes Anne Hale and kisses her. When Mary goes back into Alden's dreams, an image of Anne is there, hurling Mary into a more violent part of Alden's unconscious mind. But hey, it also inspires John Alden to storm into her house and have sex with her, so good for you, Mary. You get to bump your witch parts against the dullest man in Salem. But you still won't run off with him.

Meanwhile, Cotton Mather is riding high. He caught himself a real witch. He puts a temporary halt to the mob calling for the deaths of the Barker family. He gets a nod of respect from Isaac the Fornicator (who somehow manages to be the best character on this show). And things are good with Gloriana. It's good to be Cotton Mather.

At least until Papa Mather shows up.

Salem Finally Introduces A Genuinely Frightening Puritan

While Cotton Mather is, bizarrely, a symbol of reason with his books and his anachronistic technology, Increase Mather is the symbol of blind faith—and the terrible power it holds. Doubt, Increase thinks, is the greatest flaw a witch hunter can have. As long as there is a God who will reward the innocent and punish the wicked, he figures that it's better to kill anyone who might be witch lest the witches take control of America. Cotton finds the idea horrifying—as do John Alden and Isaac the Fornicator. But the scariest thing? Until we know more about the witches' Grand Rite, there's a distinct possibility that Increase Mather is right—which just adds a fresh layer of "What the Hell?" on top of this show.