“Do not fear, little one. Your father and I are coming for you.”
Those are the last lines of this week’s Salem, and with them, the Witch War becomes a supernatural Taken of sorts. That’s definitely quite the turn from the beginning of the season, and as it stands now, there’s no certainty that’s a good thing. “Wages Of Sin” is a very busy episode of Salem with a lot of things going on it; it’s a stuffed episode, to be completely honest. And it kind of muddles an otherwise fascinating season-long story. That’s obviously a pessimistic way to start this, but the truth is, “Wages Of Sin” introduces quite a few fascinating concepts, but the whole is much less than the sum of its parts.
While it’s been easy to say “every thing’s coming up Mary” in recent episodes, this episode is one about sending Mary through the emotional wringer. She realizes John Jr. has been taken, she hashes everything out with Tituba—both verbally and physically—she learns about John still being alive (and being the witch hunter) and she finally tells him the truth, she discovers John Jr.’s higher (well, lower) purpose. On the plus side, she gets to let out her pain and sadness somewhat healthily for once. And while so much happens to her character, Janet Montgomery the actress remains phenomenal through it all. That’s important to note, because Janet Montgomery can manage to elevate even the worst things; Made In Jersey could have been a lot worse without her, right?
However, it’s really just a lot. Just on the John Jr. front, it bumps from the Countess revealing the purpose of John Jr. to Mary confronting Tituba about this to Mary learning about John to Mary filling John in and letting him out to find their child. There’s emotional gravitas in all of it, but at the same time, it fails to address the elephant in the room: John Jr., Devil or not, is an evil child. That is a known quality to all involved besides John right now. Mary has already had to deal with her son’s attempted incest, dead birds, and “whore” talk, and she doesn’t even know about how he would torture George Sibley. As someone who doesn’t have a child of my own, I understand I’ve never faced such a scenario. But at the same time, I’d like to think if I had a literal Devil child, I’d be more than willing to nip that in the bud.
I’ve said before that Salem gets away with a lot of exposition, mostly because of the accents and the flair with which the actors say the lines, but the problem with this episode is how much it relies on exposition for everything. For example, even outside of things with Mary, Anne’s entire plot this episode is voice-overed by her father (Xander Berkeley), and the only time she really speaks herself is when she’s screaming for Cotton (which makes no sense, given the context). The exceptions to this are the Wainwright (to an extent) and Cotton Mather plots, but in the case of the latter, it’s really another example of the opposite Mary Sibley Syndrome: Nothing’s coming up Cotton.
Hathorne returns from an episode hiatus to send Cotton out of Salem (as per his ban, courtesy of Boston) and to his death, so he can be Anne’s “comforting shoulder.” The man doesn’t miss a beat, but like much everyone else in this episode, he is boxed into the confines of his (Cotton’s) storyline and unable to interact with anything or anyone else.
But even with the demented glee that Salem can mine from the despicable Hathorne, it wins when it comes to the emotional darkness of its characters. It’s why the Mary/Tituba confrontation and the Wainwright scenes here work the best of any other in this episode.
Mary: “You were my friend.”
Tituba: “Was I? Or was I never anything but your property? Your good father owned me like a horse or cow. And I was to care for you. And I did.”
The Mary/Tituba scene is one that has been necessary all season, and sadly, it doesn’t end with hugs and apologies, the way any good best friend fight should,. Say what you will about the work of Ashley Madekwe (which I’ve found to suit the character just well), but Tituba is one of the more fascinating characters on the show, and the tears she has in her eyes when she speaks to Mary in this scene confirm even more that Mary was never just a pawn to her. As she says herself, she “did what was necessary,” because Mary would back out of completing the Grand Rite if she knew the truth… which is exactly what Mary tries to do. Mary wants to have her cake and eat it too, which is why Tituba keeps the ingredients from her.
Sebastian: “Are you ready to take a bite out of that forbidden fruit?”
Wainwright: “I am. At whatever cost, I am. It’s all that I’ve ever wanted from life: answers…I have so much to learn. I thank you, sir. Really. I believe my entire life has been leading to this moment.”
On the other end, in no friends land, Wainwright is 100 percent on board with all things witches, especially when it comes to being one himself. He even drives Cotton nadder by going back on the things he saw with him at the crags. Ironically, Cotton accuses Wainwright of being under someone’s spell; but if lust counts as a spell, then maybe he was right. But even though Wainwright betrays Cotton and gives himself over completely to Mary, he never once becomes unsympathetic. In fact, this episode really drives home an interesting sadness and darkness about Wainwright, as he is obsessed with knowing all of life’s mysteries and believes witchcraft can now be that answer. The image of him falling to his death is haunting, just like the fact that his life—even as a doctor and man of science—has been meaningless to him.
It’s all absolutely heartbreaking. That’s the major point that saves this episode of exposition: The emotion is there, completely. There are now four episodes left in Salem, and if “tomorrow” is supposed to be the sacrifice of John Jr. to complete the Grand Rite, it’s nearly impossible to guess where the rest of the season will go from here. If nothing else, that’s pretty exciting.
- One thing that gets lost in the shuffle with everything that’s going on with Mary, especially once the stuff with John gets going, is that Mary essentially promises herself for Sebastian if he brings her son back to her. Whoops.
- I believe it was mentioned in a comment for last week’s episode, but as of this one, it makes even less sense that no one is wondering about George’s whereabouts.
- “I have no lies left, John. Only awful truth.” As great as John’s part of the confrontation with Mary is, Mary is sadly tasked with informing him of everything we’ve known about since the pilot. It is good that she finally gets to be a really person for once with this episode, but at the same time, she has a lot of awful truth. Can’t erase how much of a stone cold witch she’s been.
- Sebastian makes a point to call Wainwright the second person to be sent to Hell alive—the first being Dante. Hopefully that leads to something for Wainwright’s possible return.