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Salem and its use of sex and violence is one of the things that really made the show stick out in its first season, especially as it started to revel more in its dark, camp nature. “Book Of Shadows” spends a lot of time focusing more on the sexual aspects of the show, especially as it pertains to the power that comes from that sex. As Mary tells Anne in this episode, their power comes from “arousal,” and considering the fact that these characters live in a stifling, Puritan-led society, the very thought of them deriving power from such “impure” thoughts is enough to have them be called witches, true or not.

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But despite how sexually liberated “Book Of Shadows” is, it’s a slower episode in this season of Salem, one that doesn’t go for all of the gasp-worthy insanity of the first three episodes. It’s the breather, rest period of the bunch, so the season doesn’t metaphorically blow its load before it really kicks into gear. It’s an episode with Lucy Lawless’ Countess spending most of her time planning (offscreen), biding her time and Mercy speechifying about how wronged she has been (when she herself has done and is doing some wronging), and John continuing to be really bad at revenge planning (but at least having a flair for the dramatic these days).

The biggest moment in the episode is Mary discovering the identity of one of the many people after her, the Countess, by hacking into the mainframe of Anne’s book of shadows. Yes, that’s really the biggest reveal of the episode, if you’re not counting the confirmation that Anne lusts for Cotton Mather.

Despite those revelations, the best parts of the episode aren’t even truly witch-related. There are, of course, the Mary/Wainwright scenes, which have them finally, partially (it depends on your opinions on cunnilingus and… hand stuff) consummate the relationship. But there are also the Mary/Hathorne scenes, which are the pinnacle of Salem dialogue. I’m still not sure if it’s for the best or the worst that the best part of this season so far are the Mary/Hathorne scenes. They’re always guaranteed to have memorable scenes whenever they come to verbal blows, and there is no time that Mary is truly more powerful than when she is dressing down Hathorne.

Mary (to Hathorne): “I suggest nothing, but that you are a spectacular failure as a guardian of the law. And not fit to lead a beggar’s parade, let alone Salem.”

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In a season subtitled “Witch War,” perhaps a war between the head witch and the head Puritan shouldn’t be the best part of the show. At the same time, it’s so good that it’s hard to see the negative effects of it, at least early on.

Speaking of witches, “Book Of Shadows” is another episode where Tituba has some stealth greatness as a character. Tituba is an interesting character who clearly lives to serve Mary, but at the same time, she’s well aware of how terrible (perhaps too strong of a word) of a leader Mary can be and hides things from her for that reason. She’s completely right when she calls out Mary for holding out on her in their quest for the tub assassin, for calling out her distrust of Tituba and her counsel being one of Mary’s weaknesses.

Tituba claims that she has only done things out of Mary’s “best, true interests” (for example: hiding her devil child, who is, in fact, a devil child). That’s not to say she hasn’t kept things from Mary, as she says this in the same episode that she ingests Petrus’ eyes and then informs Mary that they were taken from the scene of the crime. It’s lying by omission, as she is right about the eyes being “gone,” but she does not explain how it becomes so.

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Meanwhile, if insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then Mary might fall under that category when it comes to her decision-making in terms of young witch apprentices. This episode is perhaps the turning point for Anne Hale, as she now goes from almost hopelessly naive to another pawn in Mary’s poorly played game. Anne’s want to “master this power” for good is actually very admirable, and it immediately puts her ahead of Mercy in the witch rankings. Part of that is also because Mercy is a deformed, vengeance monster consumed with, well, vengeance (as little as it really makes sense) at this point. Plus, just the sight of Anne and her familiar (that she affectionately names Mr. Brown Jenkins is pretty damn adorable. But it’s hard to see none of this blowing up in Mary’s face, as usual.

“Book Of Shadows” is mostly an episode used to bring Anne into the witch fold (for better or worse) and to remind us of how much of a target Mary (and Tituba) has on her back, whether it be from witches, the Selectmen, or sexually. Like the rest of this season so far, it’s good, but it’s still not reached the greatness Salem can get. Even if it has Mary Sibley getting all of the great sex.

Stray observations:

  • My professional, critical opinion on Mary and Wainwright? Pretty damn hot.
  • Also, Wainwright is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters simply because of his name-dropping (this week, Sir Isaac Newton) and talk of “new” medical terms (this week, “autopsy”). He’s great.
  • Ah, the John Alden plot. It’s amazing how easy it is for Mary and Tituba to almost find him, and it’s even more amazing that his response to Cotton being excited to see him is to knock the poor guy out. I believe the official term for John Alden is “stunt queen.”
  • Poor Dollie. Poor Isaac. I don’t quite feel bad for Reverend Lewis, but the sheen is coming off of the Mercy storyline, and I await the day Mary finally disposes of her.

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