Jeremy Crutchley (left), Janet Montgomery
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If you’re like me or Mary Sibley, you can’t stand when petty talk of gender norms get in the way of your witch war. Sure, you can handle them as they arise, but you really would rather focus on the magical threats at home from an unknown, cloaked source (which just so happens to be the love of your life), or the world’s unluckiest witch and her quest for vengeance (ironically named Mercy), or the blood kiss from a very powerful witch with a proclivity for bathtubs (the Countess’ thing, apparently). The last thing you want to do is throw a dinner party and stand your ground against a misogynistic and long-winded Puritan. That’s just not a productive use of your time.

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In “From Within,” Mary faces all of these problems—even the sham of a dinner party—barely breaking a sweat (except for in the final moments) and in between getting to flirt and make out with a handsome doctor (an ideal love interest even in the 17th century).

Yet it’s still not safe to assume every thing’s coming up Mary. Because as much as she learns, and as much as she thinks she’s ahead of the game, there are still threats around every corner.

Take, for example, the charred body of Mercy, the Salem character who battles with Isaac the Fornicator over the title of Unluckiest Salem Resident. After her flamboyant (if that’s not too redundant a word when talking about the character) entrance in “Blood Kiss,” Mercy has turned her father, Reverend Lewis, into one of her bird penis minions (making well to mention how he used to use his penis before). She also uses poor Dollie as her physical presence, as her eyes and ears out and about town. Mercy’s mission remains the same as it ever was—take vengeance on Mary—and it’s an endeavor that leads to her ordering Dollie and Reverend Lewis to kill Isaac.

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Isaac, despite being on his death bed, is somehow absolutely captivating in the brief scenes he has this episode. His guilt upon his past indiscretions weighs so heavily on him that Mary has to momentarily drop the stern Puritan facade to convince him that any God who would be so uncaring is not one worth begging forgiveness. Isaac also drops what is the death bed equivalent of “What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this” on Dollie, which is… honestly just impressive. Leave it to Isaac to be charming even in such a debilitated state. It’s just a shame he ends up being collateral damage in Mercy’s war on Mary.

At this point, however, in the state that she’s in, it’s a wonder Mercy doesn’t just cut her losses in her attempts to finally take Mary down. She may win battles, but she can’t possibly win the war, and on the list of things Mary cares about, Mercy is way on the bottom. Simply put, Mercy sees Mary as her nemesis, but the reverse can’t be said, no matter how hard Mercy tries.

In an amazing turn of events, John Alden: Witch Hunter is actually one of the highlights of the episode, and this is a case where he spends most of the episode covering the bottom half of his face with a mask and skulking around town with a purpose. When he finally does get to speak, it’s a relief… because he is finally doing so in a way that suggests he’s finally a character on the same twisted, camp show as everyone else. This is no longer straight man, audience proxy John Alden. This is Indian blood ritual, witch hunter John Alden.

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And it’s so much better. Part of the problem with the character in the first season was that while everyone else in this cast had their own idiosyncrasies, John Alden had to be the grizzled war hero who cast aspersions on the town for its witch fever. Now that John has the witch fever too, he’s finally allowed to play at the grown-ups’ table (in a sense) with everyone else. He can bring a little fun to him when he stalks and tortures Corwin (Hank Harris), another secret witch in the Selectmen, in order to get information about every single witch in Salem. His plan doesn’t work—because of Mary and Tituba’s interference, not because it’s as bad as his planning in the last episode—but he now has the hive worried about the powerful force that can cloak itself from them. John Alden is now a powerful force.

The biggest highlight of this episode, however, really is the interactions between Mary and Hathorne (as well as the resulting scenes with George and the dinner party). It’s the least supernatural part of the episode, but as great as thigh nipples and blood kisses are, when Salem focuses on the culture of Puritanical 17th century Salem, it can be great in a different way. Despite how blatantly terrible of a person Hathorne is, he is able to curry some weight around town, simply because he’s a man. Never mind that—evil witch or not—Mary is much smarter than him, and would make (and is) a better leader.

Honestly, given the barbs they trade in this episode and even before, Hathorne is more of Mary’s nemesis than Mercy; and because of that, she brings out the big guns in the form of a “competent” George Sibley.

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It’s easy to forget how powerful George is in Salem, as he is often seen as the invalid husband that Mary monologues her plans to, but given how much Mary gets away with in this town, it’s clear why she allows her husband to remain mostly unharmed. “Poor” George Sibley finally reaching a level to beg Mary to kill him makes him even more malleable to her will (without magic), and it’s one of the reasons why “Will George reveal Mary’s secret?” is never even a question during the dinner scenes.

Instead, these scenes are mostly a showcase for Janet Montgomery (the forever MVP of this series) and Jeremy Crutchley to trade verbal jabs with each other, full of hidden threats and innuendo.

Hathorne: “What is it, Mary? That gives you such brash confidence to reach so far beyond your station? You are the Delilah in our midst.”

Mary: “A strong woman is no more to fear than a strong man.”

Hathorne: “If George will not humble you, I will.”

It’s especially clear in this episode that Hathorne is both threatened by and attracted to Mary, and both of those things, especially the latter, will most likely be his downfall.

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The best he can say is that he at least got to be Magistrate.

Stray observations:

  • The opening of the episode with the girl being pulled down into the well (by the Counts’ demon hand) is one of the more terrifying teasers Salem has had. I admit I jumped as soon as the hand popped up, even though I had spent the moments before warning the young girl not to pull up the bucket from the well where invisible girls were giggling.
  • So John Jr. a.k.a. The Boy now keeps dead doves, because they remind him of his mom. This kid is great. How long until Mary has to kill him?
  • The good doctor is interested in erotic asphyxiation, huh? Doctor in the streets, etc.
  • Mary and Wainwright’s exchange about scientists and witches being one and the same is another example of Salem using the concept of witches and comparing them to less magical, less sinister concepts that are or were just as ostracized. That doesn’t mean the thyroid being the soul is actually good science, but it does make you think.
  • Bless this show for allowing me to write “bird penis” in a review.
  • One of the subtler moments of the episode is simply a sigh of exhaustion and relief from Tituba after everyone has left supper. And why shouldn’t she be exhausted throughout all of this? She’s typically cool, calm, and collected, but after all these years of secrets and lies (even from one who was once her best friend), it’s impossible to see a realistic scenario in which she wouldn’t be a little overwhelmed by this all.
  • John: “Cotton Mather was right.” The way he says it is like the punchline to a joke, which really kind of is Cotton Matter in a nutshell. In the best way, possible.
  • Anne fishing for information about whether or not born witches (like herself) are destined to be damned is also a good scene, as is Cotton making it clear that, unlike his father, he believes everyone has a choice when it comes to being good or evil. Clearly I jest about how Cotton can be the 17th-century equivalent of a goober, but he really does mean well.
  • Mary Sibley’s collar is my new favorite accessory.

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