One thing that’s important to acknowledge about Salem is that it makes the perfect binge-watching material. It’s a dense, dark ball of camp, but its serialization and the fact that each episode begins within a few moments of the previous episode’s finish makes it such that the best way to experience it is all together. That’s why people are discovering and latching on to the show as it streams or in marathons, because just hopping in one random week is a choice that’s bound to confuse. But sadly, that show structure means that not every chapter of the book of Salem is its most exciting one.

It’s of course wrong to use the blanket statement that “nothing happens” in this episode—or really any episode of Salem or anything else—but “Ill Met By Moonlight” is another episode that speaks more for the possibilities of what’s to come rather than give us those things yet. Salem deserves praise for its attention to creating a comprehensive and intriguing story, but that doesn’t mean that every hour will be the most intriguing. “Ill Met By Moonlight” has some good moments, but it mostly leads to more of the questions of what will happen for the rest of the season instead of giving a good reason to really be captivated by what’s happening on the screen.

What will Tituba do to John or vice versa? What did the Countess or her men do to Isaac, as Dollie clearly had a purpose? When will Cotton propose to Anne? How will Hathorne finally exit the picture? How will the show reconcile the fact that Cotton—a good man—has lost his agency for Anne’s somewhat selfish gains? How will Mary survive in Salem without the option of parading George Sibley around?

That last question is the one that arose after the cliffhanger of the previous episode, and sadly, it’s one that the show still has to answer. This episode drawing that out too almost makes it feel like it’s in a holding pattern.

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Again, Salem wins by having another one-on-one Janet Montgomery and Lucy Lawless scene, this time with an oblivious audience. In fact, Janet Montgomery does some of the best work she’s ever done on the show in the opening scene, as her begging for George to survive is so heart-wrenching that it’s easy to forget that she’s sobbing and pleading for her own selfish reasons. It’s part of what makes Mary Sibley such a great character: It’s far too easy to forget that her plan is to unleash the Devil, because she only treats it as the most noble of endeavors. As for the Mary/Countess scene, it’s another one of false alliance, as the Countess continues to prop Mary up (this time having Mary concede her loyalty to her), only to end up working with Mercy by the end of the episode.

“Ill Met By Moonlight” does lead us more down the bizarre path of Sebastian, the Countess’ son, and his obsession with Mary, as his and his mother’s arrival in Salem allows him to confront the object of his “affection.” In their scene, he refers to himself as Mary’s “next” love and even blackmails her with the whereabouts of George Sibley’s body (which he disappears for her), as that is what he supposedly considers courtship.

Mary: “What kind of man woos with blackmail?”
Sebastian: “It’s not the beginning of love that matters—it’s love’s end. And trust me, I know how our story ends. It ends like this: ‘And they lived happily ever after.’”

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As for another one of Mary’s exes, John Alden continues his his dark and dangerous path, stalking Anne Hale to be his next victim. His invisibility satchel once again starts to kill him, and he makes his way back to Petrus’ place for some curative measures. That’s when he starts having conversations with a dead person, the rotting corpse of Petrus, who calls him out for not pulling the trigger on killing Mary and only getting closer to death and complete failure. Of course, it all manages to be a delusion of John’s, his subconscious telling him the things we all know, but it’s fitting for just how over-the-top he has become this season. Keep up the good work, John.

Salem should also keep up the good work, because clearly, even the less active episodes still have moments of greatness.

Stray observations:

  • Hathorne is absolutely despicable in this episode, and I too found myself with Mary in the “do it” campaign during the fight scene with Cotton.
  • Mr. Brown Jenkins the rat is back! And he’s probably a zombie rat, but at least he’s a cute zombie rat. (Looking at you, iZombie.)
  • It’s good to know that Tituba did in fact eat Petrus’ eyes so she could get his sight, just in case the killer returned to the scene of the crime (which corpse Petrus/John’s subconscious actually mentioned).
  • I will say, love sick Cotton Mather is a fascinating thing to watch Seth Gabel play with. I look forward to more of it.
  • I assumed of course that the Countess would take Mercy under her wing and “fix” her, but I can’t believe I didn’t think about the blood bath being the reason. Thus the introduction in the beginning of last week’s episode. But R.I.P. Dollie.
  • Also, Mary and the Countess’ (and even Anne and the Countess’) scenes compared to Mercy and the Countess’ scenes are like night and day. There’s definitely a quality drop-off, which is unfortunate.

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