The promise of the return of Increase Mather at the end of last week’s Salem, “Ill Met By Moonlight,” was an exciting one. Stephen Lang’s introduction as Cotton Mather’s disapproving and larger-than-life father in the first season was what proved Salem to be a fully-capable genre show and not just a weekly joke of a historical anachronisms. His death in the season finale eliminated Mary’s biggest threat, but since then, the threats have been piling up for Mary in the form of formidable witches, and even she knows she’s in over her head.

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“The Beckoning Fair One” has Mary going with the old saying of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and with that, she brings back a zombie Increase Mather to work as her soldier in her witch war against the Countess. As the only person who has come up against the Countess and not only lived to tell the tale but get somewhat of the best of her, Increase is the only one who can possibly make it an even fight in this particular witch war. Last week’s episode found that, even for all of his intellectual knowledge of witch hunting, Cotton still isn’t good for the practical parts of it all.

In true Mary fashion, even though she’s in way over her head in this scenario, she uses her resuscitation of Increase to tease him for besting him in the first place, while also trying to convince him to help her in her take down of the Countess. It’s no surprise that Increase doesn’t tell her what the Countess’ secret weapon is, nor is it any surprise that he ends up in Cotton’s home at the end of the episode as opposed to the Sibley house in the aftermath of his reconnaissance mission.

“The Beckoning Fair One” isn’t just a solid episode because of the fact that it brings back one of the series most compelling characters. The key to the episode is the fact that it’s fun. The morbidity of the statement is not lost, as this is a show full of death, torture, and child labor. But if there’s one trope that endures all and can provide endless amusement, it is that of the dinner party. Salem already had one Sibley dinner party this season in “From Within,” but that didn’t mean it should end there. This time around, it’s a dinner party with “Salem’s finest”: Mary, the Countess, Sebastian, Hathorne (who spends his time in this episode as the epitome of the “drunk uncle” archetype), Wainwright, Cotton and Anne.

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Within that cast of characters, there’s also the love drunk Cotton (who remains a delight for Seth Gabel to play), the Countess and Mary’s continued fraudulent friendship, a verbal pissing contest between Wainwright and Sebastian, and Anne working for a vengeful Countess. Oh, and they also eat George Sibley for dinner. It’s all so delightful, which again feels strange to say about such a show like Salem, but the characters are so dynamic that it’s an earned storyline.

As usual, the episode shifts the allegiances for the impending witch war, with Tituba making a big move in keeping John Alden captive (in what turns out to be a magically cloaked section of the Sibley house) and the completely rejuvenated Mercy becoming the Countess’ favorite child, much to the intense jealousy of Sebastian (who has more than shown an interest in all things Mary). Cotton Mather and Doctor Wainwright also find themselves discovering a little bit more about the witch pox itself, as it includes an actual look at what the pox does to a person’s body: It creates an acidic bile that can burn all the way down to hell. Metaphorically, literally—it’s all the same in Salem.

However, the episode isn’t perfect, and it’s sadly because of the now recurring problem of the show: Mercy. In all honesty, Mercy’s immediate appearance in the episode made me react with an “oh god” out loud. In a show of over-the-top dramatics and witch swagger, Mercy is a character that often doesn’t work because she’s too much of all of that, without any of the skill to go along with it. Mercy is far too much of a loose cannon to believe this evil bliss with the Countess will last, and she’s already making bloody messes of children—though the luring of the children is one of the more amazing terrifying moments to happen in Salem—in the Countess’ lair. To use an overused phrase: She’s the reason we can’t have nice things. Luckily, this episode is mostly nice things.

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Stray observations:

  • I for one will never grow tired of the Countess and Mary’s scenes full of double-speak and flat out lies about their allegiance to each other.
  • Mary (to Wainwright): “I still remember your last visit and your palpable taste for all things Elizabethan.” Slow clap.
  • Seth Gabel is so adorable as love drunk Cotton that it’s difficult to be upset about the fact that he’s under a love spell. That’s skill.
  • Two things about Anne: First off, her witch mark nipple is in a terrible place if she wants to keep it secret from Cotton, isn’t it? Secondly, as great as Anne has become, whenever she talks to herself or Brown Jenkins, she comes across as being a quirky character in a dramedy that is not at all Salem. “I wish I were an Indian. I bet they never have to dress for dinner.” See what I mean? It’s enjoyable, but it still feels off for the show.
  • So, the boy/John Jr. literally has the devil him, huh?

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