Between the years of 1692 and 1693 in colonial Massachusetts, nineteen men and women were hanged and one man crushed to death for the crime of witchcraft. Due to the lack of proof or logical testing for witchcraft, these twenty people were posthumously cleared of their crimes.
There has been a recent surge in the popularity of witchcraft thanks, much in part, to the release of Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem and FX’s American Horror Story: Coven. The common denominator between these two titles is the Salem witches.
WGN America, in an attempt to become relevant, has released its own original series, a Salem Witch Trial themed television show, simply entitled Salem.
As with The Lords of Salem and American Horror Story: Coven, Salem is based around the idea that supernatural forces were at work in Salem, Mass. Unlike them, however, Salem is completely unoriginal.
The true story of the trials has proven to be incredibly frightening on its own. Religious extremists and superstitions caused the deaths of those twenty people. The people in that town lived in a fear for an entire year that they might be accused of a crime they couldn’t possibly prove they were innocent of. I would have loved for WGN America to make a show about that. There was a real opportunity to do something different to create a new kind of fear but we are instead force fed the same cheap frights about Satan worshiping witches.
Shane West plays John Alden, a soldier returning to Salem from war (The Nine Years’ War?) to find that his town is swarming with accusations of witchcraft. His love, Mary (Janet Montgomery), has married another and, unbeknownst to him, has terminated her pregnancy with John by selling her soul to the devil through Tituba (Ashley Madekwe), the slave. Being an unwed mother back then was a big no-no and Mary had someone to become.
Alongside the unoriginal plot and uninspired acting, the historical inaccuracies and ridiculous story sub-plots make Salem a disappointment. The characters are not likeable in any way and every person’s involvement is pretty much spelled out in the first episode, giving us viewers zero reason to continue watching. The episode doesn’t even conclude with a decent cliffhanger. They leave us with nothing to obsess over for the next week. On top of that, I couldn’t possibly care less about the love story between Alden and Mary because there is no chemistry between them. Quite honestly, the chances of me forgetting that this show is on next Sunday are highly likely.
The worst thing of all are the historical inaccuracies. For a show claiming to be giving another view on the true story, why not take the opportunity to educate while entertaining? They should have used the real names of the people involved in the trials. Only three names stick out as real, John Alden Jr., John Hale and Tituba, whom they also portray inaccurately.
Tituba was only accused because she was a slave with different religious views. To Christians, her religious views would have been frightening. Making her out to be Satan’s bitch is really getting old.
John Alden was a minor part of the witch trials, ranking amongst many as accused but never executed for the crime. I have no doubt they pulled his name out of some small character list to make themselves feel like they were honoring history. Sadly, they were insulting history in the process.
The real Reverend John Hale has been made a magistrate on the show and he has a daughter named Anne Hale. While I found myself annoyed at the obvious overlook of my ancestor’s actual profession and involvement in the trials, I do find it funny that they gave him a daughter that shares my name. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to make this show worth the watch.
Don’t waste your time on Salem. Instead, I recommend Arthur Miller’s The Crucible for a real scary lesson in trial history. WGN has a little studying to do.