What do you get when you take a coven of witches, add a touch of Marilyn Manson, loosely base it on The Crucible, and mix in a shirtless Shane West with long, flowing hair extensions chopping wood for around five minutes per episode? Why, the best show on television, of course. In case you’ve been living under a rock, a very sad Shane West-less rock, you might have missed Salem, a show that’s very loosely (and when we say "very" we mean, EXTREMELY, as in they’re only really hanging on to historical fact by a thread here) based on The Crucible and the infamous Salem Witch Trials. We know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with former teen heartthrob Shane West’s hair extensions? Oh, you sweet, sweet summer child. Sit that Puritan butt right on down, and we’ll teach you a thing or two about why you should be watching the utter hilarity and chaos that is Salem.
Initially debuting in April of 2014, Salem is the brainchild of Adam Simon and Brannon Braga, in other words, the people that brought you things like Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mission Impossible II, and The Haunting in Connecticut. In a few words, it is the cheesiest, campiest, most historically inaccurate account of the Salem Witch Trials in recent history, and while running the risk of making a very serious dad joke, it’s absolutely magical. The show is set in 17th century Salem, Massachusetts, and follows the lives of two central characters: Mary Sibley (maiden name Walcott) and John Alden who share a tumultuous love affair. In the pilot episode, John is sent off to war and promises to return to Mary within a year. *Cue dramatic music*
Little does he know, Mary is secretly pregnant with John’s baby-DUN DUN DUN-and in an effort to escape persecution from the Puritans for pre-marital sex, she secretly sneaks off into the woods one night with her family’s slave/BFF Tituba. Tituba coerces Mary to allow her to perform a sort of rite on her, promising to rid Mary’s life of persecution and the inevitable repercussions of an unwanted pregnancy by...wait for it...SACRIFICING HER UNBORN CHILD TO SATAN AND MAKING HER A WITCH. There’s also a few other takeaways, like Mary’s vow for revenge against the Puritans that she blames for all her unhappiness, but mainly she sacrifices her unborn child to Satan and becomes a witch.
Flash forward seven years into the future, and Mary Walcott, now Sibley, is the most powerful witch in the Essex hive, inching closer and closer to completing the Grand Rite, a sacred witch ceremony that would unleash Satan and his wrath from the gates of Hell, and bring with it a plague to wipe out the entire Puritan population. You know, casual. During this time, Captain John Alden returns from The Nine Years War to discover that Mary, assuming him dead, had married town selectman George Sibley in his absence. From here the show basically spirals into one of the weirdest, most convoluted plot lines since Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse aired, but just in case you’re still a bit apprehensive about diving head first into this fantastic monstrosity of a show, allow us to list a few of the key reasons why it deserves your attention.
1. Shane West’s season one hair extensions: For reasons unbeknownst to the audience, poor Shane West was subjected to hilariously bad hair extensions for the entirety of the first season. Perhaps costuming thought scissors and short hair do’s a thing of the 21st century, or maybe they just really liked seeing West brush back his hair in a delightfully charming Fabio sort of way, but either way it is doing something for us. What that something is, we’re still not quite sure, but it’s doing something.
2. Marilyn Manson is cast in the third season: For some reason the writers thought casting Manson, who actually sings and co-wrote the title song, as a barber/surgeon/potentially a fisherman, was a prudent decision for the third season. Needless to say, Manson’s acting is hilariously bad in all the right ways, and although we’re still not quite sure what his role is in the series, it’s always fun to play Spot the Manson on Sunday nights. Hey! There he is reciting lines in a robotic sort of way whilst dissecting a human body and maybe also cutting someone’s hair? DRINK!
3. The entire cast is comprised of the most beautiful people we’ve ever seen. Literally. That alone should be enough to hook ya, and if it isn’t, Janet Montgomery’s perfect bone structure definitely is. Also, LUCY LAWLESS AKA XENA WARRIOR PRINCESS IS IN THIS? Like, what EVEN?
4. *SPOILER ALERT* At the end of the first season, it’s revealed that John and Mary’s unborn child survived, and was somehow co-parented by the undead Essex witches and Satan? In the second season, the child is surreptitiously sacrificed to Satan, at the protest of his mother, and his body used as a vessel for the Dark Lord to rise from hell. Basically Mary inadvertently gave birth to Satan, and now he calls her mommy? No, really.
5. This is possibly the only show to ever grace television that is simultaneously the absolute worst and best thing at the same time. At times you might feel like you’re going insane, but rest assured, that’s just whiplash from the absolutely absurd plot.
TL;DR: You need only know this:
We rest our case.
Salem airs on Wednesdays on WGN America at 9:00/8:00 pm Central.