There will be MAJOR SPOILERS for the final season of Salem in this post.
This has been such a strange show. At times humorous, at times utterly depressing, it added some interesting bits to witch mythos, even if it didn’t always make the most sense. In the final season, it simultaneously hit its stride and backed itself into a corner.
Season 2 had the witches bringing the devil back, only to discover that he’s an evil jerk who intends to create Hell on Earth. (Gotta say, what were they expecting from the literal devil who rapes women in exchange for power??) Now the third season focuses on trying to put him back where he came from.
The addition of the Sentinel/Beelzubub, or Samael/Satan’s brother added to the show’s intensity. (On that note, why is Satan named Samael? I thought he was meant to be Lucifer?) He had some spectacular scenes with Mary. His inclusion also allowed for a sprawling mythos of a war in Heaven. It’s not particularly original, as it’s pretty much the standard subversion of the Biblical interpretation: God is vain and jealous and narcissistic and when his angels rebelled they were trapped in Hell. Still, I will never get tired of this mythos, and it meant that there were a lot of really cool quotes thrown around about God. There’s also an interesting mirroring with Samael/Satan wanting to wed Mary just like God bed Mary so she could give birth to him (I’m sure there’s something blasphemous in that). I also liked that they made Samael out to be God 2.0, concerned only with power rather than freeing his brothers.
Speaking of Mary, I think I appreciate her so much more this season. For some reason I’ve never quite warmed up to her character despite the fact that hers is the type of character I would usually adore, but it’s in this final season that I think she really shines. In her moments of absolute desperation she still maintains an indomitable strength of will, like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s hard not to admire someone so brave and strong. But the real star of this season, if I’m being honest, is Anne Hale.
The finale episode blindsided me by revealing that almost the entire show was merely Anne’s Start of Darkness tale. Her descent into darkness – and, I’m convinced, madness – is precipitated by her doomed relationship with Cotton Mather. From the moment Anne handed over Mary’s son to be sacrificed just so she could save Cotton, she was fighting a losing battle. The poor girl was doing her absolute best, trying so hard to be good and to keep Cotton safe, and he could only see Anne’s betrayal in not telling him she was a witch and in trying to save his life. I suppose this makes somewhat more sense considering Cotton’s ultimate sacrifice (more on that later), but his profound apathy towards her until she was carrying his child was…infuriating.
Gloriana’s return felt shoehorned in just to push Anne over the edge. I honestly expected Anne to kill her; it was so…naive to just send her back to the brothel where Cotton could see her at any time. Stealing her baby was disturbing and horrible, but…I can see a terrible sense in it. I completely understand how Anne rationalized it to herself: Gloriana would die in childbirth, Gloriana wouldn’t give the child a good life, Gloriana would ruin Cotton, Gloriana would ruin Anne, Gloriana would ruin Anne and Cotton’s marriage. There’s a twisted logic in what Anne did, disturbing though it was.
But dear Lord, when Anne finally snapped, it was glorious to behold. She rails at Cotton, rightfully calling him a hypocrite:
“Yes. Of course, that is what we women are to you – a good woman is a half-doll-half-angel and a bad woman is but a hideous fiend. Well, I will not be your angel doll a second longer, even if I could. I would rather be a fiend…a great fiend! You shameless hypocrite! You…who persecuted and executed so many innocents. You…who murdered your own father. You…who sang the worst sin of all is a lie. And your entire life is a lie! Every time you climbed the pulpit after a night of drunken debauchery, you lied to everyone! Or is lying merely another privilege reserved for men?”
It’s an astonishingly powerful delivery by Tamzin Merchant. This is the moment that Anne finally cracks. She sacrificed a child to save Cotton, sacrificed her own goodness to keep him with her, loved him with all her heart – and yet he still chose another woman over her. Not only that, but he seems so consumed with hatred for her! I mean, before he walks off into Hell, he hugs Mary and tells apologizes to her. Rightfully, Anne furiously asks him how he could apologize to Mary, the woman who literally brought about the end of the world! Mary is the one who set all of this in motion and Anne was just caught up in it all! And still Cotton only has sympathy and compassion for Mary and not the woman who put herself through the ringer to keep him safe? Cotton’s last words to Anne are that he’s sorry he ever laid eyes on her? Jesus, no wonder Anne fucking snapped.
Her final acts of murder and exile and manipulation were incredible to watch, but also a bit confusing. I mean, it made perfect sense to me until she vowed to bring Samael back into the baby she is carrying. Because, why? She’s powerful enough on her own. She doesn’t seem to have any particular love for Samael (although, don’t get me started on how evil!Anne suddenly became horny for everyone including her own brother). I guess she’s done trying to help the people of Salem, but then, why not just let Samael live? Was it because he had to die by her hand to realize that she was the true queen meant for him? It’s a great character arc regardless, but I can’t help but mourn for the good-hearted girl Anne was.
Watching her send Cotton to Hell was heart-breaking. She clearly still loves him, her rage driven by the strength of her love, but she’s finally realized that he doesn’t love her back at all. And then that final scene in Hell…that was so goddamn terrifying and so…horribly sad for Cotton. What are we meant to take away from all this? I mean, John and Mary, Mary, whose fault all this is, literally get to walk off into the sunset (which, I thought Mary was bound to Salem, so how can she leave?), while Cotton suffers eternal damnation? I mean, I know Cotton’s a weak-willed hypocrite, but he was still a guy willing to sacrifice his eternal soul to save an entire town. Why does he deserve this torture when the architect of all this chaos, Mary, gets to live happily ever after while leaving destruction in her wake? I mean, even Mercy, Mary’s creation, is killed just as she finds some semblance of love (which was an incredibly weird and random plot point in itself, but that’s a whole other story). And also, what happened to Tituba was chilling. She was a wasted character from start to finish, but what Anne did to her was so utterly cruel.
And now Anne is the headwoman of Salem; she has power and she’s the only witch left in Salem. But her brother is dead, she killed her mother, and now…what is she, precisely? Is she simply riding out the wave of adrenaline that her rage at Cotton brought on? What will happen when the high falls away and she realizes how profoundly alone she is? Will she truly resurrect the Devil into her unborn child and then become his queen? It’s so sad that so many lives have been ruined because Mary and her coterie of witches decided to raise the devil.
Generally speaking, I am not a fan of ambiguous or tragic endings. And unfortunately, the only two characters who were given happy endings were Mary and John, two characters whom I don’t really care about, while Anne and Cotton were torn apart. One turned evil while the other was sent to a horrific Hell. Why couldn’t everyone have they simply have saved Salem and then lived happily ever after all together? The opportunity was definitely there. They didn’t have to bring Gloriana back or even make Anne pregnant at all (or they could have made her pregnant at the very end). Mary killed Samael and John killed the Sentinel, and then they could have found the weapon and stopped it all and then everything would have been fine, but…alas. The characters will live on happily in my headcanon, I suppose.