It was somewhat disconcerting to arrive at the final season of Salem only to realize that the entire series had essentially been Anne Hale’s Start of Darkness tale. This was not immediately obvious at all – Anne’s story is the epitome of the expression “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” That is the tragedy of Anne Hale – she starts out so good, so kind, so desperate to make the world a better place, only to succumb to the darkness she sought out to defeat.
She starts out as innocent as a young Puritan girl can be, only she is filled with ambition and ideals that her gender prevent her from achieving. By the end of the first season she has lost her parents in a horrific, traumatic accident brought on by the discovery of her witchcraft. From then on, Anne becomes a pawn for everyone to use – whether it’s the lecherous old village leader who wants to marry her for her fortune, or Mary, the more experienced witch who wants to use Anne’s formidable powers.
Because of her desperate situation, Anne is forced into making choices she has no desire to make – such as casting a love spell on Cotton Mather to push him into proposing to her, so that she might avoid marrying a lecherous old man. It all snowballs from there, as Anne’s genuine affection for Cotton leads her to make sacrifices all to protect him and her idealistic vision of their future together.
Unfortunately, Cotton struggles to understand the utterly desperate position Anne is placed in, and when he turns on her, it is the final straw for poor Anne (and it is a glorious outburst): “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 say 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?”
Anne’s final development into Big Bad is quite shaky, and almost certainly the direct result of Salem’s early cancellation, but her overall development is solid. She goes from naive but tenacious young girl, to frightened young woman, to a witch confident in her powers and in her ability to change things for the better: “You have no idea what it is like! To be filled with ideas, with dreams, with visions of how things should be, and yet be utterly powerless to do anything about it. That is what it is to be a woman. But I am no mere woman. I am a witch, and I can make a difference.”
The show does a fantastic job of showcasing Anne’s desperation, not to justify the terrible choices she makes, but to contextualize them. She’s like a wild animal backed into a corner with no choice but to die or attack, and Anne chooses to attack to defend herself and those she loves. Slowly, her naive idealism is stripped from her, and it is truly tragic to watch all her good intentions pave that dark road to (literal) Hell. She winds up alone and, in my estimation, a little bit insane, because even though she made some terrible decisions, she’s also suffered such great injustice (including literal sexual assault by a demonic entity!!) that it’s impossible not to sympathize with her and the bright, optimistic, and genuinely kind girl she once was.
Poor Anne. She deserved so much better than what she got. She deserved more than to be lied to and manipulated and betrayed by the person she sacrificed her integrity and her values for. She is such a rich, complex, and tragically flawed character, and she has become my absolute favorite witch.