The phrase “the best show you’re not watching” gets thrown around a lot, but in the case of “Salem,” it couldn’t be more true. We’ve been singing its praises since Episode 1 so our mission at SDCC was to find out what’s ahead in Season 2.
Surprisingly, the powers-that-be, exec producers Brannon Braga and Adam Simon, were quite forthcoming while co-stars Janet Montgomery. Shane West, Seth Gabel, Ashley Madekwe, Iddo Goldberg, and Elise Eberle were all incredibly charming and obviously invested in their characters.
Beware in case you’re not caught up as spoilers for Season 1 abound!
We’ve found the horror crowd to a bit slow to pick up on just how hardcore the show can be at times so we queried Braga as to how we can help raise awareness. “I like that our show is not plastered all over buses,” he responded. “I like being the show that launched this network [WGN America]; I think it’s cool. “
“We got away with more as well because of that,” added Madekwe. “There were things I think we might not have been able to do if we were under such scrutiny.”
“The horror is a huge partâ€¦ it is a horror show,” Braga reassured us, “and we plan to continue doing it. I think Ashley is right. This show pushes the boundaries for a show on basic cable.”
When asked what has kept TV mostly away from witches, with the exception of lighter fare like “Bewitched” and “Charmed,” Braga stated his surprise that “not a lot was done with this time period in particular [overall]. There’s The Crucible, and that’s about it, which is great because there are many historical details which are completely untapped. Characters, events, stuff that’s just rich to mine for dramatic purposes. But the bad [part] was nothing exists. We couldn’t rent anything; everything had to be built from scratch. From every building to every pipe a guy smokes to every toolâ€¦ everything that you see on the show is hand-crafted.”
Braga described the creative team’s planning process for Season 2: “You can’t really do the kind of ending we had for Season 1 without talking about Season 2 and having some clue where you’re going. It’s safe to say that every character has transformedâ€¦ enemies have become friends, vice versa.”
“The one thing I will tease you with isâ€¦ obviously the characters are going on a certain trajectory. There’s a child involved, Tituba and Mary are enemies, Mary plans to kill Tituba, Isaac’s dying of the plague, Alden’s been rescued by Indians, Cotton’s off to Boston. Those storylines will be followed; some storylines may not even be in Salem at firstâ€¦ there are other witches out there who may also have sensed the Grand Rite was happening and are thinking, ‘Wow! Who’s this Mary Sibley, and how the hell did she pull that off?'”
So it sounds like a lot of our loose ends will be tied up or at least not left totally hanging. Going back to Alden for a moment, we wondered if the Mohawk tribe will continue to factor into future events. “They’ll be a thread,” said Braga.
As for the biggest twist of the finale, Montgomery herself was surprised to learn Mary and John’s baby had survived. “We were lucky to find such a great little actor. I’m just excited for next season and what we can do with that character and how it will complicate Mary’s position even more.” A child raised by Satanâ€¦ he’s sure to be a real delight!
We prodded West to share what he knows about what’s upcoming for the possibly dead John Alden, but before he could, Braga chimed in, “Everyone who’s at Comic-Con is probably safe.” “Probablyâ€¦” echoed Madekwe.
“I don’t know,” replied West. “I’m excited where John went, especially where John and Mary were going as well before obviously the child [came] back, which is going to be great to play with next season for sure. I’m enjoying going back to deal with the Indians, the Native Americans, to see where that storyline can go and if we can compound a little bit on what happened in the past for him as well. I think it’s a great start for John, and then we’ll get him back into Salemâ€¦ I don’t know if it’ll be immediately or if it’ll take some time, but it’s fun to explore.”
Next the tables turned as Ashley leaned over toward Brannon and said, “I have a question. I’m not there for some of the scenes you guys shoot obviously. When I come to you [addressing Montgomery] and I say, ‘The child’s alive,’ is that when you change your mind? Or did you always plan to leave John in the woods?”
Janet responded, “No, noâ€¦ it’s when you tell me about the child, and I say, ‘Well, if I don’t goâ€¦’ You say, ‘You’ve got to complete the Grand Rite or a sacrifice deferred so I’m going to kill your child,’ so then I make a choice to go for my child and hope that John can understand.”
Braaga said what’s great about John and Mary’s relationship is that “it started as a tragic romance, and just as they were getting together, it became a tragic romance again.” He hedged a bit when we asked about any kind of time lapse between the Season 1 finale and the show’s return episode, but he did acknowledge, “It’s safe to say that most of the characters are left in an exigent [situation] so I don’t think we’re going to be doing like a year later or anything like that.”
Montgomery credited “smart writing” for her character’s ability to win over the audience despite taking us on a roller coaster ride of sort of liking her in the beginning, hating her later on, and then finally accepting and admiring her by season’s end. That and “Stephen Lang coming in. The addition of Stephen Lang, who is the Puritan, the good guy… having him come in and be so great at being nasty really makes you feel for Mary and you start rooting for her…”
Braga added, “For me, the moment that Stephen Lang’s character hung the three girls, he became the monster. And that’s right around the time Mary’s starting to go through her own evolution. It was the villain the show needed. Because Mary was the villain at firstâ€¦ she was the villain and the hero.”
Complexity is a hallmark of “Salem” characters with few exhibiting more than Cotton Mather, and we wondered where he’s going in Season 2. Here’s this man of God killing to, in his mind, do good; what happens to him? “He doesn’t know that Mary’s been manipulating him the whole time,” Braga reminded us. “Even the murder of his father was orchestrated to some degree by Mary. So he has a lot of stuff that’s going to happenâ€¦ a lot of cool stuff will happen with him too.”
But where will that cool stuff take place? Braga laughed, “Well, right now he’s riding off to Boston. You know, he’s going to have to go into hiding. He killed his dad, and dad is a really important guyâ€¦ or was!”
“Slightly!” interjected West. “Slightly dead, slightly important.”
That was about all we could pry out of Braga so next on our hot seat was his cohort Adam Simon, who gave us the best soundbite of the day when we asked for his opinion on the tone of Season 2. With a bit of input from co-stars Goldberg and Gabel, he told us we can expect it to be “deeper, darker, scarier, funnier, sexier, stranger, biggerâ€¦”
Seth elaborated, “When we leave Season 1, the proverbial shit hits the fan. Season 1 I feel is just this pressure cooker of all of these things that are going to happen, and as an audience member, you don’t know whether we’re going to be loyal to all the facts of that historical event, and is it going to be as boring as what I studied in high school? It takes a journey into the fantastical that still tries to honor what happened during that time period but take some liberties to get to the heart of people’s perception of [it].”
“This is a very supernatural, superstitious time for people in a new world where literally anything was possible, and in the ‘anything is possible’ is the devil and demons and God and angels and savage Indians and dark arts and all kinds of thingsâ€¦ in their mind these genre ideas were real. And so Season 1 I think, for us as a cast and crew, for the story that happens in the show, I feel like it all was just kind of boiling up, and now the lid gets blown off at the end of Season 1 and everyone is displaced in some way. Cotton is traveling to Boston after killing his father, John Alden has been almost killed in the woods and then rescued by Indians, Isaac has gotten some kind of plague and might die, [Mercy] becomes the ‘Queen of the Night’â€¦ There’s so many different revolutions happening. And this is a time that precedes the American Revolution; everyone has these mini revolutions of their own in the town of Salem.”
“I think what you can expect from Season 2 – a word to sum it up – would be ‘revolution.’ That there has been an explosion of chaos and that chaos is necessary in order to create great change. I don’t know what the details will be, but I imagine it’ll be something like that.”
Simon picked up the thread, “Look, one of the phrases that led Season 1 was ‘Witch Among Us,’ playing on that phrase, and one of the phrases we bounce around for Season 2 is ‘Witch War.’ Or ‘Which War?’ This is a time where there are wars all culminating here. War between the Europeans and the Indians. War between the French and the English. War between the Dutch and Germans that are still there. The war that’s going to be brewing over the slaves that are being brought in.”
Iddo added, “We’ve established Anne as a witch nowâ€¦ we have Anne, we have Mercy, we have Titubaâ€¦”
So the witches themselves will be at war? Yes,” Simon said. ” They’re gonna be because now we have a dynastic battle. There’s going to be a question as to which is the [ruling] line, even within, say, the English witches, which is what we call the ‘Essex’ witchesâ€¦ Even in that strand of the witches we now have a potential battle because the Hales are an old, old, old family with clearly very powerful witch blood and now Anne Hale has discovered in the most horrific way possible what her power really is. Not to mention [Anne] has kind of had a bit of an alliance in a funny way with Cotton that she might in ways end up fulfilling her father’s dream that, in fact, the Hales and the Mathers might mergeâ€¦ the top family of witches and the top family of Puritans might come together.”
“Meanwhile, there’s Mary Sibley, the ‘Black Rose’ they grafted onto their vine, who is not only by no means relinquishing her power but now has an heir, which she never had before. And of course we have Mercy Lewis, who is saying something true when she says, ‘Well, the rule is the one who kills the Samhain is the Queen of the Night,’ and yet, she is the one who did it so there’s a free-for-all coming over who’s in charge. And that’s not even to mention the German witches who want in on this now too. Identity politics has been the ruling politics in America since day one, whether that’s between Indians and Europeans, between the five or six different types of Europeans. The witches themselves are as driven by ethnic and identity issues as the others are, and not only that, they all bring their gods and their demons with them.”
And then things got really interesting as Simon revealed, “One other thing I’d throw out that’s going to be a lot of fun to play with is we’ve only barely scratched the surface of the idea that Salem is a port. It’s on the edge of the sea; it’s a super important port. But also, from an almost Lovecraftian, horror perspective, there are things in the sea as horrendous as there are in the forest. So imagine Salem as Innsmouth in effect, if you know your Lovecraft. Imagine the fact that Lovecraft was really the more accurate historian of our early history than Arthur Miller was. It’s H.P. Lovecraft’s Crucible.”
Lots of headsy stuff to take in for sure so we came back down to earth by trying to pry out of Goldberg exactly what the heck Isaac was doing when we last saw him. His lips were sealed, but Simon teased, “We would all be in big trouble if we don’t have Isaac. We believe real firmly no community can survive without its fool, its holy sacred fool. Now whether he stays a fool or not and what he becomes, who knows? The season did end with him in effect throwing himself on a grenade, which is not enough to stop it from happening but may well have changed the impact that it would have had, had he done what Mary wanted him toâ€¦ at potentially great cost, but not total, or maybeâ€¦ we’ll see. We don’t want to give anything away. But by no means have we seen the last of Isaac the Fornicator.”
As for how much more story there is to tell, Simon explained, “You’ve got to remember, yes, it was six months of a show, but in fictional time it was [only] one month. We haven’t even gotten to the event that The Crucible begins with. Now we’re not going to spend years and years and years on the witch trials because ultimately the witch trials are a door to open into a completely supernatural vision of early America and of the world based on the consensus reality that the people had back then. But even within the events of the witch trials themselves, we’ve just barely begun. There’s been no Panel of Judges yet, the new Governor Phips has not arrived. There’s so much drama, politics, and magic all still to happen there that this has just been the setup for.”
We saved the best for last and asked Elise to describe what it’s been like playing Mercy. Talk about a character arc! She enthused, “It’s a wild flippin’ ride. I love it. As an actor, the ability to play so many different emotionsâ€¦ it’s like she’s a bipolar, schizophrenic girl so to have something like that and get to just work on it and play with it is a dream come true. I’ve always been so interested in crazy people. *laughs* It’s so much fun; I just eat it up!”
Here’s a look at our group as they were heading off for their first SDCC panel. Hope to see you all back next year, heathens!
— Iddo Goldberg (@IddoG) July 26, 2014
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