Salem has been built around some bizarre and gruesome visuals—a toad nursing on a woman's thigh, a girl muzzled and led about like a dog, dead faces stretched out and made to speak. But sometimes, there's nothing quite like a gaggle of girls dressed all in white with murder in their hearts.
Salem feels like it's rebuilding a bit, refocusing its plot away from the dreary conflict between the town's most powerful witches (and the Grand Rite, whatever that is) and toward the more interesting battle of wills between Mary Sibley and Increase Mather. But the two best stories of the night belonged to Isaac the Fornicator and Mercy Lewis. Cotton Mather spent most of the episode drunk and out of commission, save for a horrible conversation with his father about how Increase never loved Cotton's mother.
Isaac is almost a stand-in for the people of Salem as a whole: he's been much abused by the system and now finds himself torn between Mary Sibley and Increase. But unlike most of the townsfolk, he is starting suspect that there is something nefarious going on with Mary. After all, George Sibley specifically asked him not to fetch Mary after he cut out her familiar, and the flattering Increase demands that George be guarded even from his wife. His loyalty to and affection for Mary wins out in the end, turning Increase's flattery to ire. Isaac has been one of the most intriguing characters to watch this season, often clear-eyed but vulnerable to the whims of his friends. Will this incident push him farther into Mary's camp or will it free him from her influence?
But Mercy offers something different, a view of how people can achieve power in Salem and what that power does to them. She has acquired her own small coven-lite of girls who aren't witches, but are intrigued by the power of the black arts. At first, they do the standard sleepover stuff—meet in the graveyard, play "light as a feather, stiff as a board." But when things become more dire for one of their number, they step up their game. Henry Hopkins, the drunk, is released from jail after Increase decides he is not a witch (and insults him a bit for good measure) and stumbles through the town looking for his daughter, the one he intends to sell to the brothel. Anne Hale offers the girl sanctuary within the system, a night at the local orphanage, but the girls have been failed by the system enough. Dressed in their nightgowns, they find Henry Hopkins beating on his daughter in a dark alley and decide to beat him right back—no, they don't beat him, the rend him apart with the ferocity of a zombie horde, tossing an arm at the camera to make it clear just how far they had gone. Now that these girls have tasted blood and power, what will they do next?
Mercy sees herself as a poor gal's Mary Sibley, both protector and leader of Salem's girls. Just look at how she plays with Anne Hale's hair, echoing Mary's patronizing of the magistrate's daughter. She even thinks she's an adept schemer, accusing Tituba of witchcraft to protect Mary. But Mercy has play with fire here, and she could end up with something worse than a stake tied to her back.
Meanwhile, Salem is still trying to figure out what to do with Anne Hale and John Alden (aside from showing Alden with his shirt off). These are the people who want to want to change Salem from the inside, with good works and passionate words instead of magic and violence. Is it possible to be a good person in Salem when the forces of Increase Mather and the witches are battling for the soul of America? Perhaps, but so far, it isn't terribly dramatic.