Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a television series close on such a pessimistic scene. Salem has never been one to shy away from graphic depictions of, well, anything, but to have its last scene feature one of its main characters looking into the depths of Hell? That was just brutal. “Black Sunday” was a brutal episode of television in general, and while many of the characters didn’t make it out alive, at least our two protagonists got to ride off into the sunset together.
From here on down there will be ***MASSIVE SPOILERS***. You’ve been warned. If for some reason you’ve never seen Salem but still plan on watching it, know that I’m giving the series finale a 4/5 (the series as a whole would earn that same grade). There, now you know the journey is worth it and you can go start the first season on Netflix right now. Salem is worth watching from the very beginning. Go along for the wacky and incredibly disturbing ride.
As a series finale, “Black Sunday” did its job. It is unclear how long Adam Simon and Brannon Braga had to prepare a fitting end for their sorely under-watched (and under-promoted) series, but they crafted a series finale that, for better or worse, granted all of its characters (and viewers) closure. It did run into a few pacing issues (Anne’s evolution into the big bad of the season came on much too quickly), but Salem didn’t have a lot of time to work with, so that is forgivable. As a whole, “Black Sunday” was a solid way to close out the series.
After all, the only thing viewers want from a series finale is closure, and boy did “Black Sunday” deliver on that front. Let’s take a quick glance at everyone’s fates, shall we?
To say Salem cleaned house would be an understatement. Sebastian was the first to go, which was probably for the best. The character never really earned his keep on Salem (it was a little surprising he stayed on for the third season), and while it was fun to have the threat of him and Countess Marburg constantly looming in the background, it never really paid off. That being said, the catharsis earned from seeing Anne murder her mother was incredible.
Little John was aged up in a sublimely graphic dismemberment (see header image) that brought a newly adult Dark Lord to the series. It’s a shame that Salem is over, as Big John could have made for an interesting fourth season villain (I’m very curious to know how the season was originally meant to play out). I’ve complained for most of the season that Little John was never that imposing of a villain, but now it is clear that there was a reason for that: a path was being forged for Anne Hale to emerge as the Big Bad.
It’s understandable that Salem had to bring forward a new Big Bad, but the journey there did feel a little rushed. It’s fascinating to watch this demure little girl from the first season morph into a Grand High Witch, but it happened over the course of two or three episodes. Tamzin Merchant has been great in the role, but she did get a bit cartoonish in her villainy here. Anne’s arc, however implausible, was still great fun to watch and the entire sequence where she simultaneously visited with Isaac, John, Tituba, Mercy and Hathorne was glorious. Salem also gave us its biggest reveal yet. After believing that Salem was an alternative take on the Salem Witch Trials, the finale showed that it was actually a lead-in to the Trials. It was a wonderful reveal that cemented Anne Hale’s status as an evil mastermind. Apparently everyone was playing checkers while she was secretly playing chess.
Isaac, Hathorne, Mercy and Tituba were afterthoughts in the finale, showing up only to be dispatched by Anne. Ashley Madekwe grew into the role of Tituba after a rocky first season (she improved greatly after she abandoned her English accent) and did her best with the little material she was given this season. I confess that I was hoping the character would have a better ending, but she really dug her own grave in the end. Isaac, Hathorne and Mercy have felt like they were on an entirely different show, constantly separated from the main arc of the season. It was no different in the finale, and the series dispatched of them as if they didn’t matter (they didn’t, not even poor Isaac).
If the finale was an exercise in bleakness (more on the bleakest moment in a bit), the light at the end of the tunnel was Mary Sibley. She finally got her happily ever after and was able to escape Salem with John Alden. Montgomery has been a force of nature for three seasons, and “Black Sunday” made up for the actress being given the shaft for much of this season. Her performance as Countess Marburg was spot-on (her reaction to the news of Sebastian’s death was perfection). Salem has always been Mary’s show, so to see her end the series in the arms of her true love, as schmaltzy as it is, is appropriate. This is a woman who has (figuratively) been to Hell and back. She is due some respect, dammit. I only hope that Salem‘s end sends a plethora of job offers to Montgomery. She’s absolutely magnificent.
Last is Cotton. Poor, poor Cotton. He was able to redeem the horrible acts from his past with a self-sacrifice that was noble, but misguided. While the world didn’t end, he merely postponed the inevitable. Now he is stuck in Hell for all eternity. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Cotton was going to get yanked out at the last minute. Maybe saved by a remorseful Anne Hale, perhaps? You would be wrong though. Cotton’s fate is a truly shocking one, and those final images will be burned in my brain forever.
If Salem has to leave us, then “Black Sunday” was a fantastic way to send it off. The third season had its issues, but everything was wrapped up in a neat and satisfying little bow in the end. I look forward to whatever Brannon Braga and Adam Simon give us next. May it last longer than three seasons.