When Salem becomes a battleground, everyone ends up a casualty of the witch war.
Premiering April 5, at 10 p.m., season two of WGN America's supernatural series unleashes hell on all the residents of the 17th-century Massachusetts town. And regardless of one's status as witch, Puritan or mere mortal, all the characters get drawn in and altered by the magical turf war.
On a visit to the Shreveport, La., set of the show, I previously discussed what to expect from the second season of the witch with co-creators Brannon Braga and Adam Simon. Now, as part of our continuing coverage of Salem's return, I joined two pairs of actors -- Tamzin Merchant and Seth Gabel, and Iddo Goldberg and Elise Eberle -- to explore their story arcs this season in the embedded video interviews.
A young Puritan girl who rails against her upbringing and eventually discovers she is an exceptionally powerful natural-born witch, Merchant's Anne Hale poses a rising threat to Sibley's power play -- that is, after she accidentally makes her parents' heads explode with her newly discovered magic.
Meanwhile, Gabel's Cotton Mather, having begun as a holy man and drunk, is forced to confront the fact that, while witches are real, the nature of good and evil is grayer than the puritanical black and white. He began last season putting innocents on trial to root out witchcraft before joining forces with John Alden (Shane West) in the battle against dark forces. His journey also led to him murdering his father, a well-known witch hunter who had gone mad in his quest.
In my talk with the duo, Merchant and Gabel talked about their characters' bond of patricide. Merchant said that the death of her parents is a metaphor for her release as an individual, but that it presents new difficulties for her character.
"Without a family, she is an orphan female by herself," said Merchant. "The wolves are circling in terms of men who want to take her fortune by marrying her ... in a way, she's out of the frying pan and into the fire in terms of the dangers she faces."
"Cotton killed his father not because he wanted to, but because he was going to kill Mary Sibley," added Gabel. "He really wants to be in Salem stopping all of this madness that he helped begin, but is forced to return to Boston ... and has done this terrible deed he can't talk to anyone about."
Merchant also said their bond, a "shared sense of darkness and guilt" between two kindred spirits will bring them together, and Gabel noted that "there's always been a natural attraction between the two of them, and this will only elevate that."
With a holy man and powerful witch perhaps joining forces, the question is raised whether magic can be used for the forces of good in Salem. Merchant said it is something not many in Salem have explored because the women had been oppressed for so long, and "when they get power, they want to bring down the patriarchy in a brutal way." But she said Anne would be the one to make a good witch happen if she can deal with her "daddy issues and otherwise."
Adding to Merchant's response, Gabel said there is color, literally and figuratively, being added to the show to represent evolving forces. "The Puritan world was one that only saw things in black and white, and the circumstances of the show are introducing color to this world that goes even well beyond gray."
Additionally, I spoke with Eberle, who plays Mercy Lewis, once a victim of possession who has embraced black magic and fancies herself the protector of Salem's weakest -- and the rightful leader of all witches. Conversely, Isaac, a simpleton who had been branded for the sin of fornication when young, has become the carrier of a witch plague designed to kill mortals.
In the following video, Goldberg and Eberle tease that their characters' paths will cross in unexpected ways. But don't expect Mercy to take pity on the man who was friends with her former mentor, Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery). What Goldberg described as "fun viewing," Eberle alluded to Mercy doing something grotesque to Isaac -- coincidentally set in the same room we filmed in.
Also, Eberle said both characters undergo a "huge evolution" this season. But she added that she "didn't anticipate any of that."
"From her evolution from an innocent, imprisoned young girl who just wants to be normal -- and now she's castrating men; who does expect that?"
Tomorrow: More from our Salem set visit, including interviews with Shane West, Janet Montgomery, Ashley Madekwe and Lucy Lawless.