Antagonists in fiction are interesting characters, from their standpoint on life to their decisions as villains or “evil-doers”. Some of us relate more to these antagonists much more than we do with protagonists. A fine example of that would be how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader undergoing a tragic set of events that emotionally scarred his heroic spirit.
It’s relatable. It’s human.
We all go through pain, loss, resentment and battle demons in our mind, some that need to be imprisoned for many, many years. But sometimes those demons claw their way out of our minds and make life a lot harder for those around us.
Salem, the ruthless evil-doer and sorcerous of pain, misery, and demise from Rooster Teeth’s RWBY is someone who has torn apart the hearts of many because she herself had her heart torn out. We’ve seen how she turned Cinder (the villain responsible for killing off many favorite characters and friends) into a sad puppy dog who strayed into a desolate path to loneliness and desperation. Salem has even brutally murdered minor characters like Lionheart, and how she has mentally scarred characters like Emerald out of complete and utter fear.
Salem represents fear, anger, loss and a reminder to us all how dark the world is. But why? What made Salem this way?
In RWBY Volume 6 Chapter 3 titled The Lost Fable, we discover a hidden story that Ozpin had been hiding from everyone to conceal the truth. Like it was such a terrible secret that it had characters jumping ship to attack poor Oscar, (cough, cough Qrow) but more on that later.
The fable begins Jinn revealing to Team RWBY that, “Hey, you know the cause of everyone’s problems? You know the evil being who destroyed everything you know and love. Well get this guys, she was human!” Way to drop the bomb on us Jinn. But Salem was completely human in a time and era when magic was spread throughout the world and free to everyone to express. But also get this one. Salem’s father, without much explanation, kept her locked away in a tower. This made Salem hungry for freedom to see the outside world for herself.
Well there you have it, point one. Isolation. When you are isolated from the world do you know that world? If you are kept in a bubble will that bubble pop one day and leave you confused as to where to go next? Will you cling to others if someone were to rescue you from that isolation? Salem didn’t know the world, and as we saw she was pretty much kept locked up in that tower for years. Isolation can lead to many things and scar people who are isolated even after they are given freedom.
Until low and behold freedom was in Salem’s grasp. Ozma appeared. You’d think this would be a happy ending. Hero saves damsel locked away in the tower. But no. Hell no. RWBY tends to remind us that this is not at all a fairytale and that damsels do not exist in the World of Remnant. The “They lived happily ever after” became the start of their story.
So just like a fairytale Salem and Ozma fall in love and you’d think they would grow old together and have a Disney-like moment where all the forest animals come out and sing songs. But wrong again. Oh, so, so wrong. Instead, get this one, Ozma gets sick, passes on and we see the tragedy play out on screen.
A grief-stricken Salem succumbs to the loss and out of desperation and an irrational mindset she has no idea what to do but to address this to the gods.
Now pause. Breathe. Take all of this in. Ask yourself this. What does loss do to a person? What has loss done to you? Has it changed you? Has it made you stray off your path or desperately cling to something?
To go back to my previous point Salem was isolated. Who freed her from that isolation? Ozma. Who died right before her eyes as she clung to him? Ozma. It wasn’t just the love the two shared which tore out Salem’s heart when Ozma passed on. It was the connection she had to him and freedom, he being her reminder to never be locked up or isolated ever again. And that reminder was suddenly gone.
On her own, irrational and lost, Salem makes her way to the God of Light to resurrect Ozma, desperately pleading for him to return to her. The God of Light was patient with her but failed to see the impact Ozma’s death left on Salem also failing to see that she was afraid of the world without him. The God of Light was patient but to prevent the upcoming events he could have been warmer and cared more for Salem’s irrational mindset instead of just saying “no”.
A good example of this is how the Jedi Council in Star Wars did not have more patience with Anakin or many times they had doubt in his actions instead of working together with him to understand his decisions. You can’t blame the Jedi Council for the events that took place between Episodes 2 and 3 of Star Wars, but could the impact have been less tragic if they had taken a different route? Possibly. Is Anakin also to blame for his actions? Yes, because he chose to act out on his anger and irrationality. But both sides could have had more patience with the other.
Now the same thing happened with Salem. As stated earlier the God of Light was patient to listen to her but had not given her more time to grieve over her loss. Which then, just like Anakin seeking acceptance and understanding, Salem goes to the dark side for advice.
The God of Darkness, out of spite to his brother, agrees to Salem’s request. Ozma is back! Hallelujah, praise the RWBY gods! He’s back. In tears and overwhelmed with joy but also a mix of fear, Salem embraces Ozma. You can’t help but think everything is going to be okay and that maybe they would get that happy ending. Oh no, wrong again. Before the two runoff on their path of Happily Ever After, the God of Light appears.
The God of Light seeks the balance, and it makes sense as to why he didn’t want Ozma to be brought back to life. It’s not the way of the world. Though instead of allowing Salem to say her goodbyes properly, or giving her a better explanation, he destroys Ozma again, and again, and again, and again, along with the God of Darkness resurrecting him over, and over, and over, having Salem relive the pain of losing her loved one on repeat. Ouch.
Just like any siblings after tearing each other apart or having an argument the God of Light and Darkness make up. Oh yeah, and then this happens. They are like, “Hey now, we’re bros. Let’s not fight man. It’s cool. Let’s punish this grief-stricken and now traumatized human instead.” Great guys, thank you. Like seriously, you’re all-powerful beings but instead, you want to punish someone who already lost everything she’s ever known and loved after traumatizing her? Bravo. Why don’t we just talk about this? Yes? No? Okay, let’s move on then.
After Ozma is then officially gone, Salem throws herself into her rage and anger. A mix of fear resided in her heart as she lashes out screaming and desperately bargaining for Ozma’s life. At this moment Salem is spiraling out of control, going through the 5 Stages of Grief at a faster rate than anyone due to the gods not giving her a chance to actually grief. Please, put yourself in her shoes. This is way before the Fall of Beacon or anything regarding Team RWBY. If this was prevented then there could be a chance the Fall of Beacon would have never happened.
Some may say at this point Salem is behaving like a child or a brat not getting her way, but if you look into it deeper and see how the writers of RWBY Volume 6 Chapter 3 set up The Lost Fable to be there’s much more than just a temper tantrum.
Attacking and trying to destroy the gods, too far captive in her fit of rage, Salem is then transported back to the Domain of Light. Suffocating deep in the water there’s a moment you feel her rage subside and fear swells over her entire existence. It’s a moment things are calm in the Domain of Light but the feeling of that fear is easily absorbed on screen.
Emerging from the water, as if to represent rebirth, the gods break it down to Salem saying, “Hey, so now you’re immortal and can never, ever see Ozma again”. This goes back to my point about isolation. Isolated for so many years in the tower, now the tower has become Salem’s own existence and body, trapped within the immortality that she never wanted. Her whole life up until Ozma arrived Salem had been forced to be trapped and now she was trapped as herself.
The punishment was needed for her actions but her actions could have been prevented if given proper care. In order for the curse to be lifted Salem had to learn about life and death and their importance to the world’s balance.
Easy enough right?
No, it only gets worse for everyone from here on out.
The gods seriously had no idea who they were messing with at the time. Salem wasn’t just any ordinary human who needed to learn a lesson. She was a traumatized immortal now living in anger and a pit of hatred. And the immortality just made matters worse.
The Lost Fable then takes a turn to raise awareness about suicide. The moment was extremely powerful especially to those in real life who have ever attempted suicide, making Salem a very relatable character. Her desperation turned into hatred of herself and those around her, continuing the spiral that turned Salem to the dark side. Salem attempts to kill herself as many times as the gods had killed and resurrected Ozma, desperate and wishing the leave the world that no longer had any purpose to her anymore.
And thus turns to the turning point. When she was at her lowest, Salem realizes that if she was able to have both the God of Light and God of Darkness go against one another (immortals wage war even if just for a second) then how easy would it be to sway the hearts of men?
Despite her anger and irrational mind, Salem thrives off of her vengeful heart and seeks out higher mortal powers around the world. Monarch after monarch she gives speeches and inspires many on how she gained her immortality from the gods and how they are the wrong ones for “stealing” loved ones and life itself. As her devoted disciples and ravaged army gather together, almost like the scene in A Bug’s Life when the ants go against the grasshoppers, Salem addresses the attack. But nope. Bye army. Bye disciples. The gods won’t have it. And then the army along with the rest of the world is destroyed. And Salem is alone, now isolated with loneliness.
This loneliness is very important to notice on screen because it refers back to the tower of how lonely and afraid Salem was. Knowing there was no hope left Salem then grovels in her defeat and attempts suicide again, this time in the God of Darkness’ domain and the pools of Grimm. This scene represents another rebirth but a rebirth out of anger and rage. Referring back to Star Wars Episode 3 when Anakin had lost everything and everyone and became Darth Vader.
We saw on-screen how Salem became a villain, how she lost her heart, no how her heart was torn from her chest and stabbed with the swords of desperation, fear, isolation, grief and the longing for her loved one to return. Salem was not born a villain. She was made a villain. Crafted into one by her grieving and stubborn heart.
Now while I can talk all about the Relics and their importance, I want this review to focus on Salem and just Salem. The first half of The Lost Fable are some of the most important facts about her and her start of becoming the antagonist to the World of Remnant.
Following her rise as the new Salem, we see Ozma had made a deal with the God of Light and had been resurrected several times. The two do reunite and for a moment we think Ozma would sacrifice his duty to the God of Light to remain at peace with Salem. And for a long, while he does. The two even have a family together. But after many years we see how different Salem had become due to her hatred for the gods and her trauma.
She became power-hungry and continued to let her pride and stubbornness guide her. She never admitted she was wrong and failed to regard the lessons the gods had sought out for her. Salem then was no longer the victim but her heart was too hardened for her to realize her mistakes and the impact her words and actions had on others.
And the moment when Ozma had left her, and wanted to destroy everything Salem had longed for, she loses herself for one last time. A battle breaks out between the two, thus killing their daughters and killing every ounce of hope Salem had ever lived for.
The words of “We finally had freedom” represent that tower once more, where it continued to be built upon Salem’s heart, and now grown into a palace of hatred and death. All Salem wished for was to be free. But in the end, the man who gave her freedom trapped her within that neverending hatred. And thus the tale of Salem began.
Salem was just as at fault as everyone else had been. She gave in to her anger and cause thousands to suffer. Though looking deeper into The Lost Fable you realize that just like with Anakin’s fate if there had been more time and understanding things could have played out differently. Salem tore the hearts of many because she herself is living proof of a broken heart. A captive, angry, broken heart, isolated by hatred.
What are your thoughts on The Lost Fable? What did you take away from RWBY Volume 6 Chapter 3? And most importantly what do you think about Salem? Your thoughts and opinions matter here so let us know!