Motherland: Fort Salem breathes fresh air into witch lore with its army of witch recruits preparing for war with a terrorist group called The Spree
Freeform‘s latest venture into the supernatural, Motherland: Fort Salem, finally graced our screens Wednesday night, putting its own spin on witches and their work in its first episode entitled, “Say the Words.”
In this alternate America created by Eliot Laurence, witches are conscripted into military service when they’re 18. It’s referred to as answering “the call” and the words they say as their medals spark in the air before them are an incantation that binds them to protecting the nation with their lives. If this reminds you of the draft, then you’re on the right track to piecing together what bits of American history this series plans to explore and challenge as its story progresses.
See, in this world, witches are what stand between America and its enemies. They are the nation’s fighting force and judging by the way non-magical citizens respond to witches, it seems that there might not be a non-magical military presence in America. If that is the case then there is even more pressure put on the shoulders of new recruits as “the call” is answered by fewer and fewer witches each year.
Our three protagonists in Motherland: Fort Salem are Raelle Collar, Abigail Bellweather, and Tally Craven. They are a part of the same unit. Presumably, each witch unit consists of three members, a nod to the power of three and the three points of a triangle.
At basic, a unit rises and falls together. If one member is out of line then they are all out of line and, unfortunately for Abigail and Tally, Raelle initially refuses to toe the party line. The tension in the group is due to Raelle’s insistence on treating their time at basic as a holding pattern she has to get through until she can die on the front lines.
Unlike Abigail, Raelle doesn’t have a family legacy to uphold. At the forefront of her mind is her mother’s death a year ago. The two get into a fight fierce enough to call up a storm. It’s the Bellweathers’ belief that dying is a part of a soldier’s job. Raelle’s mother died in Liberia after giving everything she was required to give as a soldier under the command of Abigail’s mom.
Eventually the two declare a truce, agreeing to do their best to succeed. A friendship is not on the table but it’s the start of a partnership. Despite the newfound unity between the two, the fact that Abigail tried to get re-assigned might cause a problem in the long run, at least with Tally. At of the three of them, Tally’s the only one who wasn’t required to join the witches army. She went against her mother’s wishes and joined anyway.
As the only one in their unit who is doing this to help others, Tally sees the bickering between Abigail and Raelle as a weakness. Her excitable nature and eager disposition fell away when she found out Abigail tried to leave her and Raelle behind. In its place was a shrewd assessment of the deficiency Abigail and Raelle displayed with their pettiness, a deficiency Tally pointed out with the air of someone who found them both lacking in moral fiber.
Morality, however, is something Motherland: Fort Salem has an invested interest in exploring. The enemy of the witches army is The Spree, a terrorist group whose aim is to destabilize and dismantle the American military industrial complex which in their view has enslaved witch kind. They hold this position because conscription is a requirement unless exempt and witches serve until their death.
Conscription is based on the agreement that was forged between General Sarah Alder and the government 327 years ago. In return for the government ending persecution of witches, a standing army of witches bound in service to the country to defend and protect its interests was raised.
This army seems to have usurped a non-magical military which makes witches the only force standing between America and its enemies. It’s considered a sacrifice they make for non-magical citizens, but if there is no choice in the matter, then it’s a requirement and it’s the government sacrificing them not the witches choosing to serve.
The Spree’s response to this is to wage terrorist attacks forcing non-magical people to commit suicide. Their mission is disruption, and they recruit witches to their cause by preying on their frustrations with conscription and how being forced to serve has damaged families and taken the lives of those who may have otherwise lived happy and fulfilling lives.
With Raelle’s anger over her mother’s death and her viewpoint that “conscription is slavery by another name”, she is vulnerable to The Spree’s messages. Enter Scylla, a mysterious cadet who Raelle takes an immediate shine to because she’s just as irreverent as her about their duty.
Scylla’s gift is necromancy which is interesting considering Raelle’s gift is healing. I’m sure there will be more to unpack there as the series goes on. In any case, Scylla is clearly interested in Raelle and the two pursue a romance together that brings some light that Raelle dearly needs.The problem, as revealed by the premiere’s conclusion, is that unbeknownst Raelle, Scylla seems to be an agent of The Spree.
Motherland: Fort Salem opens with a terrorist attack. The perpetrator burns her face away to reveal another when she’s making her escape. Scylla quickly does the same thing before Raelle makes her way into her room at the end of “Say the Words.” Whether this is a red herring or not–and whether you were like me and found this reveal to be predictable–it sure sets the scene for some messy fallout down the line.
Overall, Motherland: Fort Salem is definitely bringing something to the table with its world-building and witch lore. From its vocal magic which allows witches to create storms via the use of an extra set of vocal chords that non-magic people don’t have to the idea of an America dependent upon witches for protection, this show is different.
I am eager to see where they go with this series and this cast of characters especially since Raelle, Abigail, and Tally working together as a unit is a powerful combination as made evident by their display of vocal work that impressed their superiors.
Until next week, dismissed, witches!