Motherland: Fort Salem
What if witches ran the United States military?
That's the question asked and answered by Motherland: Fort Salem. It's set in an alternate America where witches are not only real, but they're running every aspect of the United States military.
Three hundred years ago, the immortal witch Sara Alder told the Founding Fathers "Hey, I'll help you win your little war for independence if you stop burning my friends and family." Now she's the head general of all armed forces, and every witch born in America is forced to serve in her military.
This makes for some spicy ethical issues, because forced conscription is generally frowned upon, especially in a nation that's supposed to be about freedom. But there's one group of witches in particular, called the Spree, that decide murdering hundreds of civilians is the best way to gain them freedom from military service. They're the main villains of the show, since terrorism is even more frowned upon.
This directly affects our main trio of characters, three young witches who spend the season trying to finish basic training and fight the Spree. Raelle is a powerful healer whose mother was killed in combat during her forced service, so she has some personal issues with the military and is only in basic because deserters are hunted down and killed.
Tally genuinely wants to serve, in part because she's the kind of soul who wants to help others, and in part because the witches have had an excellent PR team for the last three hundred years, so she believes all the propaganda about the glory of witch service until it gets dismantled throughout the course of the season.
Abigail is from one of the most famous and powerful witch families in America, her mother being another general and the head of intelligence, so she's been quite literally born and raised for this.
Since all three of them are randomly assigned to the same unit--which fails or succeeds as a unit--there's a lot of friction in the earlier episodes, especially between Raelle and Abigail. It gets worse when Raelle starts dating another witch Scylla, who, as we find out in the pilot, is actually working for the Spree.
The set-up gives for a lot of rich character interactions and conflicts, but occasionally the writers sink to petty cattiness. I'd say that bullcrap is about 10% of the entire show, which could have been used to explore the history and worldbuilding of this alternate America.
General Alder is immortal, and while she never stops rubbing the "I saved your asses three centuries ago" in everyone's faces, we don't know much else about her backstory, which is a shame because she gradually becomes a central figure over the course of the season, even arguably turning into a villain.
In the credits we see this world's map of America that includes a long strip of land called the Cessation, but we have no idea what that is.
Abigail's family is descended from slaves, but obviously such slavery is no longer a thing in the modern day, so how did the witches handle the Civil War and all other parts of American/global history? How does that affect her personally, and all the other black witches we see running around?
However, there is great storytelling going on here. The characters are real and flawed, and the acting is great when the dialogue isn't forcing them to be catty or petty. While the theme never goes into outright "the military is bad" or "government is bad," it does look at these institutions through a very skeptical lens, handling it with care and nuance. None of the individual soldiers are outright evil, and in fact when a soldier dies later in the show it's a tragic, honorable moment.
Better yet: almost all the characters are women and half of them are women of color. The woman playing Raelle has a scar on her face from an incident with an earlier acting job (shattered glass panel) that the make-up artists make no effort to hide.
This show has a lot of potential, so it's a good thing they've gotten the green light for a second season. This is great, because season one finale ended on a plot twist that I genuinely did not see coming, and introduced a whole new set of villains potentially more dangerous than the Spree with a personal vendetta against Alder. And since Freeform hasn't shied away from showing lesbian and gay relationships on this show, I'd like to see some trans representation. What happens if a witch is assigned female at birth but identifies as a man, or vice versa?
Motherland: Fort Salem is definitely a show to look into. If you like girls being awesome, a unique magic system, and interesting worldbuilding, you're going to want to check this out.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!