WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Motherland: Fort Salem tells the story of three witches - Raelle Collar (Taylor Hickson), Abigail Bellweather (Ashley Nicole Williams) and Tally Craven (Jessica Sutton) who are recruited into the US Army.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Between Charmed, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Legacies, young adult witches are going through a renaissance in pop culture. Motherland: Fort Salem taps into this but still subverts what we think we know.
One of the most integral parts in fantasy content is the world-building. What is Game of Thrones without Westeros? What is Lord of the Rings without Middle Earth? The world in Motherland: Fort Salem is one in which, 300 years ago, a witch made a deal with the US government that if they stopped hunting witches, they would protect the country as the military force.
The world is extremely compelling. It's a matriarchal society as the witch gene is passed down from mothers to daughters, and most of the main characters are women. It has historical context as the leader of the military, Sarah Alder (Lyne Renée) is on trial at the infamous Salem Witch Trials, and that helps to ground the show.
Unlike Watchmen, which also explored an alternate history, Motherland: Fort Salem seems to get lost in its own world. It tries to explore too many areas at once and it becomes confusing at times to keep up with what is happening. The world is fascinating and it has the audience curious for more, but the writers would have done well to focus on one particular area and tackle one problem at a time.
That's not to say that the series doesn't have you gripped. I watched all 10 episodes in one day; I was so addicted. The three main characters are similar to what you have seen on screen before – three women from three different backgrounds who bond despite the circumstances. They are drafted into the army and become roommates at the military academy, where they are a unit and are forced to work together.
There is Raelle, whose mother died in service, and she is ultimately resigned to falling to the same fate. Abigail is the daughter of a line of legendary soldiers and she is struggling to live up to her legacy and her mother's wishes. And then there is Tally, who answers the call to join the military, despite her mother's opposition to it. Raelle is the rebel, Abigail is the boss, and Tally is the kind-hearted one. They each have their roles to play and they do it well. The growth of the friendship between the women is one of the great parts of the series; you root for them, you want them to have each other's backs.
It is an interesting story. The military is not an entirely good organisation. Like armed forces around the world, they have a murky past, have made some questionable decisions, and we aren't sure what we are supposed to think about them. And we watch as each of the recruits battle with the realisation of what the military is, and what they are protecting.
The main villains in the season are members of a terrorist group known as the Spree, who communicate with each other using balloons. We learn more about the organisation later in the season, but the show does a good job of teasing viewers on the impact and motivations of the Spree. However, it might have been better if they only focused on the battle with the Spree, instead of moving between that, the internal struggles in the military, and threats overseas. It was too much.
Before watching, I thought the concept of a matriarchal society had been done many times, but the nuances in which it approached leadership, what is considered a strength and the concept of the military, was extremely well done. It made sense. Witches are powerful creatures, and if they hone their powers, they should be able to command armies and fight.
One particular episode approaches the subject of female sexuality well. There's a similar episode in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, in which the characters all get together and couples (or throuples) go and have sex. It's a complex procedure which includes a dance, but it doesn't feel seedy or embarrassing. It feels empowering and natural. There's a character who loses her virginity and another who just enjoys it. There is also one who is in a committed relationship with another woman, and that isn't seen as deplorable or frowned upon. The women are encouraged to explore their sexuality, to grow in it, to understand it, and it's a breath of fresh air.
Jessica Sutton, who plays Tally, is a South African actress who has starred in The Kissing Booth, and she totally holds her own against her more experienced American counterparts. She plays the role with heart and gentleness, which makes you enjoy the character, despite her naivety. The other young cast members are very good as well, in particular Amalia Holm who portrays Raelle's love interest, Scylla. The character of Scylla goes through a wild journey, but you are almost transfixed by her and interested to see what she does next.
Motherland: Fort Salem has all the ingredients to enable it to become a young adult supernatural show with a huge and loyal fan base: an epic ship, a villain we love to hate, a greater evil and of course, badass friendships. Everything is already there, the show just needs to tighten its storylines and streamline the drama, and Season 2 will be even better.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: