This Motherland: Fort Salem review contains spoilers.
Motherland: Fort Salem Episode 10
As the title, “Witchbomb,” suggests, the season one finale of Motherland: Fort Salem is explosive! The cadets graduate basic training, but the Bellweather unit fails to secure admission into War College. Whether that’s Alder being petty, in retaliation for their attempt to sink her ship, or the natural result of their up-and-down performance throughout training, is hard to say. Alder is finally able to convince Khalida to save what remains of her people, and Khalida insists they bring Raelle —who saved her— and the others along.
Petra, never one to be caught slippin’ — even after Alder snatches power right from under her— pulls strings to get Abigail into War College, sans Tally and Raelle, saying, “some lines are more important than others.” When Rae and Tally are about to set off on the mission without Abigail, she makes a badass last-minute appearance because she’s That Witch and the bonds she’s formed with her unit —and Adil, don’t sleep— are real. The evolution of Abigail’s, Tally’s, and Raelle’s relationship, the formation of their sisterhood, has been a joy to watch, and I appreciate the steady progression of their individual and communal identities throughout the season.
When Alder’s team, which the girls are a part of, touches down outside Altai, Tally immediately senses a hostile force watching them. Elsewhere in the United States, the Spree attack a high school volleyball game, but instead of inducing a mass suicide or resigning innocent civilians to some other horrid fate, they compel the entire crowd to chant “our ancient enemy has returned.” When Alder and the team find and secure the last of the Tarim, they are ambushed by the Camarilla, who are equipped with appropriated Work (presumably the stolen voice boxes of their victims, brutal).
Alder and co. do battle with the Camarillo in what isn’t the first, but is perhaps the most fully conceptualized, all-out magical brawl. We’ve seen throughout the season how weather magic can be used, but only in controlled environments, as a matter of practice. We see the cadets take out Spree vehicles, but again there is no active opposition. Here, wind strikes are levied at opponents who have the means and desire to kill, so there’s no need to hold back. Alder’s Biddies effectively disintegrate a man where he stands, showing us how truly dangerous and effective witches are in combat.
Alder and her Biddies take several critical hits, and she begins to age. Without hesitation, Tally offers herself, preserving Alder and losing decades of her youth in the process. This is bittersweet because Tally’s view of the army, of Alder, has changed— warped by Alder’s recent actions. But Tally understands the need for someone like Alder, who survived and defeated the Camarilla centuries ago. Tally’s sacrifice means a lot in this moment and it’ll be interesting to see how her story continues, and how her relationship to the army evolve now that she is connected to Alder in this intimate and specific way.
The entire season, the Spree have been The Big Bad, unambiguously hostile toward soldiers and civilians alike. But we’ve since come to learn that the Camarilla have been here all along, actively part of the narrative since at least the Bellweather wedding, and in episode 6, where their gruesome handy work is misattributed to the Spree. The Camarilla’s arrival in the finale episode is exhilarating. The writers of Fort Salem gave the audience something tangible to contrast our characters against with the Spree, while also laying the groundwork for a threat more existential and profound. Leaving the Camarilla to the end of the season was a smart move by the writers, giving us bigger stakes going into next season.
When a Tarim youngster exits the relative safety of the extraction chopper, Raelle goes to retrieve them, offering up her protection charm to ease their fear. She manages to get them back to safety, but she’s struck, and left mortally wounded. Abigail leaves the chopper and attempts to heal her, but it drains her, and both of them, holding hands, lay at the mercy of the Camarilla, as Alder’s team begins to fly away in retreat. Abigail tells Raelle she loves her, which is meaningful because words, sound, is power— saying the words give them weight. But instead of “I love you, shitbird” becoming famous last words, Raelle and Abigail release an explosion of some sort that obliterates everything around them and keeps them alive? It is unclear, and when Tally asks Alder what happened, she has no answers, either.
In “Up Is Down,” Raelle touches an ominous substance, or entity —as it seems to possess a consciousness— which leaves something of a residue on her finger. When she heals Khalida, the illness that she normally takes in just vanishes, and appears to be taken in by the substance instead. Now it seems as though the entity may have protected Raelle and Abigail from the Camarilla’s onslaught. We’ll have to wait for season two to learn more about the mysterious circumstances surrounding their miraculous survival, if that’s what it is.
Back on base, Anacostia prepares Scylla for her imminent transfer to a Bad Place. Between the two of them, there is genuine respect and empathy, but they both have agendas. Anacostia, under the pretense of a growing conscience, lets Scylla go. Scylla, the whole fool, goes straight to a Spree safehouse, where she is followed by her liberator. Earlier in the episode, after graduation and just before deploying to her first mission, Raelle reads a letter from her mother given to her by her dad. We’re treated to a flashback of Willa Collar, saying goodbye and passing on her protection charm to her daughter… Seemingly aware she wouldn’t be returning from this tour. When Scylla enters the Spree safehouse, she’s met by a Spree leader, who is none other than Willa Collar, Raelle’s mom. Raelle’s grief is integral to her attitude toward serving, and I can’t wait to see what that looks like within this new context.
Motherland: Fort Salem treats the entire first season as an introduction, and takes time to fully establish its characters and its world. The worldbuilding is rich where we’ve had the opportunity to experience it, but the insular nature of the setting leaves a lot unexplored outside of Fort Salem. That said, I leave the season confident that the writers know the world they’ve created and have a grasp of the internal rules and logic, even if the audience isn’t privy to it yet.
“Witchbomb” is a solid stopping point that adeptly follows through with the character evolutions throughout the season. The finale maintains the season’s narrative momentum and ends with a satisfying climax that leaves Motherland: Fort Salem with a plethora of storytelling possibilities to carry into season two. The show has been picked up for a second season, so we can speculate and theorize about what’s coming next. What are you hoping to see when the show returns?