This Motherland: Fort Salem review contains spoilers.
Motherland: Fort Salem Episode 5
In the last episode of Motherland: Fort Salem, Petra Bellweather demanded Abigail bring her unit to her cousin Charvell’s wedding, to meet the Dean of War College, who is also attending. The Spree makes it very clear to Scylla that she has to be at that wedding, so when she fails to be invited, she crashes. Abigail is too concerned about being a good Bellweather, and impressing her mother, to fight Raelle and Scylla about it.
When it comes time to meet the Dean, everyone else is preoccupied, so Abigail speaks to her alone. Earlier in the day, Charvell joked with Abigail about being nervous for no reason, stating that being Bellweather meant being a shoo-in. Abigail still wanted to impress the Dean, and was gutted to realize that she didn’t have to do anything on her own merits because Charvell was right, being a Bellweather was enough.
When Abigail is preparing to pledge in the first episode, Petra tells her, “you’re their wildest dreams” a callback to Ava Duverney’s tweet, celebrating how far Black people —Michelle Obama, specifically in that instance— have come in this country as descendants of enslaved people. I don’t know the racial dynamics in the Fort Salem version of the US, but the language suggests race is a factor. This tells us a lot about Abigail, and the pressure she’s under to be the next best Bellweather, the latest in a long line. When Petra is on base for Beltane, Abigail is more tightly-wound than usual, intent on living up to those high expectations. Now, expected to be a vision of Bellweather perfection at her cousin’s wedding, Abigail is visibly perturbed. She hooks up with a male guest to take off the edge, but that only alleviates her stress momentarily.
Tally discovers that Gerit is also at the wedding, and she pulls him aside, not knowing the sash he’s wearing means he’s betrothed to someone else. They exchange kisses and heartfelt “I love yous” before he has a chance to tell her. The announcement of his engagement soon after shatters her, and she runs to the bathroom to have a good cry.
Every episode reveals something new about witch culture, and their social norms. Earlier, when Abigail talks about the wedding, she says “my dads will be there,” insinuating a familial system that differs from our own, though it’s not expanded on in this episode. Charvell’s vows, and Gerit’s engagement announcement both specify a five-year timeframe, and later discussions between Abigail and Charvell reveal a marital system that does not ask for lifelong commitment, or even temporary monogamy. Marriage in this culture seems to function as a way to strengthen family lines and birth heirs; witches are not expected to be with only one person for any length of time. The Bellweathers are also high-society, and they may very well operate under different rules than your average witch. So, for Tally, this might not be the norm.
Scylla, the uninvited plus one of a plus one —since Raelle is Abigail’s guest— goes to the bathroom, and only barely checks the stalls before initiating contact with the Spree through the mirror. She is told to get Raelle to a specific place at a specific time. She shows a reluctance to put Raelle in harm’s way, but agrees to do it. Tally, who hid when she heard someone come in, overhears the entire conversation, and immediately informs Anacostia, who has warned Scylla off of Rae numerous times and clearly doesn’t like or trust her— for good reason, it seems. Scylla keeps trying to get Raelle to leave with her, but Rae asks for a dance, and Scylla obliges, missing the rendezvous time.
Earlier in the episode, Raelle and Scylla exchange gifts, and Scylla’s allows her to communicate with Rae by writing on her own palm, which then appears on Raelle’s. This is as much a gift as it is a tool, but it is evident Scylla has feelings. As I said in my review for the first episode, the honeypot going soft for their mark is a very obvious direction to go, and Fort Salem does not attempt to do something different here. As much as I want for Rae, the character, to be safe, I also want the writers to be unafraid of doing something dangerous, like making Scylla a true villain who does not reciprocate feelings or have any qualms about putting Raelle in harm’s way and delivering her to the lion’s den. That being said, we love love and I understand the desire to stack the odds against a couple and watch them overcome them. But, it’s still old hat.
I can forgive the writers for not challenging that particular trope because they do other things well. Over the last few episodes, it’s become clear that witches are dissatisfied with General Alder’s response to the Spree and are growing weary of her command. At the wedding, Petra and General Clary (who lost her daughter in that failed operation two episodes back) discuss a need for new leadership, and a witch coup d’etat could be exciting, especially if military darling Petra Bellweather is taking part, or better, leading. But the show doesn’t lack in excitement, especially this episode, which takes the fighting aspect to a new level.
Abigail leaves Charvell to prepare for her reception, and when she doesn’t show, Abigail goes to look for her. She finds Charvell in the tub with her throat cut, and hears a loud, piercing sound which renders her unable to vocalize. She’s then ambushed by two attackers who she can’t use magic against, and they get the upper hand, pinning her down and brandishing a razor. Outside, a large number of balloons start floating toward the venue, and the wedding goes on a “lockdown protocol.” People rush to safety as witches repel the balloons with fierce winds that strike wildly at everything, not just their targets. Scylla gets lost in the chaos, and Raelle fears the worse, but Tally can’t say anything about what she knows.
When Petra realizes Abigail is missing, she goes to look for her, and finds her just as the attackers have her pinned. Petra, also unable to vocalize, helps Abigail get free, and they fight the assailants hand-to-hand. When Abigail and Petra have them cornered, the two attackers set themselves on fire and state they are the Spree, and they windstrike them out the window to explode at a safe distance. The Bellweathers can coast on just their name, but in this display of fierceness and strength, they show why they are worthy of the admiration and respect. Abigail is That Witch and it’s clear that she’s following on the footsteps of another one.
Fort Salem’s fight with the Spree is personal, now. The Bellweathers are invested in ways they haven’t been before, as direct targets, and how Alder responds is likely to play a huge part in what happens next— another failure might spell the end of her leadership. ‘Bellweather Season‘ elevates Fort Salem, pushing the characters into situations that will force them to confront the very worst in each other and in themselves. How Abigail responds to the trauma, and if Tally and Raelle will be able to support her — and whether Scylla is missing— are questions I expect to be answered in next week’s episode, which I eagerly await.