This Motherland: Fort Salem review contains spoilers.
Motherland: Fort Salem Episode 6
The Spree are not Boogeymen you hear about and never see or have proof they exist. They are brash, they make noise, and they want everyone to know they are real, and are a serious threat. They arrive in silence and leave in a cacophony of blood and fire. They have declared war, and continue to escalate their brutality, which is unmatched and seemingly unstoppable. The Spree are formidable and everything they do heightens the suspense and on Motherland: Fort Salem.
In last week’s episode, the Spree launched a gruesome attack on witches at the prestigious wedding of Abigail’s cousin, Charvell, who was brutally murdered hours after her handfasting. Abigail and Petra managed to subdue the attackers, after taking critical hits themselves, and now have to navigate the aftermath of the attack. An autopsy of several Spree victims, with their voice boxes expertly removed, uncover a pattern of Spree killing witches— a new discovery, as they were believed to only target civilians. Closer inspection of the bodies reveal that they are witches— probably unknowingly, descended from witches who married civilians, thus several generations removed from their magical bloodline. Their faint, nearly-imperceptible marks are that of the Bellweathers. The Spree are not just targeting witches, but Bellweathers specifically.
After the horrifying events at Charvell’s wedding, and the new information that Bellweathers are being targeted directly, Petra is taking no chances. She assigns one of her very best soldiers to guard and protect Abigail, who is still shaken up, though she refuses to admit it. After painfully recounting the day’s events in her statement, Abigail is confused and uneasy, and her faith in herself, and her power, is shaken, “I’ve never felt less powerful than I do now.” It takes training with her guard, and hearing the story of how she lost her eye, to give Abigail some perspective.
While I love the visual of two powerful Black women bonding on-screen, I’d be remiss to overlook the use of disability as a self-imposed punishment. They are not a hero because they choose to live impaired as a reminder of something they did, or lost. They are not profound, and equating disability with punishment — treating it like something one “earns” or “deserves” is a poor choice. Like the use of suicide as a shock tactic, there are ways to get there without carelessly evoking things that have real, personal meaning to viewers.
What I appreciate about the Bellweather storyline, aside from the butchering of Bellweather witches —who appear largely Black— is how it centers Abigail in a story where she might otherwise be sidelined, like the Bonnie Bennets (and literally every Black witch) of the recent YA past. Abigail comes into the story fully realized and self-assured in a way that might make it easy for the writers to overlook her, in favor of the more unrefined Raelle, or the naive and blossoming Tally. But Abigail’s certainty of purpose and adherence to duty and expectations is rife with opportunity to challenge and deconstruct her. If done right, her fall and eventual rise, could be a satisfying narrative arc.
After Abigail’s and her mother’s successful take-down of the Spree attackers, there is little question that she has the skill to fight. What is less clear, however, is whether she has the mental and emotional fortitude to go to battle, take hits, and experience losses, personal losses, like losing her cousin Charvell. So far in Abigail’s life, war has been theoretical. She knows what it is, she understands its function, but she has never experienced it herself. Until now. She understands war in a way she hadn’t, and couldn’t, before. It’ll be interesting to see how this experience changes her, and whether it makes her a fiercer fighter or a more empathetic and compassionate person. Both are equally plausible, but the writing seems to be leaning toward the latter.
Raelle is still perturbed by Scylla’s disappearance, and she doesn’t understand why nobody seems to be looking for her. She doesn’t know, like we and Tally do, that Scylla is Spree, so she assumes and fears she’s hurt, or worse. Tally struggles with keeping what she knows about Scylla from Raelle, who is hurting, but she ultimately decides that lying (by omission in this case) is doing her duty. One could imagine Scylla escaped during the kerfuffle, to avoid her terrorizing comrades she’s failed one too many times, or the suspicious gaze of Anacostia— who never trusted her to begin with. But the truth is less mysterious, though the show does try very hard to obscure the fact that Scylla is in custody at Fort Salem, being interrogated.
Convinced Scylla is alive, and in need of help, Raelle launches a search of her own. Her snooping lands her in the Necro hall, where she touches a mysterious substance that leaves residue on her hand, though she denies it when asked— which I’m sure will work out swimmingly for her. She’s told Scylla is dead, which she believes, until she gets a message on her palm— the “gift” Scylla gave her in the last episode. After a lesson in using Salva — which allows witches to float weightlessly for a short period of time— Raelle steals her unit’s stores of patches, and attempts to fly to the place she was supposed to go with Scylla during the wedding. Salva is already dangerous, and the amount Raelle uses could seriously hurt her.
In a show of empathy and support, Tally and Abigail rush to her rescue, despite Petra’s strict orders that Abigail stay on base, with the bodyguard she was assigned. Abigail pleads with her guard to be allowed to save Raelle, like she couldn’t do for the friend she lost in the battle that took her eye. Which is not good form, but Abigail fighting for Raelle is important, even if she has to throw salt in a wound to do it. When they find Raelle, she is barely conscious. Their choice to go after her was the right one.
Raelle is hardcore in her feelings, which isn’t surprising, but the level of devotion to what still feels like a fairly new relationship is… strong. The zero to one hundred that happened with Scyelle (is this what the kids are calling this ship?) is somewhat jarring, if only because this relationship is the foundation for Raelle’s and Scylla’s arcs, and there was no build up to everything that’s happening. They met, they liked each other, and were essentially in love by episode two. I enjoy romance but I also don’t mind having to work for it, and drawing out the expl;oratory phase of their relationship might make Raelle’s frantic search for Scylla feel less… desperate.
This show doesn’t congratulate itself on depicting young women who were once antagonistic toward one another forming a bond, and becoming friends over time. It’s a thing that does happen when you’re in regular proximity to someone and the issues you have with one another are superficial. Abigail and Raelle caring for one another is major, but the show doesn’t pat itself on the back for letting women be friends. It doesn’t even really make it a point to draw attention to their changing relationship, it just happens naturally and the show moves on without commenting on it. These are small choices that have a big impact on my enjoyment of the show. Motherland: Fort Salem offers strong characters, and solid writing, with performances that put this witch show ahead of any others. I anticipate every new episode, each one better than the next, and I am fully invested in this story and these characters.
- In an earlier episode, we learn of nomadic witches who refuse to participate in any country’s wars, and Alder has a visceral reaction to hearing their songs. In this episode we meet a young girl, Khalida, and a male guardian who go to Alder for help, because Khalida is unwell. They are of this group, and are Alder’s people, but they do not believe in the way she uses her gifts. I hope the show spends more time with them, following their perspective, and offering a different view of magic in this world.