This Motherland: Fort Salem review contains spoilers.
Motherland: Fort Salem Episode 7
Grief is stubborn and wild. Raelle knows this all too well, as her desperate attempts to find Scylla almost kill her. Raelle, who was a hero just weeks ago, is suddenly fodder for gossip, being whispered about and criticised by the same people who were praising her before. In training, the Necro teacher slices a girl’s throat, then, after an uncomfortable amount of time passes, heals her; learning to breathe and connect to life energy is the lesson. There is no hand holding in Fort Salem.
Raelle partners with someone who chides her for using her “christo-pagan” word spells, something that has come up several times now but hasn’t really been examined by the show, despite the apparent significance of that type of spellwork and/or its religious connotation. Why is speaking an enchantment inferior, in their minds, to singing or humming? Talking aloud is vocalization like any other, so how does using phrases instead of notes affect the magic? If the writers insist on repeatedly commenting on Raelle’s use of words in her spellcasting, they should at least be explicit in how it differs from the apparent norm, especially when it is clear that her way also works.
When the same girl makes a snide comment about those spells failing to save Porter, Raelle repeats her chant with bass in her voice and puts all of her classmates to sleep. Her emotions make her powerful, but they also make her reckless. But this is yet another time we see Raelle perform her particular brand of (unpopular) word-based magic to great effect. It’s impressive, but we don’t know how or why, and that’s something the writing needs to address. What’s great about that moment, though, outside of the fact that Raelle continues to express her natural talent, is Abigail’s unironic, and sincere defense of Raelle.
I enjoy the relationship between the three young women because they are so different and they balance one another. What happens to one affects them all, but they’re all uniquely affected. The writing gives them space to exist as individuals while still treating them as a unit. My only real—not issue, but note—is that Abigail feels a lot more adult and mature than both Raelle and Tally, and not just due to her upbringing. She is perhaps too experienced by comparison and, despite being on the same emotional maturity level, feels much more like a big sister rather than a peer. Characters, often Black women characters, are written into a corner, where they’re too competent and too wise, and that can be dehumanizing. Abigail isn’t in that place, but I’m cognizant of the potential for her to be, and hope the writing for her steers clear of that.
That said, Abigail is being pushed in new ways. Last week, I asked to spend more time with Adil and Khalida and “Mother Mycelium” delivers. Khalida is being treated for her mysterious illness by Fort Salem’s best, and Adil is spending time with Abigail while he waits for her. Abigail is a soldier, born and bred; it’s her whole identity. Adil despises war and his people have refused to participate, holding back their songs —their very powerful magic— from all the countries who seek to use it, including the US.
They are drawn to each other despite this, but Abigail is especially ill-equipped for any kind of relationship —platonic or otherwise— with someone whose views are so diametrically opposed to hers. War is her frame of reference for everything, and she doesn’t know how to appreciate magic in any way that doesn’t come back around to how it can be used to win, which frustrates him. Their dynamic is one I hope to see more of, because so much of Fort Salem is presented through a specific, biased lens. Giving voice to other perspectives enriches the story.
When all of the magic at Fort Salem’s disposal fails to cure the girl, Abigail asks Raelle to help, knowing just how powerful she is— which is a drastic change from the High Atlantic girl who turned her nose down at that same magic in the beginning. Adil and Khalida arrive completely cloaked, but Tally is able to sense them—Adil says she is a powerful seer—and Raelle uses her magic to heal the girl. The mysterious illness that was spreading over Khalida’s body disappears, and Raelle doesn’t take on any of the illness, which is how her power usually works. The sick appears to have found its way into the substance Raelle touched last week, which doesn’t bode well.
Another thing that doesn’t bode well is Raelle being abducted by Anacostia in the dead of night. I half expected them to be looking to her for answers to Khalidas “miraculous” recovery, but they just wanted to use her to lower Scylla’s defenses, so they could finally get into her head. After that’s said and done, Fort Salem readies the troops to confront the Spree, forcing all the trainees to nut up or shut up on their first real mission. They’re taking the fight to them, and hopefully, broadening our view of this world to more than just these barracks.
So much is happening on Fort Salem, and we are starting to get a clearer picture of what the world is like outside of that bubble. The Spree are doing a lot of harm and civilians prejudices against witches are being brought to the forefront because of it. Witchfather tells Alder there are whispers that Congress may break the Salem accords and disband the magical military. This comes after internal discussions about Alders potential unfitness to remain in power. The Spree are the villains but they aren’t the only enemies of Alder or Fort Salem, and there are so many places this story can go. We know that there is some negative sentiment toward witches but we still only get anecdotes. I’d like to see more witches outside of the places where they are the privileged, interacting and coexisting with civilians. I want to see their world, not just hear about it.
Motherland: Fort Salem has had some hiccups, but has managed to elevate the story and characters at least a little bit every episode. If the trend continues, these final three episodes will be wild and entertaining, and I am excited to see it through.