This Motherland: Fort Salem review contains spoilers.
Motherland: Fort Salem Episode 8
In the previous Motherland: Fort Salem episode, Anacostia used Raelle to make Scylla vulnerable to having her mind probed. Finally past Scylla’s mental defenses, Anacostia discovered information on the whereabouts of her Spree cell. Fort Salem cadets were then told to suit up and ship out. In this episode, the witches do a Citydrop, a live combat exercise outside of Fort Salem. Tally injures herself on landing, and Raelle immediately steps in to heal her, but in the process, catches glimpses of memories concerning Scylla. Rae thinks Tally lied to Anacostia about Scylla being Spree —even though the memory shows everything, including Scylla’s conversation with the balloon in the mirror. This sets off a chain of events that cause the Bellweather unit to lose focus and get caught in easily avoidable traps. When Abigail learns why Rae is mad at Tally, she also gets mad at Tally, and that disconnect makes them ineffective on the field.
Tally has been holding onto the Scylla secret for a while now, and she did so under direct orders, something she struggled with at first. But when Rae and Abigail get angry with her about it, she is firm in her reasons for withholding, and takes hostility from both of them in stride. Arguments can be made on either side of whether she should have told her unit, but I appreciate that she not only kept the secret, but didn’t apologize for doing it. At the beginning of the season, Tally seemed to be the innocent one, the one who would follow without question, but over these last episodes she’s proven herself more than the naif. She’s the glue that keeps the unit together, and her strength shows in how she carries herself when everyone else is falling apart.
After lights out, Raelle goes to look for Anacostia, and her unit follows. They’re ambushed in another drill, and Abigail, who is clearly suffering from PTSD after her cousin’s wedding, loses control and almost kills one of the training officers. Tally and Raelle calm her down, which has the additional effect of releasing the hostility between them. Motherland: Fort Salem has its issues, but the writing consistently follows through. Things don’t just happen, they have meaning, and there is a constant, casual, cause and effect that makes the story and the characters feel fully realized, even where there are gaps in the worldbuilding. Abigail doesn’t just get over what happens to her, and Raelle carries her resentment with her even as she grows closer to her unit. The girls are constantly responding to and evolving from their experiences, and that consistent growth is what keeps me drawn to them.
During another exercise, Libba Swythe’s (Abigail’s nemesis) unit helps Abigail, and they come to a place of mutual respect and kinship. Back at base, Alder has been surveilling the Spree, and when the cell makes a move, Alder directs Anacostia to send the cadets to intercept. Their citydrop turns into a real mission, against real enemies, who we know are lethal. The Bellweather unit is solid again, and going into this op in a good place with each other, and the other units. Raelle is finally able to accept the fact that Scylla is Spree, and all that comes with that, which I think she only hesitated to because of what it means for their relationship. Admitting Scylla is Spree also means admitting that what they have isn’t real, and all her feelings, and all the things she’s done in service of those feelings, have been meaningless.
The Spree destroyed their own munitions factory and loaded two trucks with explosives to distribute in any number of places. The cadets stop the first truck, and Raelle takes out a fleeing Spree leader, disguised in Scylla’s form, which doesn’t stop her— good for her! When the second truck is approaching, Tally uses her abilities as a Seer to get Intel, she recognizes civilian hostages on board. At the base, Alder is also made aware of civilian hostages, but she orders Anacostia to stop the truck anyway. Tally raises concerns when the order is given, but Anacostia insists, and the cadets destroy the Spree truck loaded with explosives —and innocent civilian hostages, unbeknownst to most of them. Libba also takes shrapnel to the heart, and dies as a result, something Abigail is affected by.
Tally doesn’t make a secret of what happened during the op. She tells her unit about the hostages, which changes things for all of them in different ways. Tally could see and, as she described, feel the hostages, so this will probably be a traumatic experience for her in the way Charvell’s wedding was for Abigail, and Porter’s death was for Raelle. But this was… Avoidable. Adil comes to Abigail, to support her, and she tells him, “someone told me I was ignorant of the world. I’m a little less so now.” How this experience alters the girls perception of the military, or their roles within it, is something I hope is explored in the final two episodes.
Several people, including Petra Bellweather, have made their antipathy toward Alder known. The US Government itself seems to be tiring of her ineffective methods in dealing with the Spree, and it seems her time is coming to an end. This minor victory, which wasn’t without casualties, may buy her more time, but the losses are stacked up, and people are ready for a change. At the beginning of the season, I expressed doubt that the show would do more than dwell on the surface of any sensitive or nuanced topic. This episode makes it clear that they are willing to tread potentially dangerous ground, and if the title of next week’s episode (“Coup”) is any indicator, there will be some follow through on the things they’ve been seeding throughout the season, and I can’t wait to see it.