Motherland: Fort Salem

3 witch soldiers in Motherland Fort Salem

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Lauren Cook

TV Series Review

Something wicked this way comes … and in the world of Motherland: Fort Salem, it’s coming in spades.

In this fantasy version of the United States, not only is witchcraft real, it’s a known and accepted part of the world. Three-hundred years ago, the infamous Salem witch trials ended with an agreement called the Salem Accords, which prevented the government from further prosecuting witches. The tradeoff? Once discovered, young witches would be drafted to serve in the United States military, defending the country against threats both physical and magical. Centuries later, the female descendants of the Salem witches continue to be forced into military service.

Some witches are eager to serve, some simply see it as a duty, and some see it as an injustice. Those who bridle against the witch draft have formed a terrorist group called the Spree and are dedicated to the cause of freeing witches from military control—no matter how many people they have to kill in the process.

Which Witch is Which?

It’s in this time of turmoil and danger that we meet three young witches. They’re on the cusp of leaving for military training at Fort Salem, Massachusetts, and each have very different feelings about their future.

The first is Raelle Collar, a quiet young woman who doesn’t feel great about her chances as a soldier. Her mother, a witch and a medic, was recently killed in the line of duty, and Raelle has resigned herself to the same fate: Get through basic training, get pushed to the front lines, die in a blaze of glory. Optimism’s not exactly her strongest characteristic.

Raelle is matched up with two other young witches with whom she is to train and and hone her powers. Abigail Bellweather comes from a long line of powerful and distinguished witches; her mother is currently an army general, and the Bellweather name is renowned in the magical community. She’s determined to live up to her family name by making it to the very top of her class and becoming a war hero. Tally Craven is also eager to succeed, but because she feels it’s her duty as a witch to protect the innocent and use her powers to serve others. After all, look outside; the Spree are everywhere, and only gaining power. What kind of person would it make her if she didn’t help?

Double, Double Toil and Trouble

Motherland: Fort Salem combines the genres of fantasy and teen drama, carrying with it the issues of each.

Obviously, magic is at the forefront of the plot. These fictional witches are divorced from the historical Salem witch trials, where people (both women and men) were accused of fraternizing with the devil. The witch trials were a thing because it was assumed that Satan himself gave people infernal powers. Here, magic is genetic and often inherited—but it still feels quite a bit darker than what you’d find in Harry Potter.

The witches use their vocal cords to create “seeds” that, when layered with other voices, enact powerful spells. Sometimes, these powers are used for good (Raelle’s mother taught her how to heal others by taking on their injuries), but more often, they’re used to bring chaos and destruction. It’s difficult not to see the cultish, pagan implications when the witches circle together and chant incantations to control various elements like wind and fire.

And if that wasn’t enough, the series also features the sexual content oh-so-common of dramas centered around teenagers. Abigail is clearly sexually active, discussing it openly with Raelle and Tally. She’s surprised, and even a little shocked, to discover that Tally is still a virgin. Same-sex relationships are also featured; Raelle quickly becomes attracted to Scylla, another cadet at Fort Salem, and they sleep together in the first episode. We see them kiss passionately multiple times.

Violence and fear-inducing content is also an issue. Blood isn’t gratuitous, but members of the Spree use their magic to cause multiple mass suicides and other events that can be pretty disturbing.

Motherland: Fort Salem occasionally teeters on the edge of its TV-14 rating, but you won’t find any nudity or egregious profanity here. The strong sexual content, violence and aversion to biblical truth, however, still makes it worthy of concern. There are interesting ideas here, and themes of friendship and the bonds between parents and children are worth commending. But the series clearly takes place in a world in which God–at least the triune and sovereign God that we know–has been replaced by witchcraft and magic. And is that really worth ignoring?

Episode Reviews

Jun. 22, 2021: “Of the Blood”

Raelle and Abigail deal with the ramifications of their newfound ability (at the end of the first season, they inadvertently combined their powers to set off a huge explosion, called a “witchbomb”) while Tally struggles to adjust to her new life as an attendant to General Alder, the head of the witch army. Scylla uncovers a new threat to all witches, both army and Spree.

We see Spree change their appearances by “burning off” their faces a few times. Scylla is shown a vision of the Spree leadership being killed by a spell that englufs their faces and throats in a black web. Tally also has a dream in which she and a group of other witches are attacked in a jungle by giant worms that bite and strangle them; while they struggle, men come out of the woods and stab them with knives. Tally wakes up screaming, but finds bite marks on her skin from the worms in her dream.

Abigail kisses Adil, a male witch from a nomadic tribe with whom she has a pre-established relationship. They later have sex; we see them make out in shadow, but not much else. She tells Tally and Raelle that her relationship with Adil is “more than sex,” that it’s “like destiny, or something.” Raelle tells her father that she and her girlfriend Scylla broke up, though she obviously still has feelings for her. Tally, who was magically aged into an elderly woman in a previous episode, is returned to her normal self, and admires her younger body in the mirror by lifting her shirt and touching her chest. (No actual nudity is seen.)

A scene takes place in a church, where a girl, unaware of her magical powers, sings the hymn “How Great Thou Art” for the congregation. Her voice causes the stained glass window behind her to melt, frightening the audience. Characters use the term “goddess” as a substitute for “God” (“Goddess knows,” “Goddess help you.”) The Spree leadership is shown drinking wine in Scylla’s vision, and Raelle, Abigail and Tally drink from a flask to celebrate being promoted out of basic training. The s-word is used three times, and God’s name is taken in vain once.

Mar. 18, 2020: “Say the Words”

Raelle, Abigail and Tally enlist in the army and depart for Fort Salem, where they begin their basic training. As they adjust to their new surroundings and to each other, conflict between them begins to arise, and the magical terrorist group the Spree continues to grow stronger.

In the very first scene, we see one of the Spree use a spell to cause a mass suicide. Dozens of people throw themselves from staircases and balconies; we don’t see the impacts, but we see countless dead bodies on the ground and puddles of blood. We later see a story on the news about a similar event occurring on a cruise ship. The witches spar during their training, wrestling and knocking each other over. Later, Abigail and Raelle spar, though with a little more ferocity; Raelle hits her fellow witch across the face with a rope. The Spree have the ability to change their appearances, doing so by lighting their faces on fire and burning them off to reveal a different one underneath.

Magic is used in other ways throughout the episode, both for better and for worse. Raelle uses it to heal a civilian with a large rash on her stomach; she quotes Matthew 7:7-8 as a healing incantation (“Ask and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find…”) Abigail uses magic to influence her boyfriend’s actions and get him to agree to break up with her. We see the three witches sitting around a candle and chanting in honor of the dead, as well as using their vocal cords to manipulate a pool of water.

Suggestive content is prevalent, mostly between Raelle and Scylla, another female cadet. There’s obviously an immediate attraction, and they flirt throughout the episode, until finally sleeping together at the end. No nudity is shown, but we see them kiss passionately and Raelle unbuttons Scylla’s pants. Abigail is also fairly promiscuous; we see her with a boy who kisses her neck and asks her to come back to bed. After finding out that Tally grew up on a compound with no other men, Abigail asks her if she’s a virgin, which Tally affirms. We learn that witches are born with marks on their skin that become shiny after they have sex for the first time. Abigail’s is shiny, Tally’s is not; Raelle doesn’t show hers, crassly referring to the female anatomy when referencing its location.

Scylla gives Raelle a “salva”, a substance that makes them float above the ground and has other drug-like effects. The s-word is used five times, thrice in the insult “s—tbird”, a common derogatory phrase in the Motherland world.

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Lauren Cook Bio Pic
Lauren Cook

Lauren Cook is serving as a 2021 summer intern for the Parenting and Youth department at Focus on the Family. She is studying film and screenwriting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. You can get her talking for hours about anything from Star Wars to her family to how Inception was the best movie of the 2010s. But more than anything, she’s passionate about showing how every form of art in some way reflects the Gospel. Coffee is a close second.

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