If you haven’t been watching Motherland: Fort Salem, then you’ve been missing out. It’s got the heart, craft, and strangeness to become your new favorite binge. Let’s get to know it.
This Freeform show takes place in an alternate version of the United States of America where, during the infamous witch trials of Salem, Massachusetts, the people saw how powerful witches actually were and embraced them, eventually signing a pact that gave them full control of the military forces. In this world, rather than hide their powers, witches use them to defend their country.
The commander-general of the witch army is Sarah Alder (Lyne Renée). She was the witch who originally negotiated the Salem Accords 300 years ago — witches can live a lot longer than non-magic-using humans, naturally. She’s incredibly powerful and keeps her youthful looks by surrounding herself with witches called “Bittys” who willingly lend her their own youth.
The Bittys are linked with General Alder and can feel her every emotion, as well as protect her from outside threats. They’re a weird, creepy bunch. When someone disrespects General Alder, they hiss and click their teeth at the offender. But they’re just one of the touches that makes this show so interesting.
Motherland: Fort Salem follows three witches — Raelle Collar (Taylor Hickson), Abigail Bellweather (Ashley Nicole) and Tally Craven (Jessica Sutton) — who are recruited to Fort Salem to begin training to enter the War College of the United States Army. Think Hogwarts crossed with West Point.
Recruits are put through extensive and often brutal training in combat magic. Training includes teaching the witches how to use vocal magic called “seeds.” Seeds are the sounds a witch creates in order to weave her spells. They can heal, kill, control weather, destroy and even speak to the dead all by changing the pitch of their voice.
And they can fly. By placing a dissolvable star behind their ear, they can float up or down and fly where they need to go. It comes in handy when they have to drop into a warzone from one of their bats (what they call helicopters) and need a precision, silent landing.
Most of the witches in training at Fort Salem come from a long line of witches who have served the Army with honor and distinction. They’ve got old family names like Bellweather, Swythe and Craven, and they come from territories in the United States that look nothing like the ones we know.
The reason they’re being trained so rigorously is because the world is under attack from a magical terrorist organization known as the Spree. The Spree is an organized movement of witches who oppose everything General Alder and her witch army stands for. They can change their face to appear like anyone they wish to be, and they fill balloons with dark magic that forces people to do things like commit suicide en masse.
There are some very cool aspects of Fort Salem that anyone can get behind. For one thing, the score is haunting and beautiful, and the intro to the show should remind people of the intro to Game of Thrones in the way it takes us on a tour of this alternate version of the United States, as if sewn together by one of the first witches.
There are important male characters in the show as well, although in this society men play a very different role than we’re used to. The Witch Father works hand-in-hand with General Alder, with his recruits mostly there to continue a witch’s line, taking care of the children as the mothers give birth then leave to continue the fight.
There are other witch armies throughout the world, with each major country being represented by a very powerful witch. Occasionally, the leaders of each country’s witch army, as well as their corresponding Witch Fathers, meet at the Hague to discuss their global war with the Spree. General Alder sits at the head of this conference, and it’s hinted that she is the oldest and most powerful person in the room.
So the lore of the show is unique and cool, but there are odd things that take some getting used to. For instance, the way the recruits interact with each other is a bit much. All too often, the scions of two great witch Houses usually interact by hurling insults that seem like they traveled forward in time from Salem circa 1692.
Then there’s the practice of the witch cadets rapidly stamping their feet in place when given an order or when they hear a bit of good news. In the US Army, the soldiers yell in unison, “HOORAH!” This is the witches’ thing.
Some of this seems a bit jarring, but it only underscores how committed the show is to exploring its unique world. If real, power-wielding witches lived among us, maybe their language would be a bit stuck in the past.
So if you were a fan of The Craft, enjoy shows like the much more subdued A Discovery of Witches, and if you’re into strong female leads, then Motherland: Fort Salem is for you. The show just aired its season 1 finale and is coming back for season 2, so now is the perfect time to catch up!