Is "Motherland" the best queer fantasy show on TV right now? Its passionate fans seem to think so
Witches! Queer witches! A 90% women-led show! To say that Motherland: Fort Salem appeared on Freeform's new spring line up with spells-a-blazing would be an understatement. The series, created by Eliot Laurence (showrunner and executive producer of TNT’s Claws) first teased at its potential months ago, and when episodes dropped this March, it did not disappoint. It’s the kind of show that queer fans have been rallying for, ever since the fall of Lexa. It’s what The 100 could have been. But better.
Motherland premiered at a unique time in our television history. While live-tweeting has waned in popularity over the last few years since its Glee and Pretty Little Liars heydays, the world is a lot different than it was even a couple months ago. As we crave connection from inside our social isolating bubbles, live TV has become must-see again. Queer fandom is in full force, and the show bringing fervent fans together again is Motherland. I’ll even admit, I haven’t had the urge to live tweet in ages, but the content of the show, plus the energy of the fans really brought me back into the fold.
So, if my opening statement didn’t grab you, here’s a little synopsis of Motherland: Fort Salem. Imagine if, during the Salem Witch Trials, witches made a deal with their oppressors. Since then, witches around the world have been using their powers to protect the citizens of their countries. In the present day, the witches, which are basically a military division, are up against an enemy smarter and closer to home than they’ve encountered before: The Spree. The Spree is a group of rebel witches who are fighting to destroy the military complex the witches are tied to and liberate them. Unfortunately, they use murder and mass suicide to try to do it. To the ranks of Ft. Salem, they are terrorists who use their magic to murder the innocent. To others, the Spree’s motives aren’t as black and white.
While the show’s cast is quite large and amazing, there are three main characters who anchor Motherland. Abigail Bellweather, a whipsmart ambitious legacy witch whose mother is a major General in the military. Tally Craven, a bubbly and empathetic witch who goes against her mother’s wishes and joins up. And Raelle Collar, a talented healer with a chip on her shoulder and an ax to grind with Abagail’s mother, who she blames for her own mother’s death in battle. The trio is teamed up as a unit, and despite their initial friction, proves to be a powerful force. Raelle quickly falls for the beautiful and mysterious necromancer, Scylla Ramshorn, and they embark on an intense and hot and heavy romance right from the start.
If you are looking for those typically slow-burn romances, you won’t find that here. Sex and sexuality are embraced and encouraged at Ft. Salem. Queerness? Totally a non-issue. Beltane threesomes? Bring it. The intensity of romance is also one of the reasons I am enjoying Motherland so much. While slow burn is a lovely tease, is it all that realistic outside of romance novels? Let’s be honest. The U-Haul jokes about lesbians and queer women exist for a reason. Attraction, passion, shared ideals, they pull people together, and that’s what’s happening with Raelle and Scylla. And all would be lovely and sexy and fun if it weren’t for a little issue.
(Big Spoiler coming)
Scylla is an undercover Spree whose main mission is to bring Raelle over to the other side. Well, shit. Talk about your star-crossed lovers.
Fans seem to be as head over heels into Raelle and Scylla as they are with each other, despite the serious conflict of interest between the two. So, I thought I'd ask some Switches (the nickname for Motherland fans) about why they love the series so much, and what it is about Raelle and Scylla that sparks such a magical chord (get it, coz the witches use their voices in battle) with fans.
Cheyenne., a Switch from Toronto, loves the lore of the show and how that pulls so much of the storyline together. “I love Motherland because of its portrayal of strong women. Every single one of the characters is a strong capable complicated woman. From Abigail Bellweather, whose values to the military are challenged constantly, to Raelle Collar, an outcast that really needs a hug, I'm not hating any character because I can see where they're coming from. This is especially true of Raylla (the shipper name of Raelle and Scylla). I mean, Scylla is 1.) named after a Greek monster and 2.) merc'd (murdered) 1601 people and I still want her to be happy and healthy and safe with her fixer girlfriend…I thought this show was gonna be campy and gay with a little angst here and there, I didn’t expect to be this emotionally distraught during the first season!” And regarding Raylla, Cheyenne is hooked. “The last time I was this crazed about a show was with Wynonna Earp.”
Kaily from Sonoma, CA loves how Motherland flips the script on witches, which are often portrayed as evil. “I love Motherland because I love the idea that witches are the ones saving or at least trying to save the citizens of the country. When we usually see that such patriotic people tend to fear witches and pagans in general. I love how diverse the show is with POC, LGBTQ people, and I can see that research has definitely gone into paganism. In one of the episodes, there's a marriage and you see a labyrinth and I'm like, wow, I'm excited they included that because it represents a journey and those two getting married are about to start their journey together. And I love that the show is opening up a whole new world to people and making them realize maybe paganism or spirituality is something they want to explore or at least allow people to not fear what they don't know. Its Beltane and that episode about Beltane opened up a whole new world to some people.” As far as Raylla is concerned, Kaily wasn’t on board at first but has come around to the idea of the couple. “As the series has progressed, I've started to feel sympathy for her (Scylla’s) character and I think I'm coming around to accepting the relationship and liking it. I guess part of the slow burn is getting to know the characters individually too.”
Fan Peachy is all in for Raylla. “Raelle and Scylla have won my heart in a way no other fictional romance has since Clexa. I think it’s because they are both broken souls thrown into this world that doesn’t permit them any real agency in their own lives. Yet they choose each other, despite the consequences of that choice that they will both face. They find solace, comfort, joy and love in each other. Things that neither of them has found anywhere else in their lives. It alters the course of their lives in ways neither had predicted. It gives Raelle a reason to avoid her suicidal mission of failing at basic training and getting blown up on the front lines. It gives Scylla a reason to live, a reason to rebel against the organization that wants her to turn over Raelle. The fact that this romance is at the center of the show is something so rare and incredibly meaningful for queer women.”
“To sum it up, I love Motherland: Fort Salem because the witches use their song in their battles,” says Anna. “And for me the witches are us and their songs are our voices. I've never felt so seen and heard and it's all thanks to this show and their amazing cast and crew.” Anna also brings up a reason why so many fans are loving the relationship between Raelle and Scylla, which is the show’s main romance. “It's not so often you'll see a canon ship that has their screen time. Also, I love the complexity of their ship. For me, the idea of finding someone in the scenario is really romantic in their own way. You can see how they both grow. Raelle found someone to connect with when she was clearly not up for this army thingy. While Scylla found someone who finally sees her and is willing to understand her? I don't know about other people but if you don't see how much in love they are with each other especially after Episode 5, y’all missing something. I can't wait for Scylla's redemption arc though. So yeah RAYLLA IS ENDGAME.”
Motherland Flower brings up the fact that the cast is overwhelmingly female and diverse. Oh, and how the ideals of heteronormativity simply don’t exist on the show. “One of the main reasons why I love Motherland is obviously female representation. Many films and series are popping up with female leads, but Motherland’s take on this is honestly outstanding. The predominantly female cast, especially one with POC main characters, is unlike many others in the film industry. We get to see such phenomenal acting coming from these amazing, badass women and that is truly inspiring to all of the women watching the show. As a young queer viewer, the relationship between Raelle and Scylla is beautifully developed and I am honestly so grateful for the representation. There are no heteronormative views in the world of Motherland, there is only a connection. I was tired of waiting seasons for wlw love stories to be established only for it to be ruined by little screen time or the “bury your gays” trope. Motherland on the other hand, does not care about the negative views some queer series get because of homophobia. They waste no time in focusing on the act of coming out or making a big deal out of a person’s sexuality. In fact, they all embrace their sexuality.”
Whether you ship Raylla or not, there's lots to love about Motherland, from its rejection of the patriarchy to its embrace of sex and sexuality, to its complicated lore. Few shows are bringing as much excitement to live TV at the moment, and that’s something to tweet about.
Motherland: Fort Salem airs on Freeform, Wednesdays at 9pm ET.