The mysterious and intoxicating lore of "Motherland: Fort Salem" keeps us on the edge of our seats
Updated: Sep 7, 2021
Republish - A QMM classic
What I like most about Motherland: Fort Salem is all the questions it leaves us with each week. In the show, the characters clearly know more about their world than we do. The worldbuilding, from what we do currently know about it, is extensive and complex. Beware, I’ll be taking a closer look at the world of this TV show, so there will be spoilers!
I Initially started watching Motherland when I heard that David J. Peterson had written a new language for it. Peterson is a creator of conlangs - fictional languages created for fictional worlds. You may have seen his work on Game of Thrones, The 100, or my personal favorite show, Defiance (from which I have memorized all the various alien curse words). Whenever I see that a show has brought him on, I know that that show’s universe is something they are crafting with care. This could not be more true for Motherland.
As a writer, I know it’s a tremendous amount of work to create a universe. Motherland is an alternate universe to our own - one where witches have great power, and they are conscripted into the US army. Alternate histories are an enormous amount of fun to watch or read, but take a massive amount of care to execute correctly. When changing one piece of actual history, you change it all. It’s a ripple effect. So, if witches exist, and they became part of the US Army back during the Salem Witch Trials, much of current American history would change.
Due to these ripple effects, the world of Motherland is foreign to those of us who watch. It’s a fully realized universe, one that leaves me with many questions.
Inside the building where the Necros, necromancer witches, work, Raelle touched a strange mystical wall of fungus that formed a hand to reach out to her (in a moment reminiscent of Wynonna Earp’s Waverly touching the goo). There’s been something wrong with her finger ever since. What exactly IS the mycelium wall? Is it making Raelle stronger?
Recently, in episode 7 "Mother Mycelium" Raelle healed Khalida of her mysterious illness. Instead of the disease passing to Raelle, as it usually does when she heals people, it jumps to the Mycelium Wall. Khalida is part of the Tarim, a pacifist sect of witches. Their magical songs are sought by General Alder. What is the wall? Why do the Necros study it? Raelle’s finger is necrotic now. Does that mean that the wall is connected to death? It would make sense for the Necros to care about it if it was.
Another mystery of Motherland is Khalida’s disease. Khalida is brought to Fort Salem by her brother in the hope that the witches there can cure her mysterious disease. The disease is magical, and her brother Adil places the blame for it on Fort Salem’s constant fighting. Does battle magic have unforeseen consequences?
Some of my questions aren’t as pertinent to the plot. Why do the witches have a separate language at all? It doesn’t seem to be involved in their magic. Why is witch marriage only 5 years? This one may be self-explanatory, as there seem to be fewer male witches than female witches. Is the birth rate different?
The witches' religion seems to be Celtic paganism, celebrating the holiday of Beltane. Raelle, however, has been singled out by others in the army for her “Christo-pagan bullshit.” What is religion like in the world of Motherland? Does Christianity affect how non-witches think about witches? Raelle’s beliefs seem to come from her mother. How did she become part of a religion most of Fort Salem disapproves of?
One of the biggest mysteries of Motherland is the Spree. They’re anti-conscription and against non-witches. Fort Salem views them as terrorists. Some of their magic seems to work differently from the rest of the witches - I haven’t seen them using songs in the same way the army does. How they’re organized is also a mystery. From what we’ve seen, even Scylla doesn’t know much about them. Who is the leadership of the Spree? Is there any leadership at all?
It’s never quite sat well with me that the Spree removed the Bellweather’s vocal cords. It’s been mentioned before that Spree rarely directly attacks witches. That they would do so, and in such a way as to cut out the very thing that makes them witches, doesn’t make sense to me. To take away a witch's power seems like the opposite of something the spree would want to do. There was a tweet from @JessLauraSutton, who plays Tally, tweeted during the episode Bellweather Season.
This seems to point to the possibility that it’s not the Spree who killed the Bellweathers - but then who would have done that? This is conjecture, but there’s a song in the Motherland score called The Camarilla. Could the Camarilla be a third group, separate from the army and the Spree?
I have many questions about this show, and all of them excite me. Here’s hoping we get a second season to answer some of them.