Welcome to Motherland, an alternate reality where the Salem Witch Trials ended with a peace treaty in exchange for military support. Now in present-day America, the military is primarily run by witches and Freeform’s newest series, Motherland: Fort Salem, follows three new recruits training for battle. They’re preparing for war and one that can only be won with complex magic.
We’ve come a long way since Harry Potter and Motherland: Fort Salem almost feels like Hogwarts meets The Hunger Games with a splash of Captain America: Civil War. There’s magic, but it never feels as personal or touching as it did in the works of J. K. Rowling. The world is at war against a mysterious enemy and the lead characters have all suffered losses leading to their entry at Fort Salem, but not everyone is who they claim to be.
Like skrulls from the Marvel universe, the enemy is a shapeshifter. But their real power is causing people to destroy themselves, which is presented up front at the top of the pilot after an anti-suicide PSA. Since the enemy has infiltrated Fort Salem, it’s difficult to follow the trail of suicides that would connect the recruits to the killer at large.
Because witches are in charge, the world of Motherland is primarily female. Generals, commanders, officers, and even the President of the United States are women. Any male characters are in a supporting role, often present to add a little bit of eye candy for the show’s target audience. Several of the leads engage in same-sex relationships, including Raelle (Taylor Hickson), the lead character.
The show has a strong sexual identity, sometimes uncomfortably so. At one point, a military ball becomes an outdoor orgy sequence that would rival Eyes Wide Shut if this were on HBO instead of Freeform. Witches have a unique mark on their body that changes with their sexual experience, becoming sparkly at a certain point. It’s like a Cutie Mark from My Little Pony, but sexualized. It never felt essential to the story and is purely gratuitious sex as far as I can tell. I hope the creators strive for deeper meaning, but this throwaway fact from the pilot was absent from the rest of the episodes I screened.
Motherland: Fort Salem is a story about frenemies working together to stop a terrible evil in the world. I liked the premise, the central characters, and the depiction of an all-women military regime. However, it looks and feels a little too familiar to be original and it's far too horny for its own good. I applaud what it’s trying to be and feel bad that it missed the mark, creating something that presents itself as inclusive yet feels alienating in the end.
I give Motherland: Fort Salem 2 out of 5 blue helium balloons.
Motherland: Fort Salem premieres March 18th on Freeform.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.