“Motherland: Fort Salem” (S1 Disney+/Star Ireland) is not a show I’d normally be interested in. The phrase “Supernatural teens” is, along with “ancient prophecy”, normally guaranteed to have me clicking on. So I approached the pilot episode with some trepidation.
I was wrong. I went through the entire 10 episodes of the first season over a few days, and am fuming that season two is not available, because I really enjoyed it.
M:FS is set in an alternative USA where the Salem witch trials ended in the Salem Accord where the leader of the witches, Sara Alder, agreed that in return for ending persecution against witches, witches would agree to defend the colonies and eventually the United States. 300 years later Alder (the same one. That’s explained later) is still leading the US Army as she has through a changed history and is now leading the fight against the Spree, a group of terrorist witches who….
I’ll better stop here, because it does sound ridiculous. But what really won me over was the level of detail in the witching world. The fact that it’s not all incantations (indeed, some rural witches get mocked by modern witches for using “spells” and the military training the witches go through is all focussed on the use of specific sounds, songs and tones. It’s also a female dominated world: the president is a black woman and all the senior military and frontline soldiers are women. There is an international council of witches based in (where else) The Hague which bans certain practices like mind control.
Although it is focused on the three young witches training in Fort Salem, there’s a very interesting undertone about whether the Spree are right. The non-magical majority accept the witches as the army, and many are grateful, but there is prejudice still on both sides. Many of the original great witching families see themselves as a superior caste.
The breakout character for me is Belgian actress Lyne Renee who plays General Alder. On the one hand, she is the witch that brought peace between humans and witches. On the other hand, she fears a return to the old times and sees the Spree stirring up old hatreds against the witches through some genuinely horrifying terrorist attacks using magic (which I won’t spoil). Her moral ambiguity is all the more powerful given, as she reminds other witches, the burning of witches is not ancient history to her. There’s a hint of the Golda Meir to her.
Watching it, I’m reminded of the UK TV series “Ultraviolet”, which dealt with vampires not as supernatural but as a scientifically explainable phenomenon.
Having said that, the witches do nickname military helicopters “bats”. Give “Motherland: Fort Salem” a go.