Fort Salem (also titled Motherland: Fort Salem) is a really exciting series you can watch and binge via BBC iPlayer. Click below to watch the FreeForm Trailer for Season One
What is it about?
The premise of the series is that Witches and thus Magic are real. That during the 17th Century Witch Trials one of the Salem witches, Sarah, managed to avoid hanging by making a deal with the government that she and all her Witch sisters forever more will face Enforced Conscription and form a unique part of the USA Military. To use their magic abilities to protect civilians and the states.
Fast forward to the 20th Century and not only are young witches patriotically signing up to be trained at Fort Salem, but there is also a faction of Witches called The Spree, who act as national Terrorists, believing that Witches should have their freedom restored. And so the US Government relies on their military witches, even more, to protect civilians and root out the corruption.
Life at Fort Salem
At Fort Salem witches are trained to use their voice and sing certain notes, called Seeds, that enact certain abilities or express powers, to aid others or to cause harm. They are also trained to use a special type of whip/lasoo device and of course overall mental and physical fitness.
Meet the girls
In this world, we meet Raelle, a young witch who has inherited her mother’s ability to absorb any pain/illness from another. She has grown up in a more rural, rustic part of the states and conscripts in an attempt to feel closer to her mother who died in combat when she was young. She’s a bit of a loner, rather moody and roguish.
Next is Tally, who is an enthusiastic red head who comes from a state where Witches live in Matriarchal clans so she’s 0 experience with boys, overall excitable and seeks out friendship quickly. Her talent is scrying objects and people behind the physical.
The final of the trio is Abigail who is a young woman with a LOT of family history and reputation on her shoulders. She is very opinionated, very competitive, and will not take second best without a fight. She is talented in a lot of aspects of their training but does need to learn a lot about teamwork, leadership and friendship.
However, into this mix enters a young witch who is there for more than the training… Her motives and even identity remain as murky as a bubbling cauldron (of which there are none in this series) until near the end of the series.
So – why should you watch this?
It ditches all the stereotypes of Witches and Magic in a really refreshing and exciting manner. There are no cats, no witch hats, no broomsticks, no cauldrons or spellbooks. All the magic history and theory of this world is incredibly rich and believable. For example, the way their magic comes from their voice and ability to sing in a unique manner suits better than wands and potions. So different to the world of Harry Potter!
They are also very physical in their use of magic and train with their body as much as their vocal cords. This adds the largely female cast (though boys and men do play a role in Witch society), a genuine strength to their character and personality. You most definitely don’t want to mess with these women, and that is a regular reminder through the drastic and dramatic terror attacks of magic by the Scree. You also get a sense of how the everyday none magical civilians of this world treat Witches. In one particular episode, they are treated like heroines, but the actions of the Scree are starting to turn that patriotic praise into fear and anger.
As well as being a clear show that is about young women becoming empowered – it is also a great show on diversity! One of the trio is from the BME community and several other key characters are too, one of the trio is of the LGBQ+ community and you come across other LGBQ+ characters among witches and the male cohort. One of the strongest relationships explored in the series is between women.
Plus albeit too subtle to notice at first watch, there is even a good representation of Older Women being a strong force in that the General Sara (of Salem fame – yes she is still alive and in charge of training) has a close group of mature aged women who are her constant escort and can intimidate the trainee witches just as much as Sarah herself.
There is even a black female US President!! And this series was written and filmed before Biden and Harris came to power too. The writers clearly envisioned a fairer world in this series. I must add that I don’t recall seeing much representation of anyone with disabilities. The closest example is an elite witch soldier who wears an eye patch due to injury in combat.
The actual storyline is a lot deeper than it first appears. This series is not just a different version of Harry Potter school-style magic. There are constant reminders that these young women are being trained and treated as soldiers. They will eventually fight, have to take lives in order to save lives. Their magic isn’t fluffy and pink. It’s dark, bloody and even the elements of necromancy displayed are pretty grim.
Alternative world and history
The viewer gets plenty of glimpses into this alternative world and its alternative history. There is a Museum gallery at Fort Salem which houses the various devices originally used to test and trial witches in the past. There are pieces of their early modern military successes. In one episode we see how a particular battle promotes or shames two different witch families. It is an excellent way of showing the importance of magical heritage and military service is combined for these young women. In the same episode, you see each of the trio approach the handwoven USA flag of the title promo and it magically brings forth their family tree in stitches. So each can trace their personal history through generations of witch soldiers, of course, all down the maternal line.
There is so much I would love to discuss but would spoil the drama of this amazing series.
There are 10 episodes which left me instantly wanting to watch the next and I certainly hope that when the second season is released we get to enjoy it via the BBC again.
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