Motherland: Fort Salem Episode 9 Review: Coup

TV

When Abigail, Raelle, and Tally share information about Scylla with Petra, she uses that as ammunition to take Alder out. Nevermind that they told her about the civilian hostages first, which she didn’t think warranted further scrutiny. Alder a) sent half-trained cadets on a priority mission, b) ordered those cadets to take out an enemy vehicle with full knowledge that there were civilians hostages on board, then c) lied about it to everyone, blaming the Spree for deaths she was responsible for. Apparently, unwittingly allowing the Spree to infiltrate Fort Salem is the bigger sin, and that’s what pushes President Wade to dismiss Alder.

Alder: You are the 45th president I have served.
Wade: And no one deserves retirement more than you.
Bloop.

The magical military has several issues, and there are not enough characters examining them or calling them out. Tally, as expected, is having trouble reconciling her long-held beliefs about the righteousness of the military, and the behavior exhibited by its highest officer—”what we did to those people, this is not why I came here.” But she has no power here. And, save for Adil and Khalida, there are no outside points of view, no dissenting voices that aren’t framed as distinctly Bad, like the Spree. What the show needs are characters who are respected by the audience, and by other characters, who give validity to the criticisms aimed at Alder and the military as a whole. Anacostia is being positioned for this, but she hasn’t done enough to solidify herself as opposition. Alder needs to be checked, but also, her way of thinking needs to be challenged.

The writers haven’t gone so far as to offer up a counter to Alder, someone who would do things differently in her place. Khalida and Adil are Tarim, powerful witches, who refuse to use their songs for war. They are an ideological counter to Alder, and possibly equal to her in magical prowess, but they aren’t competition. Even as their people are whittled down to a dozen or so, they refuse Alders protection, choosing to perish rather than share their seed sounds or use their songs to fight. Petra Bellweather is the obvious choice for Alder’s successor, but she comes with the same attitudes that allow Alder to consciously kill innocents. There are no better options, just different ones, and the story stalls here if the writing isn’t conscious of this. Petra replacing Alder is not a victory, dismantling the current power structure is.

Motherland: Fort Salem surpasses my expectations in a lot of ways because it mostly manages to avoid the kind of melodrama one generally associates with stories about young, magical, women— tragic romance between Raelle and Scylla not withstanding. There are obvious elements of that, especially and almost exclusively with regards to romantic relationships, but it is not the foundation the show is built on. And even where the story leans more into the “soapy”—like, in this episode, when Gerit’s wife catches him and Tally in bed and asks to join them—it doesn’t take away from anything else. Anacostia allows Scylla to see Raelle one last time before being transferred to what sounds like witch Guantanamo. It’s Extra AF, and aimed at shippers—people who invest in character relationships—but it also serves the story well.

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