click to enlarge Taylor Hickson in 'Motherland: Fort Salem,' streaming on Freeform

photo courtesy Freeform

Taylor Hickson in 'Motherland: Fort Salem,' streaming on Freeform

The young women of 'Motherland: Fort Salem,' now streaming on Freeform, fight the bad fight 

Witch Nation

Witchy storylines abound these days: Past months have brought viewers the likes of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (three seasons of chic, sexy fun), Marianne (gory, scary and very French) and Luna Nera (Italian 17th-century folk horror). Though not quite as arty as these three – all of which I recommend – Motherland: Fort Salem is worthwhile for its intriguing alternate history setting.

The series begins with a disturbing scene that's reminiscent of an episode of Chris Carter's pre-apocalyptic 1997 series Millennium: a mass suicide set in motion by a terrorist organization known only as "The Spree." Near-future America is a nation divided: Some states are missing; an African American woman is president; and our military is made up of witches.

Women who are blood descendants of the witches accused in Salem, Massachusetts, are called up for military service at 18. The pressure and excitement feels a bit like the Hunger Games. They arrive at Fort Salem for witchy boot camp presided over by Gen. Adler (Lyne Renée), who has been alive since the 17th century, and a cabal of elderly women who are mostly silent except when they hiss or cluck their tongues disapprovingly. We sense that these women's work is holding the world together. (Then again, we already knew women's work holds the world together.)

The young soldiers are placed into individual units of three. The mini-coven at the center of the story – Raelle (Taylor Hickson), from a poor town in Appalachia; Abigail (Ashley Nicole Williams), from a decorated military family; and Tally (Jessica Sutton), from a somewhat sheltered commune – learn, surprise, that the more they learn to cooperate, the stronger their magical powers become. This army doesn't use guns or tanks, but psychic force. One intriguing part of the young military witches' training involves perfecting harmonic vocal tones that produce powerful magical effects. It's a metaphor, sure: Women's voices, long silenced or mocked, are the true source of their power. When their passions flare, even more power is harnessed.

Motherland is entertaining, intersectional and intriguing as a speculative fiction, with glossy production values that may win viewers over. But I found myself wondering: If we're seeing so many powerful witches on our screens, why are so many women these days feeling so, well, powerless?

—This story appears in the April 1, 2020, print issue of Orlando Weekly. Please follow CDC guidelines and Orange County advisories to stay safe, and please support this free publication. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you news on how coronavirus is affecting Central Florida. Please consider making a one-time or monthly donation. Every little bit helps.

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