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Motherland: Fort Salem - Say The Words - Review Roundtable: A Witchy Beginning

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This review was written by Aimee Hicks, Donna Cromeans (DJRiter), and Ellys Cartin.

Motherland: Fort Salem is Freeform’s new show about an alternate reality where the society is matriarchal and the army is made of powerful witches. The show isn’t afraid to tackle tough topics and tell poignant stories. In this article we will take a deep look at the episode. Continue reading below to find out our thoughts on the episode. After reading, please leave your own thoughts in the comments.

Raelle (Taylor Hickson), Abigail (Ashley Nicole Williams), and Tally (Jessica Sutton) all said the words to gain entrance to the military academy for witches for very different reasons. For Raelle it was because she had no other choice, for Abigail it was what her whole life was heading towards, and for Tally it was about defending the defenseless. They are very different people with conflicting personalities. Do you think they will be able to grow as a unit? What are your thoughts about the motives of each of them? Abigail is obviously groomed as the leader, but do you think she will rise to the occasion or will one of the others in her unit overshadow her?

Aimee: I think their conflicting personalities will end up being a big plus for them in the long run, but it is going to make it for a very rocky start. I don’t foresee them meshing well as a unit for a little while. I think Scylla (Amalia Holm) analyzed Raelle perfectly by calling her out on her recklessness all in the name of getting killed early to ease her pain. I think before she met Scylla she was on a very dangerous trajectory. As ironic as it is, Scylla coming into her life may have very well saved it, if not making it infinitely more complicated. Tally is literally the sweetest and most innocent character ever. I fully expect that not to last, but it is really nice that the series spent so much time showing her going on this journey with such wide-eyed excitement at fulfilling her duty. She is the heart of the unit and if they are ever going to work as a unit it’ll be because of her. Abigail is, honestly, a bit of an annoying character, but sometimes the best characters can evolve out of the most annoying ones. I hope we get to see her grow out of her cocky attitude and start to act like an actual leader. If I’m being honest, I don’t know if she has it in her just now to be a true leader. I would actually really like to see Tally step-up as a leader since she’s already proven a good mediator between Raelle and Abigail.

Donna: You’ve got the entitled, over-confident leader wanna-be - Abigail, you’ve got the rough around the edges but talented outsider - Raelle, and the quiet peacekeeper of the group who had hidden strengths - Tally. It’s a tried and true formula for this type of show. For example, if you compare these girls to the girls of The Facts of Life you can see distinct parallels – Abigail is Blair Warner; Raelle is Jo Polniaczek; Tally is a combination of Tootie and Natalie, and in an odd sort of way Anacostia (Demetria McKinney)is Mrs. Garrett, someone that sees the strengths and weaknesses in all the girls and guides them. And I don’t mean this comparison in an insulting way, quite the opposite. Like those girls, the girls of Motherland: Fort Salem, on a much deeper and darker level, will come to learn that they have much to learn from one another and are in fact a stronger team when they combine their strengths against adversity. It is a formula that worked well for several successful seasons of The Facts of Life and it will work well here. That said, right now Abigail is condescending and annoying, but I am sincerely hoping that changes, although I did get a slight bit of pleasure watching her get an attitude check from General Adler (Lyne Renee). I think Raelle may turn out to be the most powerful of them all in terms of powers, however, I wouldn’t discount any surprises from Tally. They make a good mix.

Ellys: Abigail’s sense of entitlement took my breath away. It was undoubtedly entertaining, but the fact she had the nerve to approach General Adler and basically state that her destiny was at risk had me aghast. Williams brings just the right amount of arrogance to the role. You know that Abigail’s actual destiny is undoubtedly to have her ideas of legacy challenged, if not completely upended. I think that she is wise enough to realize she must work with Raelle, but I am more curious about what will happen with Tally’s relationships to the other two. Abigail is self-centered and proud. Raelle is independent and bitter. Tally’s personality and motivations aren’t as clear cut, but what was unmistakable was her disappointment in the other two’s actions. If they take her for granted, will Tally push herself to outdo them or will she end up withdrawing from the rest of the group?

From the moment Raelle was introduced it was clear she is on her own path. She is fierce and independent and not inclined to want to fall in line with the status quo. But she is also fiercely loyal and kind-hearted, and a little bit snarky. What do you think will happen with her as the season progresses? Is she destined to be the hero of the story or fall under the pressure?

Aimee: Raelle is a well-structured character with a ton of layers the writers can reveal. I expect we’ll see some big changes with Raelle. At this stage I can’t begin to predict if she’ll stay loyal to the army or fall into whatever plans Scylla has for her. Raelle is so bitter at this stage of things I can see her being an easy recruitment target for the Spree. With that said, I think she’s inherently good as was evident by how she heals people. I think she’ll remain the hero of the story, but it will come at a heavy cost and not without some bumps in the road.

Donna: Personally I feel that Raelle is going to be the one with the greatest character arc. Right now, her character is in a lot of pain and discovering she’s not quite as alone as she thought will be a revelation to her. Also, coming to discover and master her abilities will be quite the journey. She may indeed turn out to be the hero of the story, but I think she’ll find she has an easier time when she lets the others in. Also, I don’t think she’s quite as na├»ve as Scylla thinks she is. Right now, Scylla is taking advantage of her pain and uncertainty, but the stronger Raelle grows there may well come a time when she turns the tables on Scylla.

Ellys: Hickson is a perfect lead for this show, instantly believable as a character from an alternate universe/dystopian fantasy. There were few surprises in the premiere, but Raelle’s charisma kept the episode from needing much in the line of twists. Although everything that would typically be a twist, but is heavily telegraphed here, happens to Raelle. She learns her mom’s death might not have been what it seemed. She is targeted by a Spree agent. She might have extra power. The interesting angle about Raelle for me was her fear that her healing ability would result in her being assigned as a medic, to drain away her life force for others. Doesn’t seem like much of a gift if it transfers the injury or illness directly to her. She’s going to be very tempted by any and all alternative paths, so I’m most curious what could keep her from joining the Spree at this point. What relationships will she form, if any, that will lessen the likelihood of her joining the Spree? And is there any scenario where this season doesn’t end with her becoming a double agent within the Spree on behalf of the Army?

Tally is the optimistic one of the group. She is nervous but excited about the ability to perform her duty. She is the complete opposite of Raelle and Abigail. Will she forever be the referee between them? Or do you see her carving out her own place in the group? What do you think will happen with her as the season progresses?

Aimee: I think the unit will eventually learn to work together. It would be annoying if they have to constantly use Tally as a mediator, but that is a role I can see her in for the foreseeable future until Raelle and Abigail get over themselves and try to meet the other halfway. As I said in the first question, I can see some leadership qualities in her. If she ever rises to a leadership role I think it’s well into the future. I’d love to see her eventually grow into more of a leader and less of a joiner. As for what will happen with her this season, I hope we see a lot of growth with her. She is a really sweet character, but this is Freeform and the sweet and innocent characters are usually the ones who end up dealt some of the worst cards. So I am excited to see what is in store for her.

Donna: I do see Tally carving out a place for herself, maybe even as the anchor of the group. While Abigail struggles with not being the top dog she thought herself to be and with Raelle being the more impulsive one of the group, Tally could be the one who keeps them both grounded to the reality of their world. Tally has hidden talents and I am anxious to see what they are.

Ellys: Until Scylla was revealed as the Spree spy, I was betting on Tally being the one behind it. She clearly has a very sweet personality, the kind of thing that one can only imagine getting chewed up and spit out by the Army. Nothing about her other than her dedication suggests she will be able to handle the difficult experience ahead. I have to expect some sort of tragic fate or dark twist awaits her on this path because I can’t see her forming a meaningful connection with Raelle or Abigail based on their interactions in the premiere episode.

Scylla and Raelle are clearly positioned as the main couple of the series. They have been heavily included in the promotional material and their story had a prominent place in this first episode. What are your thoughts on this couple?

Aimee: They are a well-matched couple. Raelle needed someone who could go toe-to-toe with her and Scylla definitely can. I love how their connection was so instant. They both started the season with complex issues and secrets that will surely make for a compelling story. I also have to say that it is so refreshing that the main couple of the series is between two women. It isn’t as rare as it once was to see a female lead with another woman, but what is rare is that both are not only series regulars, but the actresses are the first and second-billed which is extremely rare. What it hopefully means is the writers plan to give these two a really rewarding story full of sweet moments and bumps in the road. I also have to say that I was pleasantly surprised they gave Raelle and Scylla an intimate scene in the very first episode. I honestly can’t think of many shows that dive so wholeheartedly and speedily into a relationship between their main couple and it’s refreshing. Raelle seems a bit rebellious, so getting pulled in so deeply by a woman who clearly also has a rebellious side is such a Raelle thing to do to try to stick it to the system. I think being encouraged to stay clear of Scylla only made her want to get closer to her, so I look forward to watching how the writers develop the relationship and how the very well paired Taylor Hickson and Amalia Holm bring the relationship to life.

Donna: The two share an intriguing dynamic. Both are, in their own way, players and watching their coming battles is going to be interesting. One will find she’s stronger than she thinks, while the other will for the first time be caught in the trap of caring for someone and going against her assigned mission.

Ellys: At this point, all we know is that Scylla targeted Raelle. I wonder if she is targeting anyone else, or if her mission was just to target Raelle. Regardless, Scylla holds the upper hand in this “relationship,” which can’t really be deemed as such as the moment. Amalia Holm plays Scylla with a constant mischievous gleam in her eyes that makes it impossible to look at her character and not wonder what she’s plotting now. The fact that she is positioned as the second lead suggests we’ll see more honest, vulnerable moments from her character in the future.

By the end of the episode we learned that Scylla is a member of Spree. What do you think her relationship is with the organization? She seems to have purposefully sought out Raelle, but how deeply they hit it off seems to have surprised even her. She is part of a terrorist organization that has committed unspeakable horrors. Do you think she can balance her affiliation with Spree and her growing feelings for Raelle? Do you think this relationship is sustainable long term given the huge secret Scylla is keeping? What do you think her plans are for Raelle?

Aimee: I think it is a bit early to really tell what her relationship is to the Spree, but from what we know of the organization so far any affiliation with them at all isn’t a good thing. I can only hope that she has no other choice for some reason. One thing is for sure, being Spree is definitely going to be an issue in her relationship with Raelle at some point. I think she can balance love with betrayal for a little while, but at some point it is all going to fall apart. I think how it plays out at that point depends on how far along her relationship is with Raelle by that point. I don’t see how Raelle could possibly be able to overlook Scylla’s Spree affiliation, but love can be blinding, so when the time comes, I’m really curious how Raelle will handle it. I got a serious vibe that Scylla intentionally sought out Raelle, but, again, it’s just too early to tell what her plans are. I really hope love will win out in the end and Scylla will pick Raelle over the Spree, but at such an early stage it’s hard to guess how this evolves.

Donna: I see Scylla just as a good soldier, doing what Spree tells her what to do. But, in her seeking out of Raelle she gets caught in her own trap. I think she will be torn, especially if she discovers the true reason for Spree’s interest in Raelle. Perhaps they want to tap into Raelle’s powerful talents as a weapon of mass destruction. Scylla will be torn between her loyalty to Spree and her unexpected attraction to her target.

Ellys: Based on her shocking actions in the opening scene and her admirable driving-in-the-snow skills, Scylla is not to be underestimated. Everything she does screams free will is at play, which makes her very dangerous. You could tell, though, that Raelle instantly bewitches Scylla to the point that when Raelle asks Scylla why she isn’t in training the latter must think for a moment before answering. Even in whatever clearly horrible world they are living in, one doubts the power of a love connection to truly challenge an ideology awash in innocent blood. Scylla is only human in her emotions, though, so she may experience a measure of discomfort as she manipulates Raelle.

This show has a big cast of characters. Which character did you enjoy most in the series premiere? Why did they draw you in more than the others?

Aimee: I actually liked all of the characters for different reasons. But in terms of my favorite, I have to say Raelle. She has a chip on her shoulder, but also seems like the type of person who also wears her heart on her shoulder. The moments she met Scylla an entire different side to her was shown. I really like all the layers that encompass her.

Donna: It’s a little early for me to pick a favorite. They all had something to offer. However, at this point, I am more intrigued by the older girls at the Academy, particularly Anacostia, the Drill Sergeant, and the general. I want to know more about the development of this academy but understand that is not the story they are telling here.

Ellys: Demetria McKinney’s Anacostia came across less like a Drill Sergeant to me and more like Miss Rose, the overly cheerful teacher at Miss Minchin’s Academy in The Little Princess. Presumably, she’s seen battle, yet her whole personality clashed with everything else going on in the show. Maybe she’s the one who didn’t make the cut and was left behind to train up the next generation. I can’t say there was a character who drew me in with their entire arc. I need to see more of them and what their personalities are.

Which performer do you think delivered the most memorable performance in the episode? Why did their performance standout for you? What were their best scenes?

Aimee: I have to go with a tie right out of the gate between Taylor Hickson and Amalia Holm. There scenes together were highlights for me. They just have such a natural chemistry together that I immediately felt the connection solidify between the characters. All of their scenes together were, pardon the pun, magical. My favorite was the scene in Scylla’s dorm room. The way Hickson and Holm just flowed lines off of each other was a joy to watch. When the characters kissed and immediately moved into having an intimate moment it didn’t feel rushed and that was in large part because of just how well matched these two actresses are. If the chemistry wasn’t instantaneous the first time they shared the screen this scene could have felt out of place. Instead, it was a highlight. These two are going to be a force of nature together on the screen.

Donna: There are several standout moments but, if I must choose one, I think the confrontation in the gym between Raelle and Abigail. This is the first time we see the true powers of both come to the forefront. I think the power of it surprised not only them but the instructors as well. It was a genuine moment of discovery and self-realization for both characters.

Ellys: The standout scene for me was the one where Raelle sneaks out for a walk, finds herself by the training field watching the tornadoes, and meets Scylla. Everything in that scene just works together well. The wind, the drama in the music, the awe on Raelle’s face, the dreadful yet awesome power on display, and even Scylla’s smile. It’s the one scene where we don’t see Holms with Scylla’s agenda written all over her face, and the connection the two characters make feels genuine as a result.

What are your final thoughts regarding this episode? What are your predictions for what is going to happen in for the rest of the season?

Aimee: I went into this show with very high expectations and wasn’t disappointed in the least. The cinematography and aesthetic look of the show are beautiful. It’s probably one of the most beautifully shot shows I’ve ever seen on Freeform. For a pilot, this episode was surprisingly well structured and paced, which is a rarity for series premieres. Every performer nailed their performance. Pilot episodes of shows very rarely impress me, but this one did. It had me from the start and never once disappointed. I am worried they set such a high bar, because that means if they fall they will fall hard. If this first episode is any indication these writers have a strong grasp on the story they are telling and have it well planned out. That, mixed with a talented group of performers, is a recipe for success and I really hope the show keeps living up to my expectations.

Donna: I was pleasantly surprised by the pilot. It held my interest throughout with interesting characters, a layered story and some impressive effects such as the tornado swarm. As far as going forward, given that attacks from the Spree are escalating and that Scylla is likely to defy her directives to recruit Raelle, I see the trainees from the Academy getting a baptism of trial by fire when the Spree directly attack the Academy. They’ll go from trainees to soldiers long before many of them are ready.

Ellys: Right now, I’m predicting many cold staredowns between Abigail and Raelle, lots Scylla lurking around on the edges, Tally having a breakdown when no one acknowledges her contributions and/or when she gets her first actual taste of combat, and at least one shocking death at the training Academy. Scylla may or may not kill another major character. Those are my predictions. What I hope will happen is that something either accelerates or significantly changes up the path of the training stuff, which feels a wee too easy to visualize at this point. I need the ominous factor to be ramped up, a greater sense of impending doom and danger besides the orange smoke-colored skies.

Each week we will select one question from all of you to include in our roundtable. Please submit your questions in the comments section below.

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