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Motherland: Fort Salem - Happy Yule - Review: Tis the Season for Reunions + POLL

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Shows with short seasons sometimes get into a bind around mid-season where they need to make quick moves to get characters in a place mentally and physically for the last half of the season. That often means an episode is so crammed with details and content that it overloads the audience. Those episodes often fail to connect with viewers by being such an information dump that they can't really enjoy the content. This is that type of episode, but somehow, beyond reason, Motherland: Fort Salem manages to avoid the usual pitfalls of this sort of episode. Kudos to the creative team and performers for making this information-dense episode actually work and delivering a beautiful story.

Picking up from how things ended in the prior episode, believing President Wade (Sheryl Lee Ralph) was assassinated, Blanton Silver (Victor Webster) is sworn in as the new President with Kara Brandt (Emilie Ullerup) by his side. This episode just further proves how horrific this so-called man is. After his inauguration, he spends time at a big celebratory Camarilla party thrown by Alban Hearst (Bob Frazer), where he confronts the captured Sterling Woodlot (Luc Roderique), who is being held along with Anacostia (Demetria McKinney) and other witches. To Sterling's credit, he tries to reason with what small smidge of humanity Silver may have left. A fleeting mention of his deceased daughter Penelope (Mellany Barros) does cause him to shed a tear before Kara arrives at his side. Then tough guy Silver returned. But that exchange solidified that Penelope is key to Silver's destruction.

This is fitting when back at Fort Salem, Izadora (Emilie Leclerc) reveals the now fully reconstituted Penelope to Petra (Catherine Lough Haggquist). She could prove to be the key to their salvation once her anger is under control. Oh, to see Hearst's face when he realizes that his precious little modified Witchplague worked so well it allowed Penelope to actually endure and survive it. Even more glorious if we see Penelope express her anger one final time and bring justice upon the man who tried so hard to kill her. There is quite a way to go before that confrontation. Still, it will surely be gratifying for the characters and the audience to see justice served upon a man who has so gleefully tormented and harmed innocent souls for his enjoyment.

That then leads one to wonder about Kara's fate after the reveal that she and Hearst are siblings. There is more to the backstory of this sinister sibling duo than any of us can imagine just yet. Kara mentioned that their parents would be mortified if they knew what experiments Hearst was up to these days. That would imply that they aren't/weren't as sadistic as their children have become. Why is that? Were they bigoted Camarilla anti-witches but just not as involved in the movement? Were they witch sympathizers? This seems very unlikely, but you never know with this show. Did the witches do something to hurt them that Alban and Kara are now on a revenge crusade? Given how highly regarded and ranked Kara appears to be, they likely come from a Camarilla family. Still, it doesn't seem like Kara's line about their parents not approving of Alban's experiments was said just to say it.

As easy as it is to hate Alban and Kara, it's hard not to be impressed by Frazer and Ullerup's work week after week. They do such exceptional work it is enjoyable to hate their characters each episode. Frazer has perfectly tapped into the insanity that fuels Hearst. His wild eyes and exaggerated actions give a vivid insight into this psychotic character. Ullerup has spent much of her career playing good characters with good moral standing. If, after this role, she doesn't get more opportunities to play these rich villainous characters, it will be a casting travesty. This role allows her to display a whole new level of her acting talent. The way she shows Kara outwardly expressing support to both Alban and Blanton while chastising them verbally is a shining example of how tapped into this character she is. For someone who genuinely seems like a gentle, kind soul in real life, to be able to pull off a character as dark and sinister as Kara Brandt is what acting is all about. As stated in previous reviews, Ullerup and Executive Produce Amanda Tapping have shared the screen before, so Tapping is well aware of Ullerup's range. If she indeed had a hand in casting her as Kara, then kudos to Tapping for seeing the potential and capitalizing on it. Her casting was very well calculated. Frazer and Ullerup do such exceptional work it is enjoyable to hate their characters each episode, and that is said with the utmost respect for these talented performers.

Their characters, however, are on borrowed time. It's not just the fact that Penelope's big return is imminent but also that they just crossed the wrong witch in Anacostia. When Hearst set those Spree agents in with her and Sterling, a line was crossed. Also, if not mistaken, those were two of the witches from the dodger camp, including Scylla's (Amalia Holm) old friend/potential ex, so it's sad that in the end, Anacostia had to kill them to save Sterling. Yet, to say she saved him isn't a fair statement either. We don't know his fate, and he wasn't looking good when he was last seen. If Sterling doesn't make it, then Hearst will learn the hard way that there is no force more powerful than a witch scorned. Hearst may be lucky to live long enough to see the fallout from Penelope's return if Anacostia gets free.

Even without Penelope's impeding return, Blanton's reign as President is on unstable ground since the Camarilla failed to assassinate President Wade. As last week's review mentioned, things on this show aren't always as they seem. M (EssHödlmoser), whom we already know works well under pressure, was able to switch the real Wade with a golem. This was a revelation made known when Wade, M, and Petra all showed up at the Marshal's (Michael Horse) compound, much to the surprise of the entire unit. With Wade very much alive and taking refuge in the Cession with the rogue Bellweather unit, things are surely about to get interesting in the battle for the power of the United States.

It was nice to finally spend some time with Wade as one of the good guys instead of the last two seasons where her loyalty has been uncertain. It's a new dynamic now to see how much she is willing to do and sacrifice for the witch community. She is a leader standing and fighting for equality for all citizens that we need in real life. President Wade has really proven herself a powerful ally this season. It was nice to see her get a moment of reprieve from the chaos via The Marshal. Those two seem like an unlikely couple but were genuinely cute together. For a moment, they got to just be two everyday people making a connection and hooking up without the weight of the world on their shoulders and they deserved it.

However, it is still tough to grasp the Marshal as a whole. Seeing the powerful being flirt with Wade was a little disconcerting. With each passing episode, he is becoming less of a problem for the heroes and more of a powerful ally, even if he has a heavy-handed approach to showing he cares. In the first part of the episode, he puts the group through their paces. It would appear he is a lot like Alder in how he motivates these young witches to reach their full potential. His Alder connection became even more relevant when it was revealed that the Marshal and Alder go way back hundreds of years. He actually is the one that gave Alder the working that allowed her to have her Biddies. This is interesting because the Marshals that follow him around seem to be the equivalent of the Biddies, but they are all young while the Marshal has allowed himself to age. It would be curious to know the reasoning behind that. Upon Alder's return, thanks this time to Khalida (Kylee Brown), we got to see these two worthy leaders interact. Suppose the Marshal and his fellow native Cession witches are all this powerful. In that case, they could help turn the tide against the Camarilla, depending on how well the unit pitches its case to the Cession council in the upcoming episode.

The unit clearly has challenging times ahead of them, but this episode gave them a few moments of calm to reflect and celebrate the holiday. It was a much-needed moment in the episode to see everyone rally around Scylla to try to call out to Raelle (Taylor Hickson). It is noteworthy that Nicte (Kandyse McClure) even joined them. Not entirely unexpected after Scylla's confrontation with Nicte earlier in the episode. After that, she seemed genuinely sympathetic to Scylla when their initial effort turned up with no response from Raelle. In fact, the whole group was genuinely supportive of Scylla and sympathetic to the loss she is feeling, especially Abigail (Ashley Nicole Williams) and Tally (Jessica Sutton). Watching these former adversaries become not just friends but a united unit through the loss of Raelle has been much needed. This has proven to be an impactful way to fully incorporate Scylla into the overall group. But the best moment came when they all left her alone, and she begged Raelle one last time for a sign that she was still alive and got a response in a profoundly meaningful way. This season has been very generous to Holm in this storyline, and she has excelled with standout performances.

Also standing out this season is Jessica Sutton. The writers spent a lot of time building up Tally's powers and have played the long game that is paying off in leaps and bounds. Sutton has done exceptional work showing Tally's continual growth and desire to do more to help her witchy family. One of the best moments in this episode for Tally was not her second reunion with Alder, though that was emotionally complex in nature and reinforced their bond from Tally's time as a Biddy, but instead the time she spent with M (EssHödlmoser). Had M remained with the unit instead of having to leave with Wade at the end, there could have been a connection worth exploring between M and Tally. When M shared their backstory of the moment that they had to choose between the weapons building of the men or basic for the women their pain was palpable. Tally's immediate reaction of anger for the decision that had to be made and sympathy for the trauma it surely caused was exceptionally well done. Allowing that to be highlighted through M is critically important to the evolution of how TV shows write and depict non-binary and trans characters. Giving a deeper story to M, a terrific decision this season, has allowed Hödlmoser to dive deeper into the nuances of the characters. M needs to be included even more; hopefully, that'll come sooner than later as the ultimate battle nears.

An ultimate battle that may not end well for anyone if Tally's burning Yule log vision proves true. Earlier in the episode, while Adil (Tony Giroux) looked at the Yule log they had all carved their sigil into, Abigail explained to Wade that as kids, they would look at the burning sigil to see if they could glimpse the future. Tally joked that as a kid, she used to tell her mom she saw a new pair of shoes in her future, but her vision this time was far darker. She saw Raelle collapsing and releasing the Witchbomb, destroying the world, disturbing since Tally's visions this season have been spot on. How they will prevent that future is anyone's guess at this point. That doesn't mean that Tally always sees the bigger picture and full meaning behind the snippets she witnesses. As with Wade's apparent assassination, things aren't always what they seem. Despite what Tally saw, Raelle still may be the key to saving and not ending the world. Based on how scared Tally appeared, she genuinely believes what she saw, making her future reunion with Raelle interesting, to say the least. M knows what Tally saw, but hopefully, she'll tell the rest of the unit as well instead of trying to hide it from them because that never ends well.

With any luck, Alder's mission to find and protect the stewards of the first song will help offset whatever it was that Tally saw. So far, Alder has secured the safekeeping of Khalida, who has left the group, much to Adil's chagrin, to join Alder and newcomer Noodin (Sarah Dawn Pledge). It was Noodin's family song stolen years ago that Tally and Alder found in the prior episode at Elayne's. It would seem the answer as to whom killed Elayne is the Camarilla in the Cession searching out the first song. They clearly weren't prepared for the real steward of that song because Noodin dispatched the Camarilla agents with relative ease. She, along with Alder and Khalida, is already a formidable force to be faced. If they find all the other stewards, the Camarilla may as well just surrender and save themselves the embarrassment of annihilation.

By the end of the episode, Silver declared his true plans to dismantle the Salem Accord and rid the country of the sin and corruption of witches. Ironic, since he is far more corrupt and has sinned far more than any of them, making the need to protect and reinstate Wade all that more critically important. She puts the unit in a bit of a bind when she is whisked away by M and the Marshal before the council meeting. With each passing episode, their unit has dwindled in size. They are left with just the key four of Abigail, Scylla, Tally, and Adil, along with Nicte. The latter of which nobody wants going before any council.

Though, Nicte's chat with Scylla on the stairs during Yule did give great insight into the woman behind the Spree leader. The earlier argument pointing out that Nicte was lonely and miserable seemed to hit a nerve with the Spree leader. But she needed to hear it because it brought out a different side to her. At her core, she is still just that little girl abandoned by her mother at the young age of five and left to suffer cruelty at the hands of her grandmother before finding her place in the army and founding the Spree. She is every bit as lonely as Scylla claimed, which is perhaps why she is so drawn to Tally. Tally is more like Nicte and Alder than originally seemed in many ways. All are powerful women surrounded by those who care about them but are still lonely at their core. Alder and Nicte's intervention may be Tally's salvation. Regardless, the last time we had a mom of an important character mysteriously abandon her child, that mom, Willa (Diana Pavlovská), showed up in the most unexpected place at the most unexpected time. It seems like history could repeat itself. If there is enough time left in this rapidly dwindling season, Nicte's mom being introduced into the story could shake up some things.

The episode ended with Blanton's speech, the group further separated, and the looming meeting with the Cession Council. What comes next? This episode created even more loose ends, with so many already dangling that need resolution before the series ends. It is a good assumption this is not the last information-heavy episode we will get this season, and hopefully, they are all as exceptionally well done as this one. It shows that even the densest episodes can be extraordinary with the right creative team, an exceptional writer, and gifted performers. While we have no idea what comes next, this team has proven we can trust them to keep delivering these strong quality episodes.

Make sure to not miss the next episode of Motherland: Fort Salem next Tuesday, July 19th at 10/9c on Freeform.

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