First look UK TV review: Motherland: Fort Salem
Helen Archer | On 02, Aug 2020
This review is based on Season 1.
This new series has a lot to recommend it. Created by Eliot Laurence, the premise is beguiling, incorporating all the elements for what should be a terrific supernatural programme. Ancestral witches, going back generations, are recruited into an “army” to fight against a terrorist group called The Spree, made up of witches gone “bad”. The programme is fronted by three powerful leads – Taylor Hickson as reluctant soldier Raelle Collar, still grieving the death of her mother; Ashley Nicole Williams as Abigail Bellweather, who comes from a long and established military line; and Jessica Sutton as Tally Craven, a shy idealist who joins up against the will of her family. Their character arcs throughout the first season are strong, as they initially clash but ultimately find themselves fighting together as a true unit. They are backed by a plethora of strong supporting actors, all delivering polished performances.
Which just makes the programme’s flaws that little bit more frustrating. While the Spree’s attacks are creepy and unsettling – from the initial scene, in which they manipulate the minds of people in a shopping mall, so that they jump to their deaths like lemmings – the action takes a long time to kick in. The world building and customs aren’t completely fleshed out, and many of the show’s supernatural aspects are under-explained and woolly. There’s a dearth of deliberate humour and lightness, though there are some unintentionally hilarious scenes – it’s quite hard to take swarms of evil balloons seriously, much less when they’re individual evil balloons giving orders via a haunted mirror.
The end of the series sets us up for more serious questions – about terrorism and the role of the army in world events, for example – and also leaves us with tantalising indications of how the characters are going to develop. It all seems promising, but leaves the viewer with the impression that the first series is just a very long prelude. Here’s hoping the next season is that bit tighter, and that viewers have the patience to stick it out.
Motherland: Fort Salem: Season 1 and 2 is available on BBC iPlayer until September 2022. Season 1 is also available on Disney+, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.