When I first saw the trailer for this show, I was really intrigued. An alternate history where witches have powered the United States military since colonial times? Sign me up. Then, I realized the show was on ABC Family-I mean, Freeform, so I lowered my expectations. That was a good decision. This article will be my review of the show’s recent premiere episode. 

This sounds really cool. 

Honestly, the premise is really cool. This is the kind of TV show I’ve been craving lately: horror meets history. In the world of Motherland: Fort Salem, a witch named Sarah Alder made a deal with the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and from then on, witches have been an important branch in the U.S. Military. The show takes place in the present day, where a terrorist group known as the Spree is wreaking havoc and death across the country. Our focus is on three new recruits: the idealistic and naive Tally, the heiress to a military lineage Abigail, and the rebellious, bitter Raelle. These three women make up a unit, and their goal is to work together so that they can make it through basic training. Raelle, who comes from a poor background, butts heads with Abigail, whose mother sent Raelle’s mother to her death on a nearly impossible mission. Raelle is also falling in love with a necromancy recruit. That’s pretty much the plot of the pilot. 

Military magic? It was great, right?

There were definitely some parts of the show that were great. The visual style is extremely unique, especially for Freeform. This originality led to the terrorist attack scenes being extremely unsettling and disturbing. I wish this horrific thread showed itself more in the scenes at basic training. Also, like I said before, the premise is compelling. The last thing I really appreciated about the show was the diversity of the characters in terms of their class backgrounds and family lives. That added another layer to the conflict between Raelle and Abigail, and I hope it will be explored further in future episodes. 

It’s on Freeform. What was bad about it?

Because it’s on a network that appeals to young people and families, I feel like the story shied away from being as horrific as it could have been. I wish we’d seen more magical fights or gotten more backstory about the witches. Granted, this is the first episode, so I assume they’ll get into it more later on. 

Another thing that didn’t work for me is the flip side of something I liked about the show. While I appreciated the diversity, I feel like it was handled pretty clumsily. I think having a more representative writer’s room would make the storylines (especially Raelle’s) feel less cringeworthy. This was not improved by the fact that the three lead actors gave really over-the-top and hammy performances. Overall, I wish the writing of dialogue had been a lot better.

Final Thoughts

Motherland: Fort Salem is trying to do a lot. It’s trying to be an alternate history, teen drama, and witchy horror all in one show. This makes the plot feel pretty scattered, which is compounded by the fact that the performances are quite melodramatic. Overall, I had fun watching this first episode, but I hope the show improves from here.

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)