The season one finale of “Motherland: Fort Salem” premiered last night on Freeform. Josie and I have been very into this show over the past few months and it’s actually one of the only shows we still watch live on cable. To our excitement, the series got renewed for a season two earlier this week.
What’s the big deal with this show?
The series has been acclaimed for its diversity in cast and characters. Featuring queer witches in a military environment, it has a unique perspective on love, friends, power, womanhood, and the meaning of family.
The four main characters: Scylla, Raelle, Abigail, and Tally are starting their basic training for the US Military at Fort Salem. But there’s a catch, Fort Salem is a program specifically for young witches as the US Army utilizes their powers as a weapon and has since the days of the American Revolution.
Unlike my reviews, this post will have spoilers so I can accurately talk about the representation in this show. This is where spoilers start.
Queer Representation in Media
A massive appeal for me in this show was, of course, Raelle and Scylla. I’m down for some witchy lesbians any day of the week, but I found myself asking as I was watching whether this was good queer representation.
Maybe it’s a product of growing up in fandom where there was a lot of queerbaiting, maybe it’s because I went to a liberal arts college where we just questioned everything, or maybe it’s because I was an English major so I can’t just enjoy any media I consume, but I can’t help looking at every instance of LGBTQIA+ media and question whether it is good representation.
Since my editorial on the disastrous “Heathers” reboot of 2018, I feel the need to call out bad LGBT representation in the media. And while I expected a lot of people to talk about Scylla and Raelle I didn’t expect quite the backlash they’ve been getting since the season finale, but it wasn’t the backlash I was expecting.
What I was expecting was Tumblr nitpickers ripping Scylla’s character apart accusing her of being problematic and I was fully prepared to write this post on proving them wrong. Instead, as I scrolled through Twitter I saw most people being upset that the finale had very little Raelle and Scylla together as most people expected an epic reunion for the finale.
While watching the first few episodes of “Motherland: Fort Salem” I questioned Scylla a lot on whether she was ‘good’ representation. She’s manipulative and in line with the antagonists, but I also wouldn’t categorize her as an antagonist or “evil”. I think she’s really misunderstood.
A lot of my thoughts on this come from her conversations with Anacostia and the fact I truly believe she loves Raelle. I could see why someone might think Raelle and Scylla could be toxic, which is why I’m surprised to not see anyone talking about Scylla specifically. She lied to Raelle and was going to kidnap her (I’m aware she didn’t, but she was going to.) She’s part of the Spree. She’s a dangerous character who does a lot of bad stuff.Embed from Getty Images
However, as I said before, I don’t think she’s evil. I also don’t think she’s that bad. I think she’s a young girl in a dark place who’s looking for a family. I think she found a family in The Spree, but she sees more family with Raelle. She’s also one of my favorite characters– ever.
Scylla’s character does worry me, though, because show-runners have a sordid history with ruining LGBT relationships. It would be very easy for them to make Scylla a horribly angry, angsty character in a way that’s over-dramatic and so she does something fans would never forgive towards Raelle.
For now, I see Scylla as a very complex character. She’s well rounded and the type of strong female character I love to see. She’s a good representation of a bisexual character and we will have to see if the show-runners keep it up or commit character assassination.
Scylla and Raelle (and Abigail)
I thought the fandom war would be over Scylla being an antagonist love interest for one of the protagonists. Nope. Twitter today is in a tizzy because everyone wanted an epic reunion between our two favorite queer girls. It didn’t help that show-runner Eliot Lawrence made some pretty vague comments to Hollywood Life about Scylla, Raelle, and Abigal.
Here’s where we get into the meat of it because I’m a little upset about the way everyone jumped from Raelle/Scylla to Raelle/Abigail at a few comments from a show-runner. The comments themselves, quite concerning. The writers (of which Lawrence is one) set up Scylla to become ‘good’ out of love. Now, they’re making vague comments encouraging fans to support the relationship of a gay character and a straight one.
This is the toxicity of LGBT media. Show-runners do this type of sexuality assassination often, especially on Freeform. I don’t want to argue that it’s “bad” or that a character can’t realize their sexuality later, but when every single story about queer characters hinges on exploration and discovery as a major plot point (see Kat from “The Bold Type”) there is a problem.Embed from Getty Images
What is “Good” Rep
We, as a community, want stories that show us as normalized. Have you ever heard the phrase “it’s not a gay wedding, it’s just a wedding”? That’s what I’m getting at here. We don’t want gay characters–we want characters that happen to be gay. “Motherland: Fort Salem” does a really good job of this and I hope they keep it up despite Lawrence’s comments.
The comments in themselves were typical show-runner comments, however, when dealing with LGBT characters you really need to be careful about what you say about LGBT relationships. I know that sounds counter-intuitive to my point about, but fans get very invested in LGBT relationships because we get really hopeful about shows with good representation. When Lawrence made his comments the fans became very divided with defeats the purpose of having good rep.
If the show does intend on putting Raelle with Abigail I would be very disappointed for a few reasons. The main one being I think the characters have a lot to say in other ways. I like the dynamic between Raelle, Abigail, and Tally as this sort of sisterhood found family. I think they have a lot to say about the power of friendship love. I like the juxtaposition between their found family and Anacostia and Scylla’s found families. With Anacostia’s found family being Alder and Scylla’s found family being The Spree, both can be argued to be very toxic. The lessons learned from that juxtaposition could be very profound if the writers took the story in a smart direction.
I also think Abigail has more to say about being a strong woman leading in someone else’s shadow (her mom and family). I would hate for her entire story line to become an exploration of of her sexuality where it becomes her only character trait.
Lastly, I don’t think Scylla and Raelle are done with each other romantically. I also think it would be an injustice for the writers to not explore Scylla’s love for Raelle and how it’s replacing her grief for her parents and therefore her need for The Spree.
Overall, “Motherland: Fort Salem” has strong, complex female and LGBT characters. I don’t think it’s bad representation–yet. I’m excited to see what they do in season 2, but as I’ve been burned so many times before I really hope the writers continue their good track record and do right by these characters.
Do you agree or disagree? Let’s chat in the comments!
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