Queer Representation in “Motherland: Fort Salem”

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.

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Scylla Ramshorn

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.

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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.

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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.

Final Thoughts

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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60 thoughts on “Queer Representation in “Motherland: Fort Salem””

    1. The issue is we’ve seen show-runners throw away LGBT relationships before even to the detriment of their show because they don’t get it…. look at Glee for the most famous examples.

  1. I would stop watching the show. it is thanks to the fans of Raylla who managed to have the season 2

  2. he never said that… ? where I misunderstood ? Abigail and Raelle are just friend that’s all. I missed something ? Raelle and Scylla they are popular to my knowledge
    ?

    1. This is what the showrunner said in his interview about Abigail and Raelle with Hollywood Life: “Absolutely. In the world of the show, we see how much sexual energy, for example, influences one’s magic. Emotions are hugely tied to the potency of magic working, even in this world where the magic is very military and very sort of almost scientific. It’s still fueled by intense, intense emotion, and that moment of them coming together after where we started them in season 1 with really not appreciating each other’s vibe at all is so moving to me. What a journey those two have had. We start season 2 with them bonded as this weapon without Tally, so they’re kind of separated from that the magical unit of 3, but we will obviously find ways to bring them back together.” A lot of people took that to mean he was changing the love interests.

  3. If Eliot wants to lose viewers that’s his problem. ? Raylla this is the most popular relationship
    and he knows it. It wouldn’t surprise me if he made this mistake separate them or put them with An other person. a lot of show actually this mistake. Those who ship Rabigail
    are not many however those who love Raylla are many. ?

    1. That’s the problem with how showrunners and writers treat LGBT representation. They don;t get it.

        1. Why do TV show writers do anything that’s unpopular? They don’t get it. We’ve seen it time and time again as an LGBT community and I’m holding out hope that “Motherland” will be differant, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m let down again.

          1. It would not be the first time nor the last.
            In any case not bad your blog I found them by chance on the internet. Thank you.

    1. I think that we misinterpreted things, fans are scared since the interview with Eliot. They think of the worst.

    2. This is from his interview when asked about Abigail and Raelle: “Absolutely. In the world of the show, we see how much sexual energy, for example, influences one’s magic. Emotions are hugely tied to the potency of magic working, even in this world where the magic is very military and very sort of almost scientific. It’s still fueled by intense, intense emotion, and that moment of them coming together after where we started them in season 1 with really not appreciating each other’s vibe at all is so moving to me. What a journey those two have had. We start season 2 with them bonded as this weapon without Tally, so they’re kind of separated from that the magical unit of 3, but we will obviously find ways to bring them back together.”

  4. huum… ? I do not think that the producer will choose this path. It is that the majority of fans are there for Raylla. They are a popular couple. When Eliote in an interview He talked about of Raylla ( as friends ) fans were unhappy I cannot even imagine the fan reaction if he decides to take this way in the season 2.

    1. This is the exact interview I’m talking about in this article. I hope they listen to fans.

  5. Hello the friends. I believed that Eliot he was obsessed by Raelle and Scylla I understand nothing. he changed his mind ?

  6. I hope than this show it’s not the l word otherwise i stop watching.
    I’m here for Raylla
    like many people. As much to remake me The show the l word.

  7. I do not believe it at all it’s obvious that the producer at to of big project for Raelle and Scylla.

    He had not said than Abigail was going to have a romantic relationship in the season 2 ?

    and Adil He becomes what ? or a new relationship

  8. raelle and abigail it’s hardly if there is of fans the actors and producer ship Raylla that does not make any sense I’m confused

  9. I’m straight and i love the couple Raelle and Scylla. This is one of the rare relationships i have seen at the show. I would be disappointed if he does not keep his promise. It is a romance at a time time rare beautiful is endearing. A lot of fans are behind this beautiful relationship. Raelle Talli and Abigail I see them more as a beautiful friendship who have become a united family. My wife and I support them.

    to pleasure Antonio.

    1. I based a lot of this article off of outrage and conclusions I saw drawn from one interview with the showrunner. So, I hope I’m wrong, but I also wanted tp point out how often when we get LGBTQIA+ rep that a lot of people like and enjoy the showrunners/writers usually ruin it. Look at Glee, the L Word, Buffy, Grey’s Anatomy, Lost Girl, Supernatural, and many more.

      1. I understand the distrust I haven’t seen anything like it in between (Raelle and Abigail ). no little clue that would suggest that he would be together I think he didn’t talk about them as girlfriend girlfriend but as friends. I heard my wife say ( I love you ) to friends. That means nothing just an affection just for a person we love or that we appreciate.

        Antonio.

        1. That’s what me and my fiancee think (and hope) we’ve just been burned before so I was trying to take it as an opportunity to talk about how showrunners tend to ruin LGBT rep.

          1. If you see on twitter and is other sites it only talks about the couple Raelle and Scylla. moreover it annoys the few fans who ship Raelle and Abigail who are 5. In it’s interview he talked about the couple comme si il étais obsédée par eux if it changes its many people will not people understand its change. I saw that if he had managed to have the season 2 it was thanks to the fans of Raelle and Scylla.

            Antonio

            1. At the time I wrote this piece (two weeks ago) if you searched “Motherland: Fort Salem” on Twitter no one was talking about Raelle and Scylla. It might have changed by now.

              1. I found this show three days ago after I think it was because there weren’t many of people who to watch. a friend advised me motherland fort salem. I’m glad it talks about this relationship now they deserve it. there are straight guys who love this couple they can become very popular over time especially since they are already. I hope that will not do with other couples change partners each time episode. they can become legendary over time season.

                Antonio.

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