Each week, Joe (@bstolemyremote) and Terry (@gaylydreadful) review an episode of Freeform’s Motherland: Fort Salem, alternating between our respective sites — queerhorrormovies.com and gaylydreadful.com.
Spoilers for Episode Five…
1.05 “Bellweather Season”: Abigail brings the unit to a High Atlantic wedding, in hopes of increasing their odds for War College. Abigail struggles under family pressures, while Raelle leans on Scylla. Tally makes a discovery that will alter the future of the unit.
Well Terry, our prayers have been answered. Apparently we’re now aligned mentally with the writers of Motherland: Fort Salem because some of our complaints about the first four episodes of the season have begun to be addressed.
As we predicted last week, “Bellweather Season” takes place at the wedding of Abigail (Ashley Nicole Williams)’ cousin, Charvel (Bernadette Beck) – another in a long line of privileged Bellweathers for whom life comes easily. Naturally Abigail spends the first half of the episode fretting about the important interview she has with the Dean of the War College and then, when it goes incredibly smoothly because of her name, Abigail spends the rest of the episode bemoaning that everything is handed to her.
In short, she’s insufferable…as always.
Thankfully there’s more drama in store. Tally (Jessica Sutton) gets the short end of the stick this week as she deals with the fall-out of her crush on Gerit Buttonwood (Kai Bradbury), the hunk from the last few episodes. Alas it is revealed that he’s not-so-secretly already engaged to another woman (in the world of Motherland, marriages last for a standard five year period, though it’s unclear if this is a high society benchmark or if it applies to everyone).
And then there’s the A-plot, which finds Scylla (Amalia Holm) driven to infiltrate the Bellweather wedding in order to deliver Raelle (Taylor Hickson) to the Spree by 6pm or face the consequences.
Terry, I’ll confess that I am a bit of a sucker for a ticking clock narrative, and while “Bellweather Season” doesn’t utilize the deadline quite as forcefully as I might have liked, it’s still useful to have an axe hanging over the proceedings. Scylla’s constant glances at the clock lets the audience know that it’s only a matter of time before something happens. Plus: by crashing the wedding uninvited, Scylla draws the ire of Anacostia (Demetria McKinney), who goes into full bouncer mode and tells Scylla to leave – both the premises, as well as Raelle (shades of her warning from way back in the pilot). I won’t lie, when these two go toe to toe, the tension is palpable. I can’t wait until their animosity boils over into a physical confrontation.
As it is, things build to a crescendo – and the first sustained action sequence between the Witches and the Spree – when Abigail goes to check on her cousin and finds her blood strewn corpse in the bathtub. As horror fans, I do need to give a quick shout-out to the prosthetic work here because Charvel’s neck is slit open in surprisingly graphic fashion for a Freeform series aimed at teen girls.
Terry, I’ll leave the rest to you. What did you think of the episode’s big fight? Does it make up for some ho-hum events that precede it? Were you surprised that General Adler wasn’t in attendance considering the other high profile ranking peeps? And has a bunch of balloons on the horizon ever filled you with as much dread?
Let’s just dive right in, Joe: This is the episode I’ve been wanting since the show started. It represents a lot of what I’m actively enjoying about Motherland. We get a whirlwind of world-building, character drama and bursts of surprising violence. This time, however, it felt more together. We’ve both complained in the past episodes that the narrative can feel disjointed, particularly in “A Biddy’s Life” where the narrative was poorly split between The Hague and the Academy. Here, we almost have a bottle episode set in one location. And yet it still managed to give us insights into the world and some briefly politicking between the witch leadership.
I did wonder why General Adler (Lyne Renee) wasn’t at the wedding. At first, I didn’t question it because it was obviously High Atlantic royalty only. But then I realized Anacostia was there and unless her role was solely to watch over the recruits, her presence doesn’t make much sense. That said, we did get to see some more hints of the witch politics as a result. General Clary (Linda Ko) is at the wedding. We know from “My Witches” that she lost her daughter in a Spree attack and her faith in General Adler is lacking. Here, she and General Bellweather (Catherine Lough Haggquist) talk and it’s suggested that Adler has had plenty of time to do something about the Spree. That “maybe it’s time for a change.” And because Anacostia is at the wedding, she gets to overhear this. I feel like this is going to lead to something in the back half of this season.
“Bellweather Season”s big fight scene completely worked for me, partly because of the way it dolled out what was happening. Abigail first enters the room and hears the noise that sounds like a mix of locusts buzzing and a siren and her magic fails her. I didn’t immediately make the connection between the two, but it fully came into focus when Petra bursts in, sees the Spree with a knife to her daughter’s throat, and is unable to vocalize. What I loved though is that it uses environmental storytelling to get across what’s happening. We see, as the Spree run out of the room, that one of them is wearing some contraption that’s emitting the sonic sounds. That’s all we need to understand what’s happening and the narrative doesn’t focus on re-answering the question.
The same goes with the wedding ceremony. It doesn’t stop the action to fully explain what’s going on. Instead, the explanation comes out naturally as it’s tied to real character moments. I particularly liked the conversation between Abigail and Charvel about the marriage ceremony that both gave us exposition about the world (the weddings last for five years) and felt realistic. It’s been established that Abigail enjoys the company of men and sex and by asking Charvel how she could stand five years with just one man was such a smart way of explaining how the system works.
Finally, to answer your questions…not since red balloons billowed out from under a bridge in It Chapter 2 has balloons filled me with such dread. I honestly dug this entire episode, Joe. And I think a lot of it comes down to the direction of M.J. Bassett. It’s significant to note she is a transwoman who has directed episodes of Ash vs Evil Dead, Power and Strike Back (…also Silent Hill: Revelation…but no one’s perfect). She brings together the character beats and, ultimately, the action perfectly.
How did you find the ongoing relationship between Scylla and Raelle this episode? Did the realization that maybe Scylla truly does love Raelle hit you? Are you nervous that the infamous Bury Your Gays trope is going to surface between the two or do you think Motherland will somehow manage to sidestep it? What about the way Tally (FINALLY!) discovers that Scylla is Spree?
Honestly the more I think about this episode, the more I like it. Reading back over my first bit, I sound a bit flippant, as though the end of the episode is the only good part of “Bellweather Season.” And that’s simply not fair, because it is doing a lot of great character development, but you’re right, Terry, it’s carefully incorporated in understated fashion.
I really liked the clarification that Scylla has genuine feelings for Raelle. Possibly my favourite character-based moment of the episode is when the depth of her feelings are revealed (again, without dialogue!). The pair of lovers are dancing, something that Scylla doesn’t have time for given the looming 6pm deadline, but dance they do. As Bassett’s camera slowly pans 360 degrees around them, we flash back to previous moments in their brief relationship, but the power of it (which overcomes the inherent trope-iness) is that we have no idea which of the girls is reminiscing about these fond memories.
And then it hits: it’s both of them. They’re both so deeply in love with each other and Scylla’s inability to refuse her girlfriend a dance is because she loves Raelle as much as Raelle loves her. What has honestly felt like a bit of a stupid one-sided crush has instead blossomed into something legitimate. For four episodes, it felt like Motherland’s writers were taking the piss out of Raelle – falling too hard for an obviously elusive lover – and I never bought into her feelings. Now, however? I have to reconsider the relationship because Scylla clearly does love Raelle.
As for Burying Your Gays…I certainly hope that the series’ creative team is smarter than that (For those who don’t know the reference, it is the death of one or both members of a queer romance, a trope that has pervaded pop culture since…well…forever, but seems to happen far more frequently in depictions of lesbian relationships). In this case, because Raelle and Scylla’s storyline most often comprises the A-plot, and the Spree infiltration/attacks will likely only escalate as the series forges on, I think that Scylla will be fine.
This recent development does make me reconsider where I think we’re headed, though. For the longest time we’ve anticipated that Raelle would be lured in by the Spree thanks to her love of Scylla. Now I’m beginning to think that Raelle will be forced to choose between her not-dead-just-working-for-the-Spree mother (who should show up any episode now) and her lover, who will inevitably side with Raelle over the terrorist group.
After all, what’s more compelling than having to choose between two types of love: familial and romantic?
Terry, I didn’t get to your question about Tally, so I’ll leave that “hear a secret in the bathroom” moment to you. Why do you think that the Spree killed Charvel as opposed to mounting a larger attack on, say, General Bellweather or Clary? And what do you think of my predictions about what’s to come?
Joe, I hadn’t thought about Raelle Collar being forced to choose between familial and romantic love, but that’s an interesting wrinkle. The narrative has spent a good amount of time building the animosity between the Bellweathers and the Collars. In fact, another character beat I enjoyed this episode was Raelle finally confronting Petra about her mother’s “death.” It was a very brief moment that felt, in a way, anticlimactic.
But it also briefly humanized Petra in a way that the series hasn’t up until now. When she leans in to hug Raelle, her usually taciturn face breaks in an uncharacteristic display of emotion. I think beneath that air of superiority and classism, she genuinely feels bad about whatever happened.
It then adds another bit of justification to your idea that Raelle will have to choose between family and romance and duty. If you take that to its logical conclusion, then I think the attack on the Bellweather wedding was simply a ruse for revenge. If we’re to assume Mama Collar is alive, then I would hazard a guess she’s the one either in charge of the Spree or is, at the very least, the one instructing Scylla to bring Raelle to her.
And if Mama Raelle truly does hate General Bellweather, a fact that is seemingly brought up over and over, then this was less a Spree attack on the witches and more about hurting Petra: kill not only Petra’s niece but also her daughter as an act of vengeance. Abigail was clearly the second target, as the Spree could have easily left through the window. Instead, they only made it look like they escaped so they could quickly subdue and murder Abigail. My guess would be that the very obvious balloon attack was meant to distract the bigwigs so that a more surgical strike could be performed.
As for Tally’s discovery, I enjoyed that it was–once again!–tied to a character moment. Tally is licking her wounds and crying over the realization that the boy she lusted after is betrothed (I get why she would say it’s love, but…we’re really calling it love after one fuck, Gerit? Really?). It did feel a bit staged, particularly when Scylla leans into the bathroom stall and doesn’t see her…like, just how big are those stalls that she could hide to the side and not be noticed. Overall, I’m just glad the secret is out in the open and I’m curious to see how it will affect the episodes going forward.
Ultimately, I’m really excited at the direction the show is finally taking, Joe. And I can’t wait to see what happens next when we go back to Gayly Dreadful for next week’s episode, “Up is Down.”