Motherland: Fort Salem season 2 is spinning its wheels but going nowhere

Motherland: Fort Salem season 2 just crossed the halfway point of the season with its fifth episode, “Brianna’s Favorite Pencil.”

Once again we were introduced to a witch’s holiday that brought a special element to the storytelling similar to last season’s exploration of Beltane. Though this time, we were treated to arrow-firing ghost riders on Samhain not a dance sequence and romps in the woods.

However, season 1’s “Hail Beltane,” and then its midseason episode “Bellweather Season,” pushed the story forward, elevating the plot. In comparison “Brianna’s Favorite Pencil” fell flat, mostly because the stakes in season 2 are all over the place.

The first season of Motherland: Fort Salem benefited from its lore’s newness. There’s no show like the series currently airing on television. Nor has there been one like it before. Powers based on voice work, a re-imagining of American history, an entire army of conscripted witches, a witch terrorist organization. Motherland: Fort Salem was a fresh take on a witch story.

But, we’re past its newness now and the show being different isn’t enough to sustain the series. It’s also not enough to overlook the glaring issues it didn’t correct from season 1.

Motherland: Fort Salem season 2 midseason review

Spoilers ahead for Motherland: Fort Salem season 2

First, the writers refuse to take a stance on the show’s politics in the narrative and, in doing so, refuse to have the characters engage with it beyond surface level discussions. From witch conscription to the Spree’s terrorist attacks, there’s a lot to unpack in the series.

Season 2 adds more to the fold with the introduction of the Camarilla to the plot and the discovery that there are untapped witch bloodlines in the American population. It’s a story that presents four very different factions competing to be heard, all of them prejudiced and fueled by their own biases.

The Spree have been using civilians as cannon fodder in their war against the army which is about conscription and the tight reins Alder has on all of witchkind in the United States. Their dismissal of non-witch life is insidious and yet they have the nerve to talk about hate and how it can spread.

Has this been addressed in any fruitful way in Motherland: Fort Salem season 2?

No. Beyond Scylla having a brief moment of what can be construed as remorse in “Abomination,” the show has yet to engage with how the Spree’s attacks against civilians, which have left thousands dead, has led to the Camarilla having an opening with the grieving American public.

Anacostia isn’t wrestling with working with a member of the Spree to carry out her mission. There’s little discussion between her and Scylla about their different ideologies or why the Spree treat civilian lives as expendable in their war. Nor any analysis of how deeply prejudice you have to be in order to be okay with routinely killing people en masse to upend a system that they have no control over.

On the other hand, the situation with the civilians is also messed up. Anti-witch hate is an issue in their population. It’s also clear that until the Salem Accords started applying to newly discovered witches, the civilians hadn’t considered what being a part of the witch’s army entailed.

Their movement, Not Our Daughters, rose in an effort to combat the government’s ability to not only test for witch heritage within the civilian population but also to protest against the requirement that those witches be conscripted into the army.

The Witch’s Army has existed for centuries, every civilian knows that they’re the top of the country’s armed forces. They’re who fight their wars and protect the population in country and abroad. But the idea that now civilian girls and women who are discovered to be witches will have to join in the effort has caused a public outcry.

So much so that some civilians are willing to join a terrorist group, the Camarilla, to ensure that a world without witches becomes the norm. It’s an off-the-wall situations with incredibly high stakes involving the entire country and yet season 2 has been simmering. We’re not even at a boil.

Motherland: Fort Salem season 2 needs to turn up the heat

The plot involving the witch bomb has been resolved, so there’s no tension there only Raelle stepping into her power. Raelle and Scylla briefly came face to face in “Not Our Daughters” but it simply set her up to start pushing for answers regarding her ex-girlfriend’s whereabouts in “Brianna’s Favorite Pencil.”

Tally has been questioning Alder since the premiere and, while more and more of the story is becoming revealed to us, it’s starting to get boring. We’ve been known since season 1 that Alder is shifty, prone to doing what she wants, and constantly covering her tracks to save face and power.

She once again puppeted President Wade to do her bidding. The optics there considering Alder is white and the president is Black, is still very much a yikes. Same with the Salem Accords following slave codes, another thing the show hasn’t addressed.

“Brianna’s Favorite Pencil” revealed that Alder did, in fact, kill Esterbrook and her people after they surrendered in Liberia. Another Black woman brought in to die and serve the story just like Chavel Bellweather. Most likely this, too, at least when it comes to race because the show refuses to engage with race, won’t be addressed.

Circling back to Raelle, the midseason episode which builds appropriate tension centered on whether or not she’ll finally find out her mom is alive, fizzles at the end when she doesn’t even approach the idea that her mom might not be dead.

She’s distraught and wonders why she didn’t come, but we as the audience aren’t presented with anything to hook into with that part of her story. There’s nothing that pushes us into the back half of season 2 with a buzz over how she’s going to discover the truth or deal with it.

Anacostia and Scylla saving young Tiffany was thrilling in “Brianna’s Favorite Pencil,” but there’s nothing there either. Yes, Scylla revealed herself and killed a high ranking member of the Camarilla along with Dean, the civilian who served the witch child up to be sacrificed, but it didn’t do much for the plot.

Scylla gives great advice to Bonnie in the wake of murdering her husband. She says to find something worth living for, something beautiful like her daughter otherwise hate will eat her whole. But, it feels unearned especially as Scylla is a terrorist who still hasn’t reckoned with the lives she’s taken. It’s wonderful that she feels so strongly about Raelle, but my goodness, the cognitive dissonance!

The one spark that the midseason episode leaves us with is Abigail and Adil’s decision to go after the Camarilla themselves. It’s a point of action. Somewhere the plot can go and push us forward into something that’s not just spinning its wheels with very little else happening.

Taylor Hickson (Raelle Collar) told TV Junkies that the season really gets going after “Brianna’s Pencil”:

After Episode 5 you’re just in for it and will have holes in your couch from gripping so tight. They really pushed us emotionally and challenged us as actors, which I’m really grateful for because it was really therapeutic in a time where I needed it. Besides that, it gives no rest for the wicked! It’s very intense and I really like what they did with the cinematography to attach to the tone and mood of the series.

I really hope that’s the case because so far Motherland: Fort Salem season 2 has been dragging, and it’s because the characters aren’t engaging with the real meat of the story.

Another example is Abigail realizing for the first time how constrictive life in the Army can be now that her desires for herself and her future don’t align with what they want.

This, too, hasn’t been brought up in connection to Raelle’s issues with her family’s treatment by the military. Or the points the Spree have made against the army even with their methods being extreme and unconscionable.

These characters have to actual dig into the things they’re saying, the world around them, and their shifting positions if the series is to ever truly move beyond its potential. That’s going to require wrestling with their biases and a stepping back from trying to make pretty much everyone likeable and morally grey when some of them are actually dark characters with compelling backgrounds.

Here’s hoping the back half of Motherland: Fort Salem season 2 actually does this.

New episodes of Motherland: Fort Salem season 2 airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Freeform.