Motherland: Fort Salem's Messy Series Finale Proved Why It's Always Needed More Time

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<i>Motherland: Fort Salem</i>'s Messy Series Finale Proved Why It's Always Needed More Time


Motherland: Fort Salem is, without a doubt, one of the most original shows I’ve seen in recent years. Coming completely from the mind of executive producer and creator Elliot Lawrence, it’s one of the few series not based on a comic, book, or previous show or film; it’s completely new and refreshing. Unfortunately, though, its sprawling world and untouched lore made condensing it all into only three seasons a difficult feat. The series finale, which wraps just 30 total episodes across all seasons, is messy and fast-paced, proving this rich, original world always just needed more time.

While filming the third season of the show, lead Taylor Hickson’s production vehicle was hit by another car. Her injury was bad enough to leave her missing from six episodes, unfortunately also leaving her character Raelle noticeably absent from the show’s final season. Motherland did what it could to work around her absence (as any good employer should), giving Hickson the proper time to rest; unfortunately, the TV industry pauses for no one, and the show had to go on. This left the middle of its 10-episode season in limbo, waiting for Raelle to return before the plot could actually progress in a meaningful way. Which, ultimately, left the back half of the season lead-footing the gas, trying to zoom through what should have been a season’s worth of story in just three episodes. (Just to make this extra clear: this is not the fault of Hickson or the team behind Motherland: Fort Salem, it simply is an explainer for some of the questionable pacing and story decisions.)

This is not to say that the final season was bad—it wasn’t, and its fumbled finale is not the sum of its parts, leaving fans with a plethora of character moments and storylines to hold onto as the series comes to a close. Strangled by a short, 10-episode order and nipped at the bud just three seasons in, Motherland: Fort Salem managed to do a lot with very little, but I can’t help but wish it had gotten so much more.

In Episode 9, Motherland speed-ran an arrest, a trial, a double wedding, and an attack on Fort Salem. The finale picks up in the immediate aftermath, kicking off “Revolution Part 2” to match Season 2’s “Revolution Part 1.” In the same way that Episode 9 blew through an almost unreasonable amount of plot points, Episode 10 fell victim to the same problem. There were so many things that happened in this episode that it truly could have covered three episodes instead of an overstuffed series finale. Anacostia’s death is the most heinous example of the plot completely cruising right past what could—and should—have been the most crushing blow in this finale. She was a pillar of the show, one of the most interesting and beloved characters, and her death was blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. With how quickly her death came and went, it almost felt like they killed her to up the show’s body count, rather than to actually end her story in a meaningful way. Though it might have been a way to illustrate the quickness and deadliness of war, even her brief memorial—if you could call it that—felt like a disservice to her character.

Speaking of quick deaths, the deaths of both Hearst and Silver left much to be desired. For a villain that slipped out from under the Unit’s noses on three separate occasions throughout the season, Hearst succumbing to Penelope was a little underwhelming—even if the visual was truly haunting. Maybe if we had spent more time with Penelope throughout the season, and allowed the audience to see her emotions more rather than just the husk she had become, it would have had a bit more impact, especially when she dies along with her father. It was frustrating to watch as the Unit, who had spent this entire season fighting tooth and nail against these two infuriating men, didn’t even get to be a part of their disposal.

In fairness, I guess the Unit was indisposed, as they were too busy saving the world in the finale’s eleventh hour. Though, if you asked me to explain what exactly happened in the last 15 or so minutes of the finale, I’m not sure I could. After the First Song is sung and the Witch Bomb is detonated, the Earth’s atmosphere is then enveloped in a mustard gas-looking film, covering the sky. The characters all gawk at the new sky, and when we finally get an explainer, it doesn’t do much to clear up the confusion. Apparently, when the Witch Bomb was detonated and the First Song was sung at the exact same time, the Mycelium (an underground fungus known as the Mother of all witches) ushered in a rebirth, making everyone on Earth into a witch.

As the Unit flies over the reborn world in a helicopter, Alder becomes possessed by the Mother, telling the Unit, “Now my gift is freely given, thanks to you three. They are awake… singing one song.” When Tally asks about The Camarilla (the series-long villain known for their Nazi-like hatred of witches), the Mother responds, “They are witches too, like everyone else.” And then she informs the Unit that they will be called Goddesses, and then she leaves Alder’s body, taking any further explanation back into the ground with her. Raelle says they’re “ancient” now, and Alder tells them to live up to their Goddess title. And then the episode, and the series along with it, just ends.

While I have loved this show for its entire run, it’s impossible to say this ending was anything but incomprehensible. Is the Unit above all governments? Are they more powerful than all other witches? What does this new role mean for literally everything else about their lives, their families, and their futures? Are they immortal? What does the prevalence of witches mean for Fort Salem and the Army? I guess we’ll never know.

I so desperately wish there were at least some more redeeming aspects of the finale, but they’re few and far between. The relationships between the characters were celebrated with Episode 9’s double wedding (shudder), and that seems to be where the extent of that celebration ends. Unfortunately, this episode had zero time to spare to include all the quiet moments that make up the best parts of series finales. Instead, the plot dictated that everything moves right along, ending with the Unit’s collective commitment to their work rather than a celebration of their friendship.

While I’ve always respected Motherland’s commitment to using its witches, and its story overall, to hold a mirror up to the current time, this conclusion was a bit of a miss. It reads like a color-blind examination of race, class, or religious persecution, suggesting that if everyone were simply the same, then all our problems would be solved. Instead of forcibly turning the Camarilla into the thing they hate most, it would have been more poignant to have them see reason, and change of their own free will through an inspiring speech or nationally televised battle rife with sacrifice on both sides. I guess the moment in American history they were trying to mirror was how the Confederacy was folded back into the country after its loss in the Civil War, turning those states back into America after attempting to secede. Though, if they were going for a metaphor that heavy, the time they dedicated to it simply was not enough to properly explore it.

Which means we circle back once again to the same point: Motherland: Fort Salem deserved more time. I know, based on the past seasons of this show, that this ending could have been better, but mounting circumstances (Hickson’s absence, the cancellation, and 10-episode seasons) choked this series until it just keeled over and died. It’s extremely sad that it had to end this way, especially for such an original program.

Lawrence first created this story in novel format before attempting a movie, with it ultimately becoming the TV series we have today. Maybe someday this story can be continued on in one of those other forms. Even if it seems like wishful thinking, it would be a shame to never enter this expansive world again, to never explore under all the stones still left unturned. Though, if this truly is the last we see of this world, I’ll always try to remember it as it was: a kick-ass supernatural show that never shied away from the toughest of topics, and dared to be original in an industry that so heavily favors reboots, adaptations, and sequels.

Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Indiana. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.

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