Welcome to the 20th article of our 2021 Pride Month Series! Every day in the month of June, we are highlighting a different member of the LGBTQA+ community we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQA+ community and in mainstream media.
Today we are celebrating Raelle Collar, the lead character in Freeform’s Motherland: Fort Salem which follows the lives of three young witches entering basic training in combat magic. The show is based in an alternate, present-day America where witches ended their own persecution 300 years earlier by making a deal with the U.S. government to fight for their country. Raelle and her unit are decedents of those early witches and enlist to serve in the witches only military. Not only is the show bending the traditional gender and power roles of today, they are also making sure representation is at the forefront of the show.
We meet Raelle just before she takes her oath and enlists with the military. It’s a sacred moment for every young witch who chooses to enlist, but it’s made more poignant by the fact that Raelle’s mother, also a witch, died in combat just one year prior. Raelle is driven by grief and anger in the beginning of the show, hell bent on blazing her way to the front lines and dying an early death. Following basic training, witches are either sent to the front lines or War College where they continue their combat education. Raelle is laser focused on the former, and goes out of her way to disobey the rules of basic training. That disobedience puts her at odds with her unit mates, Abigail Bellweather and Tally Craven. In basic training you succeed or fail as a unit, so the two quickly realize Raelle is going to be the downfall of the squad if they don’t convince her to fall in line quickly.
It’s at Fort Salem that Raelle meets Scylla Ramshorn, a necromancer who is more than a little interested in Raelle. Scylla’s mysterious attitude and penchant for breaking the rules enchants Raelle from the get go. For Raelle, Scylla is a rebel just like her who doesn’t blindly follow orders and the two begin a steamy romance that sees Raelle ditching training to spend more time with Scylla. The catch? Viewers know that Scylla is part of the enemy group, the Spree, who are responsible for killing hundreds of people. Raelle doesn’t know about this or the manipulative lengths Scylla goes to to keep Raelle in her grasp. But much like any romance, it’s a give and take relationship. Raelle realizes Scylla isn’t willing to open up, and begins to pull away. That’s when things change for the couple. Scylla is forced to either open up or fail her “mission” (Raelle) and so Raelle gets half-truths from Scylla that pull her in deeper.
Scylla gives Raelle a sense of belonging she didn’t know she was missing, and with her help (see: mental manipulations) she begins to see things in a new light. Scylla tells her to let the army make her powerful, and Raelle begins to take her training seriously. Scylla uses Raelle’s loss to try and turn Raelle against the Army, but Scylla begins to fall for Raelle just as Raelle is falling for her. As things are looking up for Raelle her world crumbles when Scylla’s true identity is discovered. After an attack at a military wedding, Raelle is told Scylla didn’t make it out alive. Raelle spends weeks heartbroken, until her world is again turned upside down when she discovers Scylla is not only alive but is part of the Spree. The Army uses their relationship against the girls to gain information on the enemy. The emotional vulnerability allows them to penetrate Scylla’s mind while Raelle must face a horrible truth. She turns her back on Scylla at first, but she can’t deny that she was in love with her. Even after everything they went through, Raelle asks that they show Scylla mercy.
The show allows their relationship to flesh out what happens when two people from opposing sides fall in love. For Raelle, it’s about the bravery to stand up and defend the one you love. She fights for Scylla even when everyone else tells her Scylla is trouble. Raelle fights against the reality that Scylla is Spree until she is shown the cold hard truth in a cold and dark jail cell where Scylla is ruthlessly interrogated. Even after she’s suffered tremendous heartbreak, Raelle is the kind of person that is willing to see the best in Scylla. Their love story is full of complications and asks real questions. What lengths will a person go to when they are in love? Does love make us weak? Raelle is a beautiful example of a flawed human being fighting for what she believes. Freeform has put a lesbian couple at the forefront of Motherland: Fort Salem without flaunting it. They are not the ‘token gay couple’ as is sometimes seen on television. Raelle’s identity is organically introduced and treated with the same respect and story development as any other lead character. The show beautifully highlights her decision and it’s accepted universally by every character on the show, there is no homophobia for Raelle to face down in this world opening her up to challenges and character development typically afforded to the “classic straight lead.” Motherland is a breath of fresh air for anyone looking to watch a LGBTQA+ lead show.
Raelle truly embodies the spirit of Pride. She’s exactly the type of strong, fierce LGBTQA+ character we need more of on television. Season 1 of Motherland: Fort Salem was an emotional rollercoaster and we can’t wait to see what season 2 will hold. The new season begins airing Tuesday, June 22 on FreeForm. Season 1 is available to binge now on Hulu, so make sure to check it out and tune in for the new season live!