Motherland: Fort Salem premiered in March 2020 just as lockdowns were going into effect across the United States in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. We’re two years down the road, COVID is still wreaking havoc, and we’ll soon be bidding this show farewell.
It’s unfortunate that a supernatural fantasy like this Freeform series is going off air just as social unrest kicks up once again in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court. This is, after all, a show about the bodily autonomy of a primarily female-led society that sets itself apart from the social structures of the countries they reside in.
When speaking with Motherland: Fort Salem actress Catherine Lough Haggquist about season 3, we discussed how timely this series about an army of witches has been for its entire run. As Lough Haggquist put it:
..when you consider the timeline from writing to going into production to editing to release, how many things have landed in both season 1, season 2, and now season 3 at the exact time that that’s the moment we’re having in the broader community. It’s just awe-inspiring to me in terms of what this show is meant to be a voice to and a sign post to and a reflection of and hopefully an answer to in terms of how we navigate some of these challenges.
Her character, Petra Bellweather, hasn’t been at the center of the storytelling in the way Petra’s daughter Abigail has been, along with her unit, Raelle and Tally. However, she’s always been a woman with a lot of power in the narrative whether that’s been guiding her daughter to greatness or commanding troops.
In season 3, now that she’s become general in the wake of Alder’s death, there’s been a new weight added to Petra’s shoulders that she’s certain to be able to bear, but she’s struggling with nonetheless. Lough Haggquist and I unpacked that storyline for the season in the interview below, as well as dove into the complex politics in Motherland: Fort Salem, the significance of the Bellweathers as powerful Black witches, the impact of storytelling, and Lough Haggquist’s accomplishments as an actor and educator helping to push forward new generations of talent.
Catherine Lough Haggquist on Petra’s journey in Motherland: Fort Salem season 3 and impactful storytelling
For the full interview, see the video above. What follows are highlights that have been edited for clarity and time.
[In the Motherland: Fort Salem season 3 premiere], Petra is in a very different place than she was when we first met her in season 1. It was quite an impactful episode for her, not only as a general now and a mother, but Fort Salem is the site of the war. Can you tell us a little bit more about what we can expect from Petra as she adjusts to being general?
Well, Petra ain’t having a good first day on the job like for real, for real. It’s that whole thing of “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.”
So, she now has the job she wants but her daughter is accused of this terrible crime and she now has to balance her responsibilities as a mother against her responsibilities to the country and to her soldiers. She has all of these competing allegiances and alliances that she has to contend with while still trying to maintain her truth and maintain her core of character which I think has been her strength all the way along in her progression.
So, yeah, she’s got a lot to manage and an awareness of how all the pieces fit in and what those risks about the Jenga game of tackling any one of them causing a ripple effect through the others. It’s really a powerfully crafted arc for her this season, and I’m honored to be a part of it because I think it’s really important.
Petra’s such a force, so it’s interesting seeing the last shot in the premiere when she’s been holding it together and then she crumbles. What has that balancing act been like for you? Being the fierce general but also being a mother who is so used to control and now doesn’t have any control when it comes to her daughter?
I think that’s part of the beautiful gift that the writing team have given me. In that, Petra is so complicated and layered and affected by all of her responsibilities. It’s not easy for her. She doesn’t just handle it and move on and toss her hair. She has to navigate these things and they take a toll on her.
I think that’s the other thing. She’s not without feelings, she’s not without sensitivity. She’s not without emotion. It would be very easy to make her into a career driven automaton who doesn’t have those things and then moves on. I think she’d lose her relatability if she wasn’t affected by these challenges and struggling with them, so I find that to be a really important part of who she is and a gift playing her.
This also complicates her relationship with Abigail in terms of the dynamic. I assume we’re going to see more of that play into the storyline, but I was also wondering how [Petra] feels about Adil, the love of her daughter’s life. It does seem like Abigail has found her person. And, last season, Petra wasn’t quite on board there.
I think part of Petra’s journey is moving from a place of where she expects Abigail to be to evolve into where she can receive Abigail where she is. I think that’s part of what we explored last season with the Minerva, Petra, Abigail dynamic. And, also, when what you expect for yourself turns out differently from what you thought it would be, I think that also gives you empathy and understanding about other people’s journeys.
I think it’s a double whammy with the truths that Minerva told in combination with what it’s like to actually get the job you thought you were crafted for and having all of these challenges and realizing and appreciating how even if you disagree with someone, like Alder, you can still appreciate them. And appreciate the combination of your efforts to move things forward. I think there’s been a lot that’s caused Petra to evolve and with evolution comes perhaps a greater appreciation and understanding of Adil and who Adil is for Abigail.
You said [Petra] had gotten the position in a way that she didn’t expect. Where did she think she would be?
Part of Petra’s success has been finding the way to add value to Alder’s vision. I’ve come to see them as very much a yin and yang. They kept each other in balance to a degree. I think any time you remove the stabilizing force for one or the other, it has this unintended consequence of making them immediately less effective which is not to say Petra was less effective. But she may not have been aware of how much that synergy of her working with Alder contributed to how she saw things and was able to navigate things. I think she legitimately misses Alder.
I think we see that in the first episode, and I think it becomes a part of her personal loss that she’s navigating along with these other challenges that keep emerging and unfolding. I think her go-to would have been to seek counsel or create strategy with Alder. That’s part of why she was so successful. That whole dynamic has been removed for her.
[The Bellweathers] are such a powerful family. They’re most powerful witches in the army and I think that’s so amazing because it’s a matriarchy, but they’re also very powerful Black women who have so much power in this army but also so much weight to carry.
Real talk, that is so allegorical to the times we are in and the contributions that have been made both historically and in the present day politically. The power of Black women is not only explored but celebrated in this world.
I hold so much hope and gratitude because we have been written to a satisfying third season conclusion that people will find and still see that imagery as part of the legacy of Motherland: Fort Salem. That people will start the series five years from now because they know it goes somewhere and doesn’t just end. And they will continue to get installments of powerful, empowered Black women with agency and clarity and leadership and community and all of these things that we’ve experienced, but we need to make sure are amplified to the broader community. I am so grateful to Motherland: Fort Salem for being an agent of that expansion of awareness.
And complexity. It is an army that they’re conscripted into and the Salem Accords are analogous in some ways to the slave codes and that is an interesting historical point that the show doesn’t play with as much, but to see that on side of “this was the way to freedom” and the way to rise in power and to also see how complicated that is within the witch dynamic between the U.S. and the witches in general and what it means to be someone who fights for your country but also does not have a choice in doing so.
Again, the allegories run deep in this whole series. The other element to that is when you consider the timeline from writing to going into production to editing to release, how many things have landed in both season 1, season 2, and now season 3 at the exact time that that’s the moment we’re having in the broader community. It’s just awe-inspiring to me in terms of what this show is meant to be a voice to and a sign post to and a reflection of and hopefully an answer to in terms of how we navigate some of these challenges.
I think you’re right in terms of this conversation that’s still forming about how we come to terms with the historical past of indentured personhood and the different forms that it took. I think that that’s part of it. I think that we have an attachment to it as Black women that’s from our experience and our legacy. But I also think that we don’t explore the parallels to galvanize support for the change and evolution required.
Martin Luther King was as much a champion of racial equity as he was economic equity. I think that we see today the need to show people what we have in common as a pathway to solutions as opposed to the separation.
I think Motherland: Fort Salem does a great job in terms of trying to be an inclusive world where people see their spot in it while they have a common enemy as opposed to–I think that’s part of what we see with the Spree and the army sorting themselves out to deal with the Camarilla. It’s that you can have your difference, but you also still have to know where you’re allied.
What I love about your career, when I was researching for the interview, was the amount of work you’ve done behind the scenes, as an educator, as someone who provides resources to those that are just starting their craft. I know that you have thedramaclass.com and bizbooks.net, and Biz Books has been around since ‘96, so how has that shifted for you as time has gone on and the industry has changed?
Well, Biz Books started as a bricks and mortar store. We actually had two different locations on Cordova Street in Vancouver. And I learned a lot about community, about being of service, about contributing to people in unexpected ways to try to help them bring their creative goals and dreams to fruition. So that was really meaningful.
There were so many people who lined up to help me, in what was perceived widely as an impossible business to make a living in, and yet people showed me how to learn about the industry and learn about my job and learn about managing my professional relationships. And learn how to add value. So when thanking them for the contributions they made to my career, and asking what I could do for them, they said pay it forward. And I’ve taken that very seriously from the first mentors who offered that kindness to me.
It’s why I teach. I feel teaching makes me a better actor because it makes me clearer on my skill set in order to offer it in service to my students and my clients. I also feel that our role as storytellers is so critically important especially in turbulent times. I think the first draft of history is the news, the second draft is the textbook, but the meaningful imprint on society is what is interpreted by the storytellers.
That’s what moves the culture forward. That’s what redresses past wrongs. That’s what is often the intersection of the broader community at the facts of these stories and the importance that they play, right or wrong, in our development as a culture and a society. I feel now is a super important time to be supporting new artists and storytellers to come forward to help as we try to make sense of these times we’re in and offer the stories of comfort, guidance, education, inspiration, forward so that people can use that as information on which they make their next right choice.
The full interview with Catherine Lough Haqquist can be found, here. The discussion evolves into what the actress describes as the four Cs of success for artists and storytellers: creativity, craft, commerce, and communication. But, her parting words are for the fans.
The Motherland: Fort Salem fandom has been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced and I’m so grateful for the love and appreciation we’ve received for our work and us as people. It is not taken for granted. It is not assumed. It is not unnoticed and it’s not unappreciated. All those credits on the list, this has been a completely different experience than anything I’ve had the privilege of being a part of before.
And, besides the show’s legacy as a series that turned witch lore on its head and explored a myriad of allegorical storylines that struck a chord with its audience, the love and outpouring from the show’s fans to the cast and crew will always be cherished.
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