Raised by Wolves Season 1 (2020)
Written by Aaron Guzikowski, Heather Bellson, Don Joh, Karen Campbell, & Sinead Daly
Directed by Ridley Scott, Luke Scott, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, Alex Gabassi, & James Hawes
It’s hard to argue about the influence Ridley Scott has had on science fiction since the late 1970s. Through two movies, Alien and Blade Runner, he was one of the chief figures in elevating science fiction movies above the B-flick reputation they had garnered since the 1950s. My feelings on Scott have waned since Prometheus and revisiting some of his work. He is excellent in production design, but most of his work is very shallow thematically and frequently features undercooked plots. I was interested to see what Raised by Wolves would be like, a television series, a format that demands more character development. The result is a mixed bag with many things to love but a season finale that feels like everything went off the rails.
Mother and Father, a pair of androids, arrive on Kepler-22b, a distant planet with the ability to sustain human life. With them, they carry six human embryos which Mother and Father have been programmed to grow to birth and subsequently raise so that the species can persist. Around thirteen years earlier, Earth was ravaged in a war between the wealthy & powerful Mithraic Order and rebel atheists. Cities lie in ruins, nuclear fallout sickened the populations. Evacuations began, and these androids were sent out in secret by an atheist to help continue mankind.
Twelve years pass on Kepler, and the children grow, but the natural hazards and environment see that a single soul survives. That’s when the Mithraic Ark arrives in the sky, carrying a city’s worth of zealots, and they want to claim this planet and its sole human inhabitant as their own. Mother and Father have been repurposed, however. He was a service model, meant to act as a butler and companion. Mother was a necromancer, an android programmed to incinerate her enemies. Now her old programming is returning when it comes to defending her child. But something is very wrong with Mother and, as we come to learn, this seemingly deserted planet where they have been living.
The initial premise and first few episodes of Raised by Wolves are full of excellent worldbuilding. We get a lengthy flashback to the lives of Marcus & Sue, two Mithraic who, with their son Paul, have journeyed in the ark to find a new home. Their relationship is remarkably complex and acts as a parallel to the dynamic we see between Mother, Father, and their son Campion. Thematically the show embraces the ideas about parents believing they know best for the children, trying to shape their ideology, and seeing the cracks in everything with the child doesn’t wholeheartedly accept what they are told.
The show attempts a dialogue about atheism vs. religion but never really nails down exactly what it is trying to say. My take is that the writers are trying to walk the fence and showcase how fanaticism is simply that no matter how it is dressed up or down. There are some compelling moments, a flashback where we see atheists employing child soldiers for raids and even suicide bombings. The Mithraic are shielded by the wealth and resources they possess. There’s never a clear explanation as to what started the conflict or just exactly how these factions size-up. It makes sense because all the characters know what happened, so naturally, they aren’t going to vomit up exposition posing as dialogue. However, as a viewer, it was hard to understand the full stakes when I didn’t wholly understand what these people had done to each other on Earth.
The highlights for me are Amanda Collin as Mother and Abubakar Salim as Father. They are pitch-perfect in these roles, balancing the artificial stiffness of a robot with a simmering undercurrent of human emotion. These androids have individual personalities that aren’t entirely programmed, more an intelligent A.I. that can grow and develop. Mother is the character who probably has the wildest arc, becoming overwhelmed with emotions that we can infer were programmed into her as part of the maternal protocols. This meshes and clashes with the lingering necromancer directives that cause her to become gruesomely violent.
My biggest problems arose in the season’s final two episodes that introduce an intensely ludicrous plot development. As the season goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that intelligent life used to exist on Kepler and that there is still a wide variety of life out there. Mother and Father settled in an arid region, so they still have the greater planet to explore in season two. The plot element introduced is a wild & interesting development, but it is so insanely out of left field how it is resolved in the finale.
The story feels underdeveloped and rushed. The writers and producers are eager to set up a handful of cliffhangers, so instead of coming to any conclusion with the stories from this season, we get teases for potential plot threads in an upcoming season. I will likely come back for season two because I really enjoy the actors playing Mother and Father; their chemistry is terrific. I don’t think my expectations will be that high because the table has been set with some genuinely mind-boggling & potential disastrous elements for the next round.