Ridley Scott is back in perfect alien form with an engrossing look at a rigid, desolate future.
Comparisons will no doubt be made to that other great science fiction show about robots, religion, and what it means to have a soul. Battlestar Galactica was terrific for its engrossing world, rich mythology, and captivating characters. While I’m not entirely sure HBO Max’s Wolves can be the next BSG, the performances and possibilities warrant a look. The highly anticipated and wildly ambitious Raised By Wolves Episodes 1,2, and 3 delivers on almost everything we have come to expect from Scott, including emotional and morally grey androids, hyper-strict religions, and plenty of war. Think Prometheus mixed with a Viking Starbuck. It could be poised to be the next breakout hit.
In the early moments, we are introduced to androids named only Mother and Father. They were sent into space to act like Adam and Eve by the Atheists. One of two warring factions on Earth who destroyed the planet in the course of the fight. The Atheists were the losers. These two, who seem as utterly alien as their surroundings, are an odd couple. Mother, played by Amanda Collin, no doubt new to an American audience, is a compelling mix of cold indifference and white-hot anger. She teeters between life-affirming love, calculating intensity, and all-out mania. Father, portrayed by Abubakar Salim, is the more compassionate and grounded of the two parents to be. He is programmed to be caring but practical and is loaded with endless dad jokes.
They land on a grim alien planet with precious cargo. They are to create life from embryos they carried with them. Acting as parents, teachers, protectors, and counselors, they are tasked with helping the children grow up healthy, happy, and very atheist. The winning group on Earth, the Mithraic, are deeply religious, and the Atheists believe this fervent faith led to the war. The androids were sent by the Atheists to save their kind and hopefully build a world free of fighting without the obstacle of frivolous belief systems.
Sci-fi and religion are the yen and yang of classic storytelling. Faith, progress, and technology are often explored through both lenses and moral judgments made from that exploration. The Atheists who made the androids and sent them into space believe religion is the root of everything wrong that happened on Earth. With what we later learn about Marcus’ early life and the Mithraic leaders’ systemic rape of children, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Throughout the first three episodes, Mother and Father lose eleven children. Only the smallest child born Campion survived the harsh environment. When he was first born, he wasn’t breathing. A painful scene with Mother crying and singing sweetly to her lost child tell you everything you need to know about these robots. They are nothing like you have seen before. Not even Bishop or the Terminator was as emotional.
Miraculously the child begins breathing, and they name him Campion. Flash forward twelve years, and Campion is now the only child left. Each child before him fell victim to either the dangers of the planet or the environment. Most died of an unknown respiratory illness that they finally diagnose in Episode 3. After so much death, Mother has begun to break down. Either time or grief has caused her to short circuit, and her already erratic behavior becomes deadly. Fearing the loss of her only remaining child and with absolute conviction, she kills Father and rips out his processor. Creator Aaron Guzikowski makes an interesting choice here. Women often are betrayed as weaker are both the most powerful being on the planet and the most susceptible to fear and pain in Raised By Wolves.
Campion’s distrust for his Mother was growing, and after the less than logical explanation for Father’s death, he chose to explore a crash site for signs of life. He found a ship containing a small search party, including our first look at Travis Fimmel’s Marcus. That ship was a part of a greater system called Heaven, which acted as the Noah’s Ark for the remaining religious humans on Earth called Mithraic. When the landing party arrived at Mother and Campion’s encampment, they mistakenly thought she would be easily overpowered and attacked her. Mother had been hiding some serious skills to go along with the rage, though, and immediately flew through the air and imploded everyone with a look from her eyes or a shriek from her throat.
The android’s appearance up until this scene was sterile and utilitarian, but not terrifying, even when killing Father. She physically changed into a metallic alien being with seemingly limitless powers and unstoppable anger. We know she is breaking down, but that appears to be the only thing that could stop her. Makeup and wardrobe design are spectacular in creating a character that is ironically mechanical but also weirdly spiritual.
The simultaneously depressing and gorgeous Raised By Wolves feels as if it could be from the same universe as Scott’s classic Alien. Everything is muted and grey in tone. Even the food is washed out and faded. About the only thing fevered is the zealotry everyone shares even if the source of the passion is different. You either care passionately for Saul or care passionately about not caring for a God.
This is well-hallowed ground. Alien planets should look a certain way, feel a certain way, and reflect the life forms that exist there. We are notoriously bad at imagining what those forms might look like. The exceptions, of course, being H. R. Giger’s Xenomorphs and I would argue Pitch Black’s reptilian night-loving creatures. The planet they have landed on in Raised By Wolves is similar to Earth with life that Mother and Father thought died. Large skeletal structures are all that remains, or so we thought. Before too long humanoid aliens make their presence known, putting a whole new wrinkle in the continued war over God.
The first three episodes of Raised By Wolves had a lot to handle. As in most science fiction, the viewer needs to be immersed in the world, meet the leading players, and buy into the mythos behind everything. While the first two episodes were noticeably slow dealing with all that world-building, the third felt like the HBO Max series was finally hitting its stride. The first three episodes of Raised By Wolves felt a little like early episodes of BSG, minus the incredible space battle scenes holding everything together. When Mother took off, so did the urgency of the story.
It should be no surprise that as Travis Fimmel’s(Vikings) screen time increased, so did the series improve. Any fan of his turn as the legendary Ragnar Lothbrok knows he chews scenery as few can. He is equal parts vicious and winsome. He is no different as Marcus, a man who tricked his way aboard the Ark ala Parker Posey’s Dr. Smith in Netflix’s Lost in Space reboot. He is a complex character who can play many angles when necessary. In a flashback from his childhood, he is being trained as a soldier by the Atheists, and yet he has no trouble living amongst the Mithraic when survival dictates. Raised By Wolves will succeed or fail based on his ability to hold an audience.
After Mother went on a rage bender, nearly killing Marcus(Fimmel), she kidnapped several children from the Ark and brought them back to Campion. The difference between Campion and the other children is not that great. They are two sides of the same coin. Mother doesn’t allow Campion to discuss religion or hear spiritual stories, while the Mithraic children are only permitted stories from Saul’s teachings. Ironically neither group understands absolutes are always a bad thing.
Campion and the other children ran from Mother and Father looking for Heaven. Before they could find it, however, Father found all but Paul and saved them from alien monsters. Paul, who had become like a son to Marcus because of their fraud, falls through one of the many massive holes in the ground and lands on a tree root, saving him. He clings to the branch and hears one of Campion’s sisters, and the first to die, singing. Maybe in this place things don’t stay dead?
There were plenty of references from the first three episodes of Raised By Wolves. There are gangly alien creatures who look like large Golloms from Lord Of The Rings and flying androids who look like terrifying metallic Jesus. They can melt their subjects with just a sound or look. If you haven’t seen Shudder’s Blood Machines, you must see it immediately. That short series seems as if it could have been a long lost cousin of creator Guzikowski’s robots. Holodecks are used to keep conscious minds busy during cryosleep, and innocent white mice are invariably used as obvious plot devices. There is even a pop culture plot beat with religious leaders raping young women while they are unconscious.
It’s a lot to take in, and not everything is successfully gelling yet. I’m willing to be patient, however. Scott is a genius, the series looks amazing, and Travis Fimmel is electric. Given a little time, I have no doubt the complicated story will find its footing. HBO Max will air episode 4 next Thursday with a new episode of Raised by Wolves airing weekly after that. Follow all our continuing Raised By Wolves coverage here. Click here for a free 30-day trial of HBO MAX. It’s worth it for gloriously wacky Doom Patrol Season 2 alone!
- Technocratic– Mother tells Campion they are technocratic when he was asking about religion. Technocracy is a form of government where the leaders are elected and make decisions based on their technical skills. In a technocracy, STEM would rule.
- Necromancer-Mother, as a character, is reduced to the hysterical woman trope. She is paranoid, delusional, and in her case, supremely dangerous. That is because she is a reprogrammed Necromancer or killer bot. The technology needed to perform that recode is something the Mithraic thought the Atheists didn’t possess. Apparently, they were wrong. Why a killer robot was chosen as a parent is something that should be explained as the season progresses. Typically in fantasy entertainment, necromancers can control or talk to the dead as in Motherland: Fort Salem. Here the Necromancer is the bringer of death.
- Did Paul hear Callie when he was separated from the other children? If so, how is she still alive, and what does that mean for the Mithraic who believe in a Judeo Christain type religion of life, death, and Heaven?
As the TV/Streaming Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.