Film-maker Ridley Scott has certainly left his mark on the science fiction movie genre. Seminal movies like Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982) have had an undeniable influence on the scifi movies that followed in their wake. Scott’s association with the HBO Max series Raised by Wolves raised anticipation levels for its 10-episode run, which had recently concluded.
Raised by Wolves is created by Aaron Guzikowski. It revolves around two androids tasked to raise human children on Kepler-22b after the Earth was destroyed by a great war (between religious and atheist factions). Ridley Scott directed the first two episodes and served as executive producer for the series. Scott’s son Luke also directed two episodes.
The characters can easily be grouped accordingly –
First, we have the androids dubbed “Mother” (Amanda Collin) and “Father” (Abubakar Salim) who are programmed – as mentioned earlier – to raise human children.
Second, we have the children, in particular Campion (Winta McGrath), the lone survivor of the original batch ‘birthed’ by Mother. Campion is later joined by children from the Mithraic ark.
Third, we have the Mithraic people, a religious group that escaped Earth’s destruction via the aforementioned ark. In particular, Caleb (Travis Fimmel) and Mary (Niamh Algar), atheists who impersonated a Mithraic couple in order to get onto the ark.
Essentially, the characters are driven by purpose, or what they perceive to be their purpose. In the case of the androids, this would be their programming but the series makes the case that it is the same for both humans and androids. Motivations and behaviour are all governed by this understanding of purpose.
Fundamentally, the androids focus only on the well-being of the children. Whereas the Mithraic believe that they are serving the will of their god, Sol. Of course, along the way, events and motivations change, leading to altered behaviour as well.
By the end of Season 1, it may be argued that the planet Kepler-22b is a character in itself. Kepler-22b has a major impact on the characters and its hidden secrets may be the key to the characters’ ultimate fates.
The plot is initially straight-forward as the android colony and the Mithraic ark cross paths, which inevitably leads to conflict. The series reveals that Mother is actually a deadly Mithraic necromancer (killing machine). An atheist scientist re-programmed her to be a care-giver. She causes the ark to crash and kidnaps Mithraic children to replace the ones who had died.
However, the Mithraic eventually gain the upper hand, subdue Mother and re-programme Father. Then, there is a supernatural bent to the story, with unexplainable events that the audience is required to accept at face value.
The atheist Marcus/Caleb believes that he is the chosen one of Mithraic prophecy. He has visions and hallucinations which completely alter his personality. Mother is somehow impregnated and bears an offspring – again, no explanation is given. Paul, the Mithraic child of the couple Caleb and Mary had replaced also experiences the voice of Sol, causing him to behave irrationally.
In this manner, the suspension of disbelief is severely tested. The climax in the finale is wild and incredulous. New factors are introduced in that finale, entitled “The Beginning”, that only raise even more questions. Presumably to be answered in season 2.
I rather liked the first half of Raised by Wolves. The premise was fresh and familiar at the same time. Pulp origins were aligned alongside religious concerns and the questions of purpose-driven behaviour was explored to good effect. However, the writing in the second half relied too much on mystical illogic, which contrasted wildly with what had gone before. Did Guzikowski run out of ideas?
Flawed as it may have been, there are enough intriguing ideas in Raised by Wolves to merit more than a cursory glance. The sets look amazing and the performances are even, through the various character groups. Ridley Scott fans will especially enjoy this series as there are enough Alien references to keep interest from flagging too much.
… still there’s more …