Rhonda’s Review of Raised By Wolves

I honestly didn’t expect this to be this good.

Raised by Wolves is a sci-fi TV show produced by Ridley Scott about some androids raising children in the future of a conflict between a hyper-religious society and a hyper-atheist society. It had the potential to be unnuanced, boring and tedious, but ended up being rather compelling and really one of the better TV offerings I’ve seen in recent years.

What follows will have some spoilers for Raised By Wolves, which is a quite complicated story with a lot of twists in it, so if you’re interested in watching it, you may want to stop after the summary paragraph.

The premise of Raised by Wolves is that in a future that may or may not be the future of our world, humanity has split into two factions, the Sol-worshipping Mithraic, and the atheists, and the two factions fought a war that destroyed the Earth, and then the survivors fled into space. The show follows two androids named Mother and Father, sent with human embryos to the distant planet Kepler 22b (which is a real planet in the Cygnus constellation, as Ray helpfully told me while we were watching it). Programmed and sent by atheists, their goal is to raise some children into a peaceful, perfect atheist society. Unfortunately, all of their children except the youngest, Campion, die of either accidents or radiation poisoning, leaving them with only one child to build their utopia from, until an ark of Mithraic survivors appears in the orbit of their planet. Mother, who possesses strange powers, destroys the ark, kidnaps some children from it and kicks off a conflict between her and father and the ark’s few survivors, including Caleb and Mary, atheist soldiers who are impersonating Mithraic survivors and have adopted the son of the people they’ve replaced.

My concern on starting this show was that it would be tacky or worse, unnuanced. The idea of a conflict between a religion sect and an atheist movement is tired and though the show looked promising, I was highly skeptical of the writers’ ability to avoid having it be reductive and boil down to religion being bad and science being good. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by that element of the narrative. All the characters get moments where you’re sympathetic to them and moments where you hate them, and ultimately the subtly done message is that there’s little difference between them. Both groups allowed themselves to get fanatical about their beliefs and destroy the earth through nuclear weapons and also apparently murder androids. The Mithraic excelled in weapons of mass destruction, which they claim to have found the blueprints for in their scriptures, and the atheists used drugs on children to turn them into super soldiers. Everyone uses their beliefs to justify doing horrible things, because of course after generations of hatred, their beliefs end up incorporating the belief that the other side is evil. I’m making it sound far more simple than it ends up being in the show, but it’s a very well done element and it meshes well with the show’s religious imagery.

Kepler 22b has considerable valence with the Garden of Eden, but rather than being a tedious one for one analogue in which Mother and Father map unproblematically onto Eve and Adam and so forth, the imagery is more diverse and interesting than that. Large serpent bones are buried around the planet. Fruit grows out of the ground that turns out to be deadly. Rather than being exiled from the Garden, survivors from Earth are coming to it. But something already lives there. Kepler 22b is a planet of mysteries in which various people are beset by strange visions, hear voices or otherwise interact with something that some of them think is God. Different characters interpret what happens to them differently, but it makes sense for each character to do so and it doesn’t come off as though they are being willfully foolish for the sake of theme (there are some moments of narratively convenient willful foolishness, such as when the androids, in possession of a ship, don’t take their children to the warmer climate that they know exists while they’re all freezing in the winter. Or why they fed their children radioactive potatoes without testing to see if they were radioactive. These moments aren’t too common, but the show is written well enough that they’re jarring).

The star of the show is definitely Amanda Collin as Mother. Programmed to care for children, she is a repurposed Mithraic “necromancer,” a sort of super powerful murder android whose eyes let her fly, become invulnerable and blow up spaceships. She’s been reprogrammed by an atheist scientist to build this new Eden, but she’s steadily going insane as more and more forces conspire to prevent her from raising her children (many of whom she kidnapped) and as the children don’t conform to what she wants from them. Collin’s performance is outstanding and hard to look away from. She goes through a religious journey of her own as she encounters the “ghost” of her creator in her programming, then becomes pregnant with what turns out to be a flying snake (I would say it makes sense in context, but it does not). Mother’s relationship with Campion and the other children, especially Tempest, a Mithraic survivor who was molested on the journey to Kepler and is now pregnant with her rapist’s child, is ever-evolving and very fraught, and is so compelling that I would have watched it even without all the other trappings. Her relationship with Father, played by Abubakar Salim, is also standout. A supposedly emotionless “service model” android with no special powers, Father struggles with jealousy and anger towards Mother, stemming from his love for her and from her increasingly erratic behaviour. Both android characters give stellar performances (as do all the actors, including the fabulous child actors playing Campion and Paul), which really sell the entire show.

I think it’s easy to reduce a show like Raised by Wolves to “a show about faith” or “a show about parenting” or “a show about a weird planet,” when in reality it’s about all of those things and several more. Every episode of this show is packed completely full and the status quo is changed at the end of nearly every one, but it never feels cramped or overly long. It’s tense and mysterious and confusing, but many (not all) of the mysteries are given at least partial answers by the end of the season. There is thankfully a second season coming, which hopefully will answer even more of the questions, because there is a flying snake and a Neandertal cult that could use some explaining.

Ray would also like me to tell you that he thinks Campion and Paul are going to hook up once they’re a little older, an assessment I can’t say I disagree with, assuming one or both of them doesn’t go insane and kill everyone. It doesn’t help that the Mithraic seem to prefer undercuts, though they do somehow mostly appear straight despite that, but anyway. This is a good place for me to comment that Paul’s relationship with his fake parents is also very compelling and well done, and offers a satisfying counterpoint to Campion’s relationship with Mother and Father. I regret that I didn’t really talk about it in this review, but Caleb and Mary were really such interesting characters, both in their own right and especially in their relationships with Paul.

Raised by Wolves likely isn’t for everyone. It’s heavily sci-fi and very tense and suspenseful. Rose and Sven didn’t like it overly, but I found it endlessly compelling and, despite a few writing missteps, one of the more solid and well-done TV shows I’ve seen in recent years. I’m excited for the second season, which is more than I can say for most things I’ve watched lately.

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