• Emma Holt

Raised by Wolves Review (2020, HBOMax)

“I only know what I’ve been programmed to believe… but of course, same goes for you.”

-Carl, The A+ Life Technician, “Raised by Wolves”

If you are anything like me, then you possess an unquenchable thirst for cutting edge science-fiction. Ranging from Star Wars (1978), to Alien (1979), to Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), to Blade Runner 2049 (2017), the genre has delivered some of the most memorable and iconic films ever made. And if you’ve dipped your toes in even just a little bit, then you’ve likely heard the name Ridley Scott.

Scott is most famous for directing the original Alien in 1979, which - upon initial mixed reception - would later become sci-fi “canon”, taking home the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects that year. After a nearly 30 years drought, Scott embarked on a variety of cutting-edge sequels and prequels, including films such as Prometheus (2012), Alien: Covenant (2017), and the hugely successful Blade Runner 2049. Followed by a patient and loyal fanbase, Scott’s latest innovation has come in the form of a one-season, 10 episode series titled, Raised by Wolves, on HBOMax.

With cinematic works such as Prometheus, and Blade Runner 2049 on his resume, Ridley Scott is no stranger to what I would call an “epic,” otherwise defined as a “heroic or legendary adventure presented in a long format.” Both Alien and Blade Runner 2049 clock in at two and a half hours each, each and every minute packed with suspense, action, and intrigue, not to mention, spell-binding special effects and settings. Scott’s narratives thrive in a universe of his own creation, where he often creates a limitless playground to experiment with humanity's most unanswerable existential crises.

Raised by Wolves (2020)

Though the series is officially created by screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski, it is clear that Scott has made his unmistakable imprint on Raised by Wolves. For fans of Alien and Blade Runner 2049, similar inspiration is evident in the concepts, styles and philosophies explored in Raised by Wolves; In particular, the ideas of human creation and destruction, the rise of artificial intelligence, space exploration (voyage into the unknown), and perhaps the most bold theme of all: religion and spirituality.

While the themes, genre, and platform (HBOMax) alone were enough to draw this viewer in, it is the remarkable acting, writing, and the fresh, cutting-edge special effects that make this series deserving of distinguished recognition.

In a time where climate change, social unrest, and war constantly threaten the future of human existence, many sci-fi creators have used the genre to explore the idea of what the human race would look like in a much different time period and landscape. Prior to Raised by Wolves, one of my favorite series to explore this concept was Netflix’s Lost in Space. While other films/series such as Alien, Prometheus and Pandorum (to name a few), have explored the idea of what might go wrong in a great voyage into the unknown, Lost in Space and Raised by Wolves play with the idea of what could possibly go right, all things considered. Of course, within this type of narrative, certain questions arise that must be answered in the name of science. Questions such as: If humans were to trash the Earth irreparably, who would be chosen to board the great “Arc” or “ Resolute” and embark on a journey to Alpha Centauri? What would surviving a journey through space look like? And upon arrival, what kind of technology and teamwork would be required to re-colonize? It is this viewers’ opinion that, in the process of attempting to answer these questions, the true genius of Raised By Wolves is fully realized.

Summary of the Plot

In the universe where Raised by Wolves takes place, a great war has erupted between two factions in the 22nd century: the Atheists and the Mithraics. The key divide between these two groups becomes clear after a few episodes. The atheists, who wear tattered clothes and fight restlessly for their salvation, appear to be on the losing side of the war against the Mithraics, a powerful and devoted people who follow a precise rank of spiritual rules in worship of their one God, Sol. Raised by Wolves cleverly shows both sides of this war, as it begins as two stories that eventually converge into one.

One side of the story follows Sue/Mary and Marcus/Caleb, two die-hard Atheist warriors who happen upon a rare opportunity to escape Earth via the Mithraic Arc. Although it goes against everything they believe in, they are desperate to escape their burning planet and choose to undergo facial reconstruction surgery in order to resemble a high ranking Mithraic general and his wife they recently murdered. While Sue both regrets and doubts that they will be able to continue the masquerade once aboard the Arc, Caleb assures her that they will be able to pull it off. A huge rift is thrown into their plan when they board the Arc, enter their space pods (designed to preserve their bodies), and are launched into a shared mental simulation. To their surprise, the Mithraic general and his wife whose identities they snatched have a son named Paul, that they now have to factor into their charade. Though it seems impossible to convince a child that these strangers behind familiar faces could be his parents, Paul’s original parents appeared to be so cold and absentee, that he welcomes the warm attention from Caleb and Sue. Though he does happen to be initially unsettled by this strange new parenting style, Caleb reassures Paul that people simply behave differently in the simulation.

While Sue and Caleb’s story begins to unfold, another completely alternate narrative is also unraveling. On a far off planet named Kepler 22B, a ship with two highly advanced androids, Mother and Father, has landed. On board with them is the fragile cargo of 12 frozen human embryos, and all the essentials needed for creating a new human civilization. It’s basically like easy bake humans! The key player in this scenario is Mother, an Android programmed to not only assist in the birth of the children, but also to raise and protect them. One notable difference is that Mother and Father were clearly not programmed by the Mithraic, but an atheist scientist from Earth with hopes of creating a future of humanity free from Mithraic influence. Through a series of unfortunate and unpredictable events, after starting with 12 embryos and 6 children, Mother and Father are left with only one child, a courageous boy named Campion. Their quiet and simple life is drastically uprooted when the Mithraic Arc is discovered by Mother on Kepler 22B. Fiercely determined to protect Campion and fulfill her creator’s mission, Mother begins to evolve dramatically when she believes she is presented with a great external threat. A series of fascinating and enthralling events ensue when the two entities collide, both fighting tirelessly for not only their survival, but for the right to decide which version of humanity will continue. Changes of heart and understanding, as well as corruption and disaster occur on both sides, telling an authentic human story where there aren’t any “villains” and “heroes,” but rather human beings - and in this case, androids - who are multi-faceted and possess great depth of character.

Final Analysis

For nine episodes, you are lead along this captivating and conflicting adventure, hypnotized by cutting-edge special effects, characters, and the conflicts plaguing them. You experience all the emotions alongside them, and have changes of heart for every character in the series. But by the time you arrive at episode 10, you are hit by a finale that is absolutely unexpected in every way. I, myself, was delighted by my own level of surprise and lack of ability to predict what transpired. While the finale leaves you with more questions than answers - and certainly could be a set-up for a second season - it also serves as a mind-shattering reminder that there is so much we do not know, and much we can’t control. Sometimes no matter what we do, environmental forces have a way of ripping the rug out from under us.

In one of the many enlightening conversations between life technician android, Karl, and Mother, Mother gets at the heart of this human condition. She realizes that no matter how hard you may try to control the outcome of something - in this case, trying to get her kids to follow atheist ideals - there are some things that cannot be controlled or even understood. As Karl says, “Humans often complain of suffering, but they also herald it,” to which Mother replies, “Yes, Despite being raised Pacifist, my son Campion and his siblings often played war. What they derived from such games, is beyond my understanding.” Another instance where this idea is brought up is when Sue helps Mother survive in the cave by giving her blood, despite her initial misgivings about androids. Though she remains an atheist throughout the series, Sue realizes that, “I know that Sol is a lie. But suddenly I understood how, when people can’t believe their luck, they have to make up a god to thank for it.” Seeing the hard-headed characters like Mother and Sue both surrender to their lack of understanding is just another example of how deeply philosophical this series is, and how the creators drive home the idea that no one - not even an Android - knows everything. We should unite in our understanding of the unknown, rather than divide ourselves. It is a philosophy that has long been explored in great ancient works but remains true today, and it is a big part of what makes Raised by Wolves so powerful. I will be anxiously awaiting future seasons (if there are some in the making), and will most definitely be rewatching season one, for much like the narrative that it tells, this show has got many layers to it that I’ve yet to fully understand.

“Not-knowing is true knowledge.

Presuming to know is a disease.

First realize that you are sick; then you can move toward health.

The Master is her own physician.

She has healed herself of all knowing.

Thus she is truly whole.”

-Tao de Ching (pg. 71)

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