Raised by Wolves: Who Can Be Trusted?

Ridley Scott directs the first two episodes of the HBO Max Originals series that centers on mankind’s attempt to avoid extinction.

Amanda Collin as Mother in Raised by Wolves
Photo: HBO Max

This Raised by Wolves article contains spoilers.

It’s been several months since HBO retooled its streaming footprint, and HBO Max carries on the pay channel’s standard of producing high quality speculative fiction. Created by Aaron Guzikowski, Raised by Wolves finds that happy medium between dropping an entire season in one fell swoop or asking viewers to wait a full seven days between episodes. The first three episodes of the initial season debuted together on September 3, 2020, with seven more to appear on a weekly basis.

Stories centering around the remnants of the human race trying to avoid extinction are nothing new, but assigning a pair of androids the task of giving birth to and then raising a group of human children opens the door to a myriad of narrative possibilities. Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) directs the first two episodes that establish a theme of religious fanaticism versus atheism in a survival scenario that leaves viewers questioning whom they can trust.

Though the androids, Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim), freely admit they’ve been programmed to raise and protect the children, director Scott works hard to establish the bonds that develop between the caregivers and their sole surviving child, Campion. As his siblings ultimately succumb to the harsh surroundings of planet Kepler 22b, Campion finds himself examining his own beliefs despite Mother and Father’s insistence he renounce any religious ideals. Interestingly, father notices that the deaths of his brothers and sisters only serve to escalate the intensity of his existential questions.

The arrival of the Mithraic Ark on Kepler 22b leads to one of the more shocking plot points of the first two episodes when Mother discovers aspects of herself that force Campion (Winta McGrath) and Father to re-evaluate her role moving forward. Is Mother evil or just a badly reprogrammed war machine? In a frighteningly horrific encounter, Mother boards the Ark and systematically terminates the majority of the crew and the ship’s occupants. However, it’s her decision to take five Mithraic children back to the camp that sends the story in a new direction, and we immediately understand her thinking. “Don’t worry, Father; this time we’ll get it right.”

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With a well-timed extended flashback sequence, viewers gain insight into the  Mithraics, and though we don’t glimpse the true origins of the conflict, we sense the hopelessness the soldiers feel as the war drags on. In a clever plot twist, two atheists employ a Mithraic medical android to alter their appearances and escape Earth aboard the Ark. In a deftly executed parallel to Mother and Father’s devotion to their children, Marcus (Travis Fimmel/Vikings) and Sue (Niamh Algar) discover that the identities they’ve assumed have a son, and it doesn’t take long for them to bond with the boy, who also turns to be one of the children abducted by Mother. How long the two atheists can successfully masquerade as followers of Sol becomes central to their story as they urge the sect’s leader to take action and order a rescue party.

Though we’re only given bits and pieces of the believers vs non-believers backstory, it’s enough to know it’s unclear who the good guys are in this showdown. There are certainly cracks in the Mithraic armor, and the parental distancing that pervades the clan, coupled with hints of sexual abuse all lead us to see the religious zealots as the villains here. But it’s also impossible to ignore the slaughter on the Ark at Mother’s hands leading viewers to acknowledge it might take some time for the true story to unfold.

Yes, the creatures that seemingly come out of nowhere present a compelling mini-arc, but it’s the notion that Campion may be the “chosen one” sought by the Mithraics’ that promises to guide the tale and pit Mother and Father against Marcus and the followers of Sol. And finally, the harsh conditions in which both factions find themselves make the notion of a journey to a more temperate climate a likely scenario.

Raised by Wolves gets off to a flying start, and even though a sci-fi trope minefield lies at the ready, there’s a wealth of material for director and executive producer Ridley Scott to explore. Unfortunately, a series that appears ripe for the bygone watercooler discussion will be temporarily relegated to the virtual realm, but that does seem to be what the near future holds.