Raised by Wolves





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

Kepler 22b isn’t exactly a galactic garden spot. But as they used to say on Earth, beggars can’t be choosers.

There is no Earth anymore—not one that’s habitable, at least. A vicious global war, fought between atheists and the adherents of Mithraism, made sure of that. The Mithraics won the war but left the planet in shambles, forcing them to look elsewhere for greener—or, at least, less deader—pastures. And Kepler 22b seems to be able to support some forms of life, at least. Human life? Well, that’s an open-ended question.

But the atheists aren’t quite dead yet, either. The losing team actually got a head start on Kepler, sending a dozen human embryos along with a pair of caretaker androids—named Mother and Father, fittingly. Alas for the future of atheism, only a half-dozen became actual children, and just one, Campion, survived to see the age of 12. Getting to 13 might be a challenge, given that his techno-parents are showing signs of breaking down.

While Campion’s future is still very much up in the chilly Keplerian air, the Mithraics have a mysterious prophecy telling of an “orphan boy who dwells in an empty land.” And for a kid raised by atheist androids, Campion has shown a curious penchant for prayer.

Exodus: Gods and Things

Remnants of both civilizations are trying to set up shop on the planet by the time the first episode comes to a close. And let’s just say that tensions everywhere are running pretty high.

Mother, turns out, is more than just your run-of-the-mill android. She’s what’s called a necromancer—a ruthless weapon of destruction that, true to her make and model, kills a good chunk of the surviving Mithraics. But caring for Campion stirred some perhaps unprogrammed maternal leanings in the ol’ bucket of bolts, too. In fact, she rescued/kidnapped five Mithraic kids from the destruction she wrought and brought them home with her. Nothing like some new playmates for Campion, right?

The surviving Mithraics would like to get their kids back, naturally. But they’ll have to continue to, well, survive for a little while longer to do so. Plus, there’s some question about whether Sol—the sun-based deity they worship—really wants them to rescue their sons and daughters. While a couple of secret heathens in their midst (Marcus and Sue) want desperately to whisk their own kidnapped lad to safety, others in the group caution sagely that Sol works in mysterious ways.

Jaded Runner

Ridley Scott knows a thing or two about telling a good sci-fi story. As a director, he’s told some of Hollywood’s most memorable, from Alien to Blade Runner to, in more recent days, The Martian. He’s also one of Hollywood’s most outspoken and, at times, vitriolic atheists.

But while Scott may turn his back on religion in his personal life, he loves dealing with spiritual themes in his work, whether subtly or explicitly. Count Raised by Wolves (which Scott executive produced, directing the first two episodes) in the latter category.

You can see Scott and the show’s other creators weighing and poking at the nature of faith through Mithraism (once a real religion that was one of early Christianity’s prime rivals in the wildly diverse Roman Empire).

“Belief in the unreal can comfort the human mind, but it also weakens it,” Mother tells Campion. “The civilization you’re seeding here we built on humanity’s belief in itself, not in an imagined deity.”

That, we assume, is Scott talking. The duplicity and hypocrisy we see from the warlike Mithraics seem to drive home the point that organized religion is a terrible thing, echoing a line from Scott’s own Crusade saga Kingdom of Heaven: “I have seen too much religion in the eyes of too many murderers.”

And yet Mother is a murderer, too, suggesting that technology’s got some issues as well. Mysterious voices and prophecies echo through the alien air. If you squint a lot, you can even find a pro-life message of sorts here. We can assume that this story will eventually land somewhere in the realm of Scott’s trademark humanism, but the ride to that destination could be an interesting one, at least.

It’ll also be a painfully bloody one. Mother can literally kill with a look—exploding folks who offend her in some way. She and Father wear tight-fitting suits that are so suggestive they might as well be nude. (Oh, Mother appears naked, too—though because of her android nature, her more critical elements are just as well defined as a Barbie doll.)

Language isn’t much of an issue on Kepler. Nor is alcohol or drug use—though technology on display can twist reality and put folks to sleep as effectively as drugs can.Raised by Wolves, then, isn’t a horror show in every respect. But it’s certainly not for families. And like Kepler 22b, isn’t not entirely hospitable to even mature visitors, either.

Episode Reviews

Sept. 10, 2020, Episode 4: “Nature’s Course”

Marcus, a captain in the Mithraic survivor group, and his wife, Sue, try to figure out a way to convince the group’s leader, Lucius, to attack Mother and Father’s settlement in order to rescue their child (whom Mother abducted in Episode 1). Meanwhile, the Mithraic children at Mother and Father’s are starving to death; Father decides to kill a strange creature they captured (the episode before) for food—and hopefully teach the children some lessons about survival.

Campion is particularly against the creature’s death. He’s been listening to some of the religious talk from the other children and tells his father, “Death is forever when you’re an animal.”

“Death is forever for all organic life forms, Campion,” the atheist Father tells him.

“Fine,” Campion says. “Whatever you want me to say, I’ll say it,” but begs Father to find another way to feed everyone first.

The search is unsuccessful, in spite of Campion praying to Sol for help. Father insists that the children kill he creature. One stabs the thing with a spear, but only injures it, and the rest run away. Another human, Tempest, finishes the deed a day or two later, then sinks her hands into the animal’s carcass and pulls bloody hands to her face. But then she screams: She later carries a fetus out and shows it to Father. “It was a mother,” she says.

The realization strikes Tempest particularly strongly, perhaps, because she herself is expecting. The pregnancy was unwanted, though: The teen was (we learn in an earlier episode) impregnated by a Mithraic leader. When she watches Mother crafting a scalpel, Tempest is worried that Mother plans to cut the baby out of her. Instead, mother causes her and the other children to fall asleep, then (rather grotesquely) pulls tracking devices out of their ankles. In flashback, we see that siblings of Campion accidentally killed some fetuses. (Mother and Campion ceremonially dump them in a deep hole.)

Among the Mithraics, we hear a great deal of talk about the will of Mithras and whether certain people may be losing their faith. They find a strange, clearly manmade boulder that the Mithraics believe came from their sun deity, Sol. One member of the group confesses to his wife that he heard a strange voice right before a miracle/act of judgment seems visited upon the group.

A man burns alive. An android is shot several times, and a couple of people go through her innards. There’s talk about whether it’s Sol’s will to “sacrifice” the missing children. Mother visits a simulated Mithraic church service.

Sept. 3, 2020, Episode 1: “Raised by Wolves”

Androids Mother and Father crash land on Kepler 22b with a handful of human embryos. Their assignment: to raise them to self-sufficiency and launch a new, atheistic civilization on this alien world. But they know that the Mithraics are on their way, too. When all but one of the children die and Mother starts to break down, Father decides it’d be best to signal the newcomers and to ship their surviving boy, Campion, to them. “He needs to be with other humans,” he tells Mother.

Mother does not take it well. She picks up Father and impales him on the massive tooth of a long-dead creature; then she reaches into the android’s chest cavity and yanks out his organ-like consciousness, thus “killing” him. But she’s just getting started.

When the Mithraics arrive and seem primed to take the boy, her eyes and ears combine to horrifically blister several of their faces. (Just one escapes her wrath.) She then takes a ship, heads up to the Mithraic arc and literally explodes a score of people to break into the control room. There, she rips off the eyelid of a still somehow surviving victim and uses the exposed eye to override the ship’s directive and send it crashing into the planet—killing nearly all on board. (She “rescues” a few children to take home with her.)

Both Mother and Father are mostly realistic, human-seeming androids, and they wear form-fitting, silvery outfits that hug every curve and cranny imaginable. We see Mother “topless,” exposing her rounded, unclothed-Barbie-like chest.

A human baby arrives, apparently stillborn, with a transparent, mucousy cowl covering his face. Mother brings the boy back to life by pressing the baby’s face to her body and singing to him, tears trickling down her cheeks. Five children die off-camera: One from falling down a huge pit, the other four from a mysterious disease. We see scenes of horrific warfare—apparently “memories” from a war-torn Earth. Two androids fight, and one “dies.” White liquid seeps from malfunctioning androids, looking a bit like milky blood.

Mother and Father frequently discuss religion—teaching Campion that it’s a very bad thing and that any god humans might believe in is imagined.

“And what if it’s not imagined?” Campion asks. They won the war, after all. What if praying will make Spiria (Campion’s sick sister) better?”

“No, Campion. Only science can do that,” Mother says. She adds, “You are atheists. Peaceful. Technocratic. It’s the only path to progress.”

But behind Mother’s back, Campion sometimes seems to pray. And Father notices. “Each death he suffers pushes him further towards belief,” he says. “After all our teachings, it’s the only thing that eases his suffering.”

We hear the Mithraics mention religion, too. They also lie to get what they want.

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Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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