SERIES REVIEW – Ridley Scott‘s post-apocalyptic HBO Max series about religious and atheist warfare in the not-too-distant future is now in its second season. If you haven’t been following and loving sci-fi, now is the time to start paying attention.
At the heart of Raised By Wolves is motherhood, which is fitting. The story is about two androids tasked with raising human children on the remote planet Kepler-22b following a 22nd century Earth war between rival atheist and religious Mitra clans, and the HBO series Max portrays this unique motherhood as both a source of creation and destruction. These two forces are controlled by ‘Mother’, a Mithraic war android known as the Necromancer, who has been transformed to act as the atheist caretaker of her human ‘offspring’ and who, brilliantly embodied by Danish actress Amanda Collin, joins Ian Holm’s Ash and Michael Fassbender’s David as yet another human-looking robot torn between the commands of programming and the lure of human emotions. Sci-fi writer and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski’s work is produced by Ridley Scott, whose Alien and Prometheus are the clear intellectual forerunners.
On the trail of the snake
At the conclusion of the first episode of Raised By Wolves in 2020, “Mom” and her service robot companion “Dad” (Abubakar Salim) have left the barren wasteland colony they founded with their remaining child Campion (Winta McGrath) for the tropical zone on the far side of Kepler-22b. The reason for their journey was the planned destruction of the Mother’s own child, a flying biomechanical snake conceived from the virtual simulated intercourse of the Mother and her creator (yes, strange as that sounds), which at first appeared to be a rapidly growing monster feeding on human blood. Unfortunately, their assassination attempt – diving into the planet’s core – didn’t go as planned. At the beginning of season two, they are discovered by a group of surviving atheists who have established a thriving colony in this region, which is much greener and more fertile than the rocky desert previously inhabited by Mother and Dad.
One AI rules all human
Mom and Dad soon reunite with Campion and the other Mithraic children in this camp. Mom rescued and took under her wing, including Paul (Felix Jamieson), a true believer. He wants to turn Campion into an ardent follower of Sol’s sun god. An advanced quantum computer controls this human outpost, “Trust”, which looks like a brain-spinal column hybrid living in a cylindrical chamber, and which dispenses instructions to its atheist companions through a disembodied voice and its faithful human minion, Cleaver (Peter Christoffersen).
Paul also remains steadfast in his beliefs, which alienates him from Sue (Niamh Algar), an atheist who has assumed the face and identity of Paul’s mother to escape Earth. And he’s even angrier at his deceptive father Marcus (Travis Fimmel), now roaming the wilds of Kepler-22b like a crazed Sol-traveler convinced that the deity is speaking to him – and thus he’s destined to create a new heaven. But the darkening veins on Marcus’ face suggest he has fallen victim to something far more sinister.
They continue to hate each other
Nor is the ongoing conflict between Mother and Marcus, their mutual adversaries (who share a common habit of posing as Jesus Christ), absent now, and the new season of Raised By Wolves slowly put them back on a collision course, though without sacrificing the inner dramas of the more introspective, melancholy characters. Collin is essential to this dark atmosphere. With her close-cropped hair, her latex-clad body bordering on sexuality, and her dark, vacant eyes, even more, haunting when they reflect emotion, the actress has made Mother into a mesmerising, three-dimensional protagonist, predestined by her programming to act violently, caught between her equally ‘synthetic’ maternal instincts and care as protector and nurturer. A real peculiarity of the series is that she has both the coldest and the warmest presence in a drama in which bleakness is the leitmotif, thanks to the colour palette of black, blue and grey as the inhospitable wildness of the alien environment.
So the series has lost none of its original styles and continues to evoke the eerie and mesmerising, stark beauty of Scott’s sci-fi and sci-fi horror films, enhanced by the elegant, silvery, spherical architectural design, the damp passageways and caverns, the milky-white robot blood, and the common fascination with the physical, psychological and emotional fusion between organic and inorganic beings. Like Prometheus, it is a novel (re)creation myth of a civilisation born of different – yet similar – species forced to fight each other if they hope to survive. But this does not mean that the children of The Wolf do not have their own unique identities.
Guzikowski‘s series manages to evoke classic Scott films on several levels at once while at the same time using and developing its own distinctive stylistic and historical elements with a confident hand.