This is a spoiler-free review of HBO Max’s Raised By Wolves. Come back on September 3 for our spoiler-filled deep-dive into the first three episodes. For more from our exclusive IGN Premiere preview of Raised By Wolves, check out our Raised By Wolves trailer debut, see how Raised By Wolves utilizes Ridley Scott’s distinctive aesthetics and themes in our trailer breakdown, and see the new Raised By Wolves posters we debuted earlier this week.
Raised by Wolves feels like the logical next step in Ridley Scott’s career. The Alien and Blade Runner director has returned to artificially intelligent characters in recent years with films like Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, so it follows that his first US TV directing gig would be about gradually deteriorating AI wrestling against their programming on a mysterious, far-flung world.
The HBO Max series, which releases its first three episodes on Thursday, September 3, was created by Prisoners scribe Aaron Guzikowski with Scott on board as executive producer. Scott also helmed the first two installments – setting the stage for a 10-part saga that feels at once new and familiar – before passing episode 3 onto his son Luke (who directed several supplemental short films for Blade Runner 2049, Alien: Covenant, and The Martian). This father-son handoff is fitting; Raised by Wolves centers on a pair of humanoid androids tasked with raising a new generation of human children, exploring the limits of their own humanity — and their own inhumanity — in the process.
The show’s premise seems simple at first, though it plays its cards devilishly close to its chest. There aren’t any spoilers in this review, though do look out for my detailed deep-dive once the show has officially premiered; there is a lot to get into, and each installment feels like it opens up new doors and new possibilities. The first episode takes what would ordinarily be a prologue in voiceover or opening text and spreads it across an entire hour, introducing us to a pair of androids simply named Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim) who arrive on a distant planet sometime after the Earth becomes uninhabitable.
Despite the conflicting programming at their core, Mother and Father have a personable rapport and they share a common objective: birthing six human embryos on this distant world, seeding it with new life, and raising these six children to avoid the mistakes which led to humanity’s implosion. The show is able to play coy with its specifics longer than most sci-fi stories of its ilk; after all, the only real exposition at first is what Mother and Father do and do not teach their kids (what information is or is not shared, and why, is an entertaining part of the mystery). All we seem to know for sure is this: the Earth was torn apart by religious zealotry, and a core belief of one major faction — the sun-worshipping Mithraic — involved stern opposition to androids raising human children.
Mother, Father, and their kids are, therefore, refugees of sorts. They arrived on a tiny spacecraft that now hangs off an inner ledge of one of this planet’s many enormous holes (deep, unending caverns shot dizzyingly by Scott). We don’t yet know who sent them here, but we know they weren’t Earth’s only survivors; somewhere, out in the universe, a ship known as The Ark carries a thousand Mithraic passengers to distant quadrants, and all it would take to contact The Ark is someone switching on Mother and Father’s ship — should they be able to reach it.
Raised By Wolves: Season 1 Photos
The first episode is focused mostly on this makeshift interstellar family, while the second and third flesh out the backstories of two Mithraic characters in particular — Marcus (Travis Fimmel) and Sue (Niamh Algar) — in manners both delightful and surprising, positioning them as thematic mirrors to Mother and Father in ways best left unspoiled. The show is constantly twisting its screws, throwing new sci-fi concepts at the wall at breakneck speed, though they seem to stick for the most part. No genre element is introduced without the express purpose of exploring its characters and exacerbating their crises of identity, even if it takes a while to get a handle on what the premise actually is (the “who” and “why” of Earth’s collapse is left frustratingly oblique, even when it seems like the central focus).
However, these specifics become a secondary concern when someone like Ridley Scott is at the helm. The opening scenes promise a wildly idiosyncratic story in the vein of Scott gleefully toying with his creations, a career-long instinct that appeared to come to Frankensteinian fruition in Alien: Covenant. Here, though, body horror takes a back seat, even though some elements undoubtedly carry over.
The main focus appears to be nature of the nuclear family — a familiar structure in the face of societal deterioration — from the ways it protects, to the ways in which it stifles. As much as the show is about characters coming physically undone (and about Scott’s signature, milky android innards), it’s also a story about white lies and betrayals; horrors that go hand-in-hand with emotional intimacy.
There’s a real weight to everything that happens, but it wouldn’t be a post-Prometheus Scott story if it weren’t also incredibly fun to watch. The family’s bland bodysuits and floppy, uniform hats feel winkingly retro-futuristic. (I sometimes wondered if the show was based on a series of decades old pulp sci-fi novels; to my delight, it’s wholly original.) What makes the show especially enticing is Mother and Father themselves — especially Amanda Collin, who oscillates fearlessly between maternal and terrifying, in a performance that teeters on the edge of madness but never fails to be empathetic. The Scotts even shoot Mother the way they shoot this new planet: in one moment it’s home, warm and welcoming. In the next, it’s filmed in shadow, as untold dangers lurk within its hidden corners. (Fittingly, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski shoots the first two episodes before handing the camera over to his Alien: Covenant second unit director Ross Emery, who also shot a trio of Covenant shorts, thus keeping it all in the family).
To put it simply, Raised by Wolves is peak Ridley Scott. Though what appears to separate it from his android predecessors (Alien, Blade Runner, and his Alien prequels) is something all too fitting for a show coming out in 2020. Where the aforementioned works all featured androids in somewhat functioning human societies — even those taking place on distant worlds — Raised by Wolves continues this exploration amidst an ever-shifting status quo, in which any semblance of societal function seems like a luxury of the past. Humanity’s remnants exist in the radioactive afterglow of a world torn apart by extreme, irreconcilable convictions. So rather than a story of androids figuring out how they fit into an ostensibly normal world, the show pushes this familiar premise into unfamiliar territory, as technological beings are forced to reckon not only with what humanity is, but what it once was — the worst parts of it, which undoubtedly led to its downfall.
In addition to protective and parental instincts, this appetite for destruction, and penchant for clutching tightly to one’s beliefs, is as much a part of the programming Mother and Father need to reckon with. And so, Raised by Wolves holds a terrifying amount of relevance — at least initially, though it seems poised to keep up its momentum.