‘Raised by Wolves’ is a religious sci-fi mashup

Monday, September 7, 2020 - 1:56pm

NOSELL

HBO Max

One ubiquitous sci-fi trope is introducing a story with a few establishing shots of a far-off, mysterious desert planet. In the “Raised by Wolves” universe, this planet is Kepler-22b. A dramatic orchestra accompanies a spaceship which crashlands into the sand, revealing two androids — Father (Abubakar Salim, “Informer”) and Mother (Amanda Collin, “Horrible Woman”). They have fled the destruction of Earth by consequence of a great war. Fully decked in chrome helmets and jumpsuits, they make the leap onto the graveled surface of a strange new world, hoping to restart humanity with six human embryos in their possession. The sixth child is stillborn before being nursed back to life by the emotion of his android. He is named Campion (Winta McGrath, “Aloft”), after the last great leader of the humans.

Twelve years after landing, Campion is the last surviving child brought to the new world by Father and Mother. As both androids begin to break down, a spacecraft carrying the Mithraic, a religious order of surviving humans, makes contact with Kepler-22b. Disagreements over loyalty to their core objective cause Mother to kill Father in hopes of raising Campion in a true atheistic fashion. The simultaneous horror that accompanies Mother’s malfunctions rings similar to HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey” or Maschinenmensch from “Metropolis.”

One of the most surprising themes in “Raised by Wolves” is its inquisitive depth concerning the relationship between religion and science. With each passing loss of a family member, Campion becomes more curious and motivated to seek solace in faith. However, Mother warns him that humanity cannot survive unless they forgo belief in “fantasy.” Campion’s only knowledge of human deities comes from his guardians, who reject his idea that prayer might help heal his siblings.

As settlers from The Ark of Heaven — the Mithraic spacecraft — find themselves at Campions’s settlement, they begin to speculate that he is the one about whom a prophecy had been foretold. This evidence foreshadows that Campion is a messiah of sorts. After attempting to secure Campion from Mother, she goes on a horrifying rampage which ends up killing nearly one thousand humans aboard the Ark.

“Raised by Wolves” is an inventive new take on dystopian science fiction. An added genre blend of horror may influence some to subscribe to the newly released HBO Max streaming service. The apparent lack of big-name actors does not ultimately hinder any of the character portrayals, and gives the audience more room to be fully enveloped by an unpredictable storyline. However, while “Raised by Wolves” has no looming structural flaws, it finds itself as a niche title competing against other prominent dystopian HBO series such as “Westworld” or “Lovecraft Country.” While it’s hard to see this title rising above the others, director Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”) is no stranger to bone-chilling violence and thrilling space fantasy. The “Raised by Wolves” pilot never has a dull moment, and makes the viewer feel uneasy about what might happen next. As Mother continues to break down, we, along with Campion, wonder if any amount of prayer will save us from her carnage.