WARNING: THERE BE MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
Raised by Wolves (the new science fiction epic from Executive Producer Ridley Scott) tells the story of two androids, “Mother” and “Father” who are attempting to raise human children on a far away planet (Kepler-22b) after fleeing a dying at-war Earth. They have been tasked with this mission by their creator (a leader of The Atheists) but are struggling to keep their wards alive on a harsh and mostly inhospitable planet. Their troubles are compounded when an “ark” full of humans from the opposing side (The Mithraic) appears and attempts to kidnap their one surviving child. Blood and secrets are spilled alike as both “families” struggle to share the planet.
Travis Fimmel (of Vikings) plays Marcus, one of the captains of the Mithraic army, and Niamh Algar (Tania in The Bisexual) his beleaguered wife Sue. Both characters have some serious skeletons in their closets but become devoted parents of their new son Paul (Felix Jamieson). Algar is great as the tense and often frustrated Sue, and her torment over how to best be a mother to Paul is palpable. Fimmel is very much at home playing another gruff warrior type, but I wonder if this character will get pushed towards something more complex and how he will handle that?
The true stars of the show are, of course, Amanda Collin as Mother and Abubakar Salim as Father. They manage to bring something new and exciting to what could have been a standard “android” performance. They both thread the fine line between cold, analytical robots and parents who are (in this case) literally hardwired to love and protect their children. Collin, as Mother, is able to switch back and forth between the terrifying “Necromancer” bot (her protective, weapon mode) and the gentle yet stern Mother to her children. Likewise, Salim stole my heart as the warm and congenial Father – a less advanced android who is often out of his depths but tries his hardest (as many fathers do) to be the peacekeeper and to break the tension with some truly next level dad jokes. Basically what I’m saying is that Father (and his Father Jokes) are the best and must be protected at all costs.
As a life-long lover of retro science fiction, the aesthetic of Raised by Wolves really made my heart sing. It is refreshing to see something fun done with the costume design. The 2010s have been plagued with sci-fi (with the exception of Star Trek and Star Wars) whose aesthetic is “S.W.A.T. gear but with hologram tech” or “S.W.A.T. gear but with aliens) and it is so boring! The rubber latex body suits and sleek bell helmets of Mother and Father bring to mind films like The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, and even Barbarella – but with a fetishy twist. Even when Mother goes into her “necromancer” mode, she looks like the iconic “Machine Man” from Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis.
Conversely, the Mithraic army is garbed in uniforms straight out of the 13th century. They are literal and metaphorical crusaders, conquering this new planet in the name of Sol. They are garbed in armor and white robes, their clerics have monkish bowl cuts, and their soldiers have what can only be described as a tactical mullet. Even the human atheists that we meet on Earth wear bronze helmets that look straight out of the crusades. They are on a quest. A quest to find their holy grail – a prophet that will help them save what is left of humanity. This clash of aesthetics (humans adorned in the clothing of their past and androids clothed in a former human ideal of the future) serves to highlight not only their religious differences but their ways of viewing the world.
The action sequences are simultaneously beautiful, intense, and often gory. Mother has some, let’s just say “special” abilities that make her a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. And while the costuming and design of the ships is stunning and eye-catching, the cinematography does at times fall into the 2010-teens trap of “make everything one color.” Scenes in the desert are entirely beige. Scenes in the caves are barely lit and entirely blue. It makes me miss the days of technicolor. However, the inflatable dome that the androids and their children live in is definitely Quarantine Goals. Just plop me in a squishy dome in South Africa (where it was filmed) is all I’m sayin’.
Despite that gripe, Raised by Wolves tells a gripping, and sometimes heart-rending, story about parenthood. Neither set of parents is biological, but both love their child (or children) fiercely and would do anything to protect them. They are also full of flaws. Marcus and Sue – but especially Marcus – is scarred from a lifetime of trauma as a child soldier. Even as he tries to give Paul the childhood he never had, he slips into the abusive patterns of his past. Mother and Father, as androids, are trying to raise their children but never had a childhood to compare it to. Mother is controlling and overprotective, while Father is often ignored or dismissed because of his jovial nature. Both feel like they are struggling to give their children the tools they need to survive. And even though both sets of parents are at odds, you can’t help but root for both parties to succeed and find peace.
Overall, if you have a love for science-fiction, beautiful set pieces, epic storytelling, AND you have access to HBOMax, then you should definitely check out Raised by Wolves. The first three episodes dropped September 3 and the rest will be airing weekly on Thursdays.