In September 2020, HBO released a new science fiction series entitled Raised By Wolves. The creator is Aaron Guzikowski, and the executive producer is Ridley Scott, most famously known for the Alien movies. Scott also directed the first two episodes. Over the past two days, I watched all ten episodes of the first season. Here is my review. WARNING SPOILERS.
After watching all ten episodes of season one, my first reaction was, “What the hell did I just watch!?” I really do not know whether to like the show or hate it. There are a lot of great features about the show, but there are also some glaring flaws. Here are some pros and cons.
The show takes place in the 22nd Century. On Earth, there is a war between atheists and a religious group called the Mithraic, and the war is ravaging the planet to the point it is becoming uninhabitable. Both groups have made plans to flee to the exoplanet Kepler-22b to make a new colony for humans. The vast majority of the show takes place on Kepler-22b (there are a few flashbacks to Earth), where the atheists have stolen two androids from the Mithraic–one service android and one death-dealing android called a necromancer. The atheists reprogram the two androids and send them to Kepler-22b to be Mother and Father to twelve human embryos, which they are to bring to term and raise to form a new colony. At the same time, the Mithraic are sending one thousand humans to Kepler-22b on an ark to settle a new colony. The main tension in the show is between these two groups.
The setting created is unique, and the visual depiction of Kepler-22b is imaginative but also realistic. The show does a good job at creating and building the atheists and Mithraic, and it is relatively easy for the audience to understand the motivations of these groups.
There is some mysterious force on Kepler-22b, and this force appears to be infecting the minds of both the humans and the androids. Throughout the season, some clues about this force are revealed. There appears to have been some kind of humanoid civilization at some point on Kepler-22b, and this civilization had some kind of connection to extremely large serpent creatures that seem to be long extinct. If you are familiar with Ridley Scott’s other work, the ancient humanoids looks somewhat like the Engineers from the Alien prequels, and there is a hint of some kind of symbiotic or parasitic relationship with the serpent creatures, perhaps like the Xenomorphs. Some within the Mithraic believe the force to be the voice of their god, while the audience is left unsure if the force is supernatural, if it is coming from the humanoids, or if it is coming from the serpents. There is enough mystery and lingering questions to leave the audience engaged and wanting more.
The number one issue I have with the show are the characters. The show utilizes an ensemble of characters, but there is no single character for whom I rooted to succeed because it is quite difficult to like any of the characters. Of the twelve embryos the androids bring to Kepler-22b only six are born, and of those six, only one, named Campion, survives to the show’s present-day. I suppose Campion could be considered the main character, but he is not really likable. He is a whiny twelve-year old boy with no clear story arc. I suppose the other main characters are the androids, Mother and Father, and Marcus and Sue (real names Caleb and Mary), a couple of atheist stowaways on the Mithraic ark, who used plastic surgery to impersonate a Mithraic captain and his wife.
By the end of season one, Marcus has become insane or been corrupted by the mysterious force on Kepler-22b, so he is not very likable. His wife, Sue, is pretty bland and uninteresting. As for the two androids, they have somewhat interesting story arcs, particularly Mother, but you definitely do not like her, as she fluctuates between crazy homicidal maniac and caregiving matron. Father, on the other hand, is probably the most likeable of the bunch, but he is a robot, so you do not really care if he lives or dies.
Plot Holes Galore
There are so many plot holes in this show to the point that they become distracting. Caleb and Mary have plastic surgery on their faces to impersonate Marcus and Sue. Yet, with only plastic surgery they are able to convince Marcus and Sue’s twelve year old son, Paul, they are his parents. The show tries to cover this up by implying that Paul’s real parents barely spoke to him or spent time with him. They would have different voices, different mannerisms, and different bodies from Paul’s real parents, but this is all overlooked.
Another glaring plot hole relates to the crashing of the Mithraic arc. In the first episode, Mother infiltrates the Mithraic arc and crashes it into the surface of Kepler-22b. We see the arc explode and basically vaporize on impact. However, in later episodes, the characters find huge sections of the ship still intact with medical supplies, food, functioning androids, and even human survivors. It is utterly ridiculous.
Perhaps the biggest plot hole is the reaction of the children whom Mother “rescues” from the arc before its destruction. Mother saves some children from the arc to replace the children and “siblings” Campion lost, including Marcus and Sue’s son, Paul. These children just saw the deaths of their parents and their whole society destroyed, but they do not shed a single tear. Within a few days they are protecting Mother and Father from the few Mithraic that survived. It makes absolutely no sense. The androids show more emotions than these children.
CHOSEN ONE PROPHECY
The show utilizes a “chosen one” type prophecy as one of its main plot points. I decided to talk about this in its own section because it is both a pro and a con. The prophecy appears to come from the Mithraic, and it pertains to an orphan who will create a new utopian-type society within the promised land. First, this prophecy is a con because such a prophecy is an overused trope of science fiction and fantasy and is quite unoriginal. However, the prophecy is also a pro because it helps to provide plot in the absence of good character development, and the show does a good job of hinting that at least three characters could be this chosen one. It adds to the show’s strongest element, which is the mystery of the force on Kepler-22b.
I give season one of Raised By Wolves three out of five stars. Overall, there is enough here to keep me interested for season 2. However, the show really needs to step up its game with the characters. Also, there better be a good payoff to the mysterious force on Kepler-22b, as that is what is really driving any interest in the show.