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Raised by Wolves Is White, Gooey Nonsense

Abubakar Salim and Amanda Collin in Raised by Wolves.
Abubakar Salim and Amanda Collin in Raised by Wolves.
Photo: Coco Van Oppens/HBO Max

HBO Max’s sci-fi epic Raised by Wolves has completed its first season today with “The Beginning,” but after 10 episodes of future religion drama, I’m still not sure there’s any substance. Except, of course, for that white, milky substance Ridley Scott is so well-known for.

Illustration for article titled iRaised by Wolves/i Is White, Gooey Nonsense
Graphic: Jim Cooke

While Scott’s name is strewn across all of the marketing for the streaming series, it was in fact created by Aaron Guzikowski (Scott directed several episodes and executive produces). Raised by Wolves is not meant to be a part of Scott’s Alien-verse but after watching even just the first episode you’d be forgiven for thinking so. Indeed, in an interview with Deadline, Guzikowski was asked directly about whether the show would connect to Alien.

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“Obviously, I was hugely influenced by all of his work, Prometheus included, for sure, and when I first met with him, we talked all about it. But there was never any concern with him in terms of how it was going to connect to his other stuff. He more wanted to just kind of take it for what it was. And obviously, there’s a lot of homages to the other stuff he’s worked on, I mean, because he’s built this whole visual vocabulary in terms of modern science fiction. That’s part of the vocabulary of the show,” Guzikowski said. “So, it was interesting, but we never talked about how specifically the series would fit into that mythology, nor was that really ever the goal. “

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The series mostly takes place on a planet named Kepler-22b after a great war between the Mithraic religion (who use powerful androids called Necromancers) and atheists destroyed Earth. The Mithraics believed they were the only ones with the technology to leave and colonize another inhabitable planet, but they were wrong. A scientist named Campion Sturges (Cosmo Jarvis) reprogrammed one of the Necromancers and sent her—now known as Mother (Amanda Collin)—to Kepler-22b with another android—Father (Abubakar Salim)—with human embryos (yes, like Alien: Covenant) to repopulate but without religion as a guiding force.

How do Mother and Father grow these children? In artificial wombs brought along for the journey, but not before Mother “feeds” them the white goo inside her from six faux-nipples. Yes, that white “blood,” the exact same thing Scott gave us with the android Ash in 1979's Alien, is what these androids are made of too. The series features several more homages to Scott’s universe that, if he weren’t involved, would likely see some lawsuits over similarities.

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  • The cave drawings Raised by Wolves’ Paul (Felix Jamieson) sees clearly detailing the androids’ arrival on the planet are akin to the star maps Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discovered in Prometheus.
  • The “mask” worn by the android in Mother’s vision (and that we see again later) is almost identical to the Engineer’s helmets.
  • Indeed, the de-evolved human that attempted to kill Mother has a facial design similar to the giant, un-masked Engineers.
  • Mother’s seventh child, aka the giant flying snake, looked a lot like the “Hammerpede” snake creature that Millburn in Prometheus decided to touch when it was first “born.”
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I couldn’t help thinking: Does Scott have a “milk guy” or a “phallic creature guy” that he uses as his go-to on these projects, where that’s their sole job? But, wait, there’s more!

Speaking with Collider, Guzikowski said, “We lay out in season one sort of this kind of mystery in terms of where did this technology [for the Necromancers] come from? The Mithraic discovered that encrypted in their scriptures were these blueprints, essentially, these designs for various technologies, which they proceeded to build and then use to basically win the war [against the Atheists], but they also forced the end of the world in the process. So that we do know. We also know that there seems to be a connection between some of that technology and what we have found so far on Kepler-22b.” Kind of like the Engineers spreading hints out across the universe, no? And we can’t forget about the motherhood themes. Oh, the motherhood themes!

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Outside of the Alien-verse comparisons, on its own, Raised by Wolves is just remarkably dull. Visually, it’s stunning, and Collin and Salim are superb as Mother and Father, but outside of their evolution over the course of the series, I found little to care about. The pacing is agonizing, with plot reveals being strewn way too far apart to hold interest. I forced myself to watch all 10 episodes hoping for something more and at each turn was left wanting. The science vs. religion theme has been utilized countless times over in fiction and considering that was the crux of the series, it should have spawned something worth talking about. Instead, it’s the usual mix of “I’m right, you’re wrong...hey, maybe there are things we both don’t know.”

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The idea of Travis Fimmel’s Marcus and Niamh Algar’s Sue stealing the faces of Mithraic believers to save themselves had a chance to develop into something dramatic; instead, Marcus turned into a Super Believer practically overnight and Sue dropped him like a bad habit. Mini-Campion (Winta McGrath)—named after Mother’s creator—and Paul will eventually come head to head over who is the “chosen one,” that rapist being dragged around for weeks was absolutely unnecessary, and the giant holes teased throughout the season turned out to go...straight through to the other side of the planet. That giant 20-sided die in the middle of the desert? Well, you’ll have to wonder about that one for a while yet. Or you might be too busy worrying about getting eaten by the giant, flying snake that now exists once more on Kepler-22b. The bad haircuts? Those will never be explained.

I’ve heard from a few folks who’ve enjoyed Raised by Wolves, and if you’re one I am happy for you. It just left me utterly unfulfilled when I wanted to feast on glorious sci-fi.

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Raised by Wolves has already been renewed for a second season but Guzikowski said to Collider, “If I was forced to truncate that arc, it could be truncated. But hopefully it’s a good long five, six-season arc for the whole thing in terms of the map that exists now.” God help the children.

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Deputy Editor, io9. Loves cats.

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DISCUSSION

Anyone else remember Earth 2? The supernatural “planet is alive” theme resonates hard in RBW. So much was wrong with this show, and I’d like to see how much Scott altered the original vision with his tropes. The telepathic communication was a cop out for good story writing; not explaining being able to survive flying through the planet, dark photons, magical cave paintings, and now devolved humans seem like lazy, dues ex machine plot devices.

Aside from the ridiculous plot, the casting was terrible too. The child actors were just awful, Campion was obnoxious as hell and Paul was as interesting as plain yogurt. Hell the title sequence was awful too. Then the release schedule made no sense. The entirety of the show made no sense.