Raised by Wolves is the newest sci-fi endeavor from Ridley Scott. The prolific director has showcased a deep interest in the concept of androids in his recent Alien films and this new HBO Max exclusive show definitely feels like it is born from that same fascination. Does that mean it is any good?
The story of Raised by Wolves follows Campion (Winta McGrath), a young human boy who is raised by two androids, Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim), but is soon made aware of a surviving contingent of humans aboard an interstellar ark. When these humans arrive on Campion’s desolate homeworld, it is soon clear that there is a serious divide in the ideologies of Campion’s parents and the surviving members of the human race.
Ridley Scott is an avowed believer in the idea of intelligent design, and Raised by Wolves is very blunt about the thematic issues it wants to tackle in regards to these concepts. We are told that religiously motivated wars wiped out the majority of humanity, and that Mother and Father were created by atheists who sent them into space in the hopes of colonizing a planet and reviving the human race. Right out the gate, the series from writer/creator Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners) is going to be divisive with its blatant religious commentary.
However, these themes are thought-provoking as displayed in the series, and Raised by Wolves has a steady enough hand with its thematic to keep even the skeptical on board. It is always nice to see science fiction that is unabashed in its commentary, regardless of whether or not the viewer directly agrees with the story’s own feelings.
But, it isn’t all about the subtext. Raised by Wolves offers plenty of surface value for fans of prestige television and science fiction. The first two episodes are directed by Ridley Scott and the skilled director brings his usual level of polish to the show. Even if you felt mixed or negative about the scripts for Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, both of those films showcased tremendous production value. While this HBO Max series isn’t quite as extravagant due to budget, it is still very impressive for a television series.
Probably the most engaging element of Raised by Wolves is its acting ensemble. Winta McGrath is a capable young actor and has to shoulder a lot of the show’s drama as the perspective character. The real show-stealer is Amanda Collin as Mother, a terrifying and formidable protector who begins to breakdown after some time on the desert planet. There is a sequence in the show’s premiere episode that is purposefully thrilling and over-the-top and it is sold thanks to Collin’s commitment to her performance.
Though, that same sequence also points to one of the issues Raised by Wolves suffers from. The method by which we learn new information about the characters and their world is deliberately abrupt and shocking. This is effective when you are in the moment, but upon reflection, it comes across as a weak storytelling device. There is a lack of proper build or setup to certain events that could have made specific incidents more potent.
And while the initial premise of Raised by Wolves is a provocative one, the show does suffer from some pacing issues. It almost feels like Guzikowski’s pitch could have been a single, self-contained feature film instead of a protracted television series. Once the premiere is out of the way and the larger story starts to unfold, the show can feel a touch stagnant as it tries to come up with new obstacles to clear with each episode.
Don’t take this as a total denouncing of Raised by Wolves. Though it does fall victim to these pacing issues, the core ideas and drama at the center of it all will maintain your interest. Add to that the excellent production and filmmaking polish and this is one of the better sci-fi shows of the year. It is leagues above something like Peacock’s timid take on Brave New World. Ridley Scott’s new show has teeth and is not afraid to bare them.
If you are looking for a sci-fi show that is pointedly for adults without devolving into action schlock, Raised by Wolves will scratch your itch. Though, it will be tough to see this series lasting much past a single season or two at the most. The story itself is a fascinating one, but it also seems intentionally limited in how far it can go. If we end up with nothing more than a single season of a well-made, alluring, and intellectually stimulating show, then that isn’t the worst thing that could happen in 2020.