Occasional plot contrivances do arise along the way, as one might expect of such a hefty and fast-paced show. Some of these are, indeed, contrived; the character of Hunter (Ethan Hazzard), for instance, appears to have an unmotivated change of heart in order to restore Father to his original paternal settings, after the Mithraic render him a mere servant. But most of the time, the show’s most convenient developments involve characters learning new information from some mysterious source, whether prophetic cave paintings that pertain to the premise, or the echoing voice purporting to be the Sol. The result may be similar to an actual contrivance, as these goings-on accelerate the plot and thrust the characters into seemingly inorganic conflict — like Paul suddenly learning that Marcus and Sue aren’t really his parents — but the narrative function of these reveals is also perfectly aligned with the show’s thematic core.
Raised by Wolves begins as a psychological exploration of what it means to be human. It centers Mother and Father’s emotional evolution as parents who wrestle with their programming, while mirroring this theme through Marcus and Sue, atheists forced against their own violent wiring for survival, who adopt the mantle of parents long before becoming attuned to the role. Similar questions of one’s natural function, one’s role as a mortal creation, and one’s role as a creator have reared their heads in Scott’s Alien films and in Blade Runner (1982). But in Raised by Wolves, these questions take on a more fanatical bent, as they explore the role of human belief, and the role of faith and mysticism in shaping the human psyche.The one glaring hole in the premise — the half-baked history of the Mithraic-Atheist wars back on Earth — reveals itself to be less of a bug and more of a feature. The show’s “Mithraism” may feel like thinly veiled Catholicism, and its “non-believers” seem to have equally staunch and radical beliefs (to the point of suicide bombings!), but this shift in specifics depoliticizes the premise just enough. Considerations of real-world politics, therefore, rarely interfere with our reading of the show’s deeply personal approach to fanaticism.
Marcus (or Caleb) may be an atheist, but what defines him in relation to the Mithraic isn’t a core difference in belief, but rather, an eerie similarity despite that difference. He was raised as a soldier from an early age, taught to purge the “weakness” of emotion in favor of violent masculine prowess. The Mithraic, similarly, were taught the art of war as a means to attain spiritual purity. Both groups were made to compartmentalize the impetus behind their violence, and were taught to justify it through faith; for The Mithraic, this meant faith in Sol; for Marcus and the atheists, it was faith in a masculine self-image dependent on militaristic glory. And so, when Marcus is plagued by visions and voices at the foot of an enormous temple, it’s easy for him to switch from one mode of “belief” to its apparent polar opposite. Both structures offer him glory and kinship. Both sets of beliefs are paths to the violent forms of domination beaten into him years ago.
This fluid nature of belief is a tenet of the very same programming that allows Mother to be taken advantage of. As a creature seeking answers about her existence, she laments being unable to create life the way Tempest (Jordan Loughran) can; while Mother has been re-programmed to be a protector, her primary protocols as a necromancer lead her to be a destroyer of life, first and foremost — she protects by killing. And so, after Mother comes face to face with an apparition in the form of her creator, reformed Mithraic Campion Sturgess (Cosmo Jarvis), she begins to believe that her physical changes, which allow her to become pregnant, are part of some greater plan. She doesn’t “know” this for sure, but rather, she infers it from the limited information she has, and her conclusions are all in service of her own quest for self-actualization. Her beliefs, like those of the Mithraic, become recursive, with actions that begin to justify themselves.
Mother’s belief in her own biological pregnancy, and her new role as humanity’s savior, are intrinsically tied to her newfound faith. She occupies the same physical and spiritual space as Mother Mary in Catholic scripture (characters like Paul even call her pregnancy divine), but more pertinently, her belief in the veracity of this mission is clouded by her rediscovered love for the real Campion Sturgess. What makes her now feel human isn’t just this new biological function, nor is it just Sturgess reprogramming her as an act of benevolent love, but rather, a mystical combination of the two.
Raised By Wolves: Season 1 Photos
She is both creator and creation, a dual form of divinity that has formed the bedrock of many a human civilization, as we seek to answer fundamental questions about life’s origin and its continued existence. Mother feels human not only because she can create life, but because she has begun to view this feat of downloaded ones and zeroes — a mere hardware update, if you will — as divinely inspired; a gift from her own creator, which leaves her convinced of some greater plan.
But who, or what, is taking advantage of Mother?
The show features various clues about what else might really be happening on Kepler, though it plays its cards close to the chest. Some other culture, some other humanoid civilization already exists here, and Kepler is also awash with feral, four-legged creatures who bear terrifying humanoid faces. In the final episode, Mother and Father speculate on the connection between these “more” and “less” evolved humanoids (and a Neanderthal-like skull they chance upon), with an assumption about these creatures “de” evolving. It’s an inelegant reveal (if it’s a reveal at all) because putting words to these mysteries doesn’t do them enough justice.
What do we know about the civilization on Kepler thus far? The “people” inhabiting it possess shimmering tarot cards — both mysterious ciphers and digital windows into memories —which resemble the cards belonging to a non-Mithraic faction on Earth. There also exists an enormous dodecahedron structure out in the desert, with seemingly mystical powers, which the Mithraic surmise was built by intelligent life. It feels like another mixed religious metaphor, given its resemblance to the Islamic Kaaba. But strangely, this dodecahedron shape reappears to Mother, both in a vision (or memory) triggered by the cards, and in a horrifying relic she chances upon: it seems as if an android was placed within a similarly shaped mechanism, either to be tortured or sacrificed.These discoveries open up new and exciting narrative possibilities, but the most vital question they lead to is of the “chicken-or-egg” variety. What came first? The mechanical contraption, or the enormous temple-like structure? Was one the inspiration for the other? Similarly, since the cave paintings Paul chances upon appear to speak of events within the narrative, what is the connection between them? Are they new records of things which have recently unfolded? Or are they prophecies from long ago, about things which had not yet come to pass?
One could have a field day speculating about what the answers actually are, but for the characters, who don’t yet have a clue about the logistics, the “answer” is simple. The androids, the Mithraic, and now the atheists who have shown up at the end of the season, have all chanced upon things that, to our eyes, might appear to be long-forgotten ruins — except they belong to a civilization that might still exist. The context behind these discoveries might still be far away from a genre and narrative standpoint, but from a sociological perspective, discovering these relics would be akin to “discovering” Stonehenge while the people who built it were still somewhere in the vicinity. The answers to a grand archeological mystery would be just within our grasp. However, the characters in Raised by Wolves have also descended upon a world in motion and claimed it as their own, and they seem to be experiencing the dire consequences of having done so.
The show features winking references to Star Trek — “I’m a doctor, not a bloodbag!” says lovable medical droid Karl (Carel Nel) — though it can’t help but play like a version of Trek filtered through a horror lens. Starfleet’s Prime Directive, one of non-interference with developing civilizations, is broken constantly, though the colonial considerations of doing so are rarely dramatized. In Raised by Wolves, it feels as if the planet itself is rebelling against these outside forces, manipulating them into squabbles through some energy in the ground or in the air, and haunting them through visions of loved ones who have fallen into its core.
These consequences reach their crescendo in the final episode, when Paul turns his gun on Sue after learning her true nature, and when Mother gives birth — in true Ridley Scott fashion — to an alien serpent, which seems to grow rapidly into a creature resembling the many fossils littering the planet. (Could this be why the “voices” deterred Marcus from killing Mother? Was this their grand and devilish plan?)
The delightful horrors in the season finale feel more Lovecraftian than Lovecraft Country. They turn Mother’s fears quite literally inside out, as she’s forced to confront the horrifying miracle of birth in a uniquely grotesque manner. And, if the writing weren’t already deft enough, the entire pregnancy scenario also provides Mother and Father with vital dramatic fodder, prodding at petty jealousies and feelings of inadequacy buried deep in the parts of their programming that make them hurt in ways that feel most human.
The finale’s larger goings on are certainly discomforting — or deliciously enjoyable, if terrifying practical aliens are your thing! — but the most explosive scene in the final hour may actually be a subdued confrontation between the android couple, whose tensions finally boil over. These characters are, of course, repressed by their very nature, but their expressions of guilt, anger, and betrayal feel like confessions that have been waiting an eternity to escape their lips. It’s genuinely hard to watch.
By the end of the tenth episode, the characters are grouped in new permutations once more, only this time, they’re separated by distances that can’t be traversed in a couple of hours. Sue might be dying from a gunshot wound. Marcus, now a fanatical Mithraic, has run into his atheist brethren. And whatever malevolent force had been manipulating Mother — call it the planet, or Sol, or the show’s sadistic authors! — seems to have won.
The final image, of the alien being soaring through the air, as if part-Kepler serpent and part-Necromancer, is as terrifying as it is exciting. It opens up brand new mysteries about the nature of creation on this planet, and sets the stage for these characters to confront even deeper questions about the nature of their beliefs.
Whatever’s really happening on Kepler, this much is certain: it will continue to push and contort these characters, and rattle them to their core.