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Raised by Wolves: Episode 1 Review

Episode 1 sets tensions between human and machine, science and religion

Rating: 9/10

With a filmography that features science-fiction classics like Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), Ridley Scott made headlines when HBO Max announced Raised by Wolves, Scott’s first venture into television. The show is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which all surviving humans have scattered into space. In this desolate world, two androids attempt to raise a new generation of humanity.

Episode 1, titled “Raised by Wolves,” begins as androids Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim) crash land onto Kepler-22b. Their interactions immediately address the question we all have on our minds: how “human” are they?

They resemble machines when they speak about their programmed objectives, but they also exhibit human-like traits such as humor. Father tells a joke about magnets’ attraction and repulsion, personifying such objects in a self-referential sort of way: like magnets, which attract or repel because of their innate magnetic properties, these two androids are attracted to each other not because they “feel,” but because it is innate to their programming.

Amanda Collin in Ridley Scott’s HBO Series “Raised by Wolves”
Machines cry, too? | Screen grab from “Raised by Wolves”

We see this hybridization between human and machine again once they settle down and incubate six human embryos to “birth.” When the sixth child appears to be still-born, Father suggests they “break it down” quickly and feed it to the other infants. Heartless and pragmatic — just like a machine. Mother, however, insists on holding the child as a human mother would, unwilling to let go. She sheds tears and even sings to him, and they find out that the child is miraculously alive.

From Six to One

With Campion’s birth, it becomes immediately clear that he will play a key role in the story: the show devotes extra attention to his birth over those of his siblings, the androids explicitly mention he is named after their creator, and we soon discover that his voice is the one narrating the story.

It turns out that he is the only child to play any role in the story. The rest of them all die. I liked that the show-runners crafted a racially diverse family at first, but I suppose it was inevitable that only the white boy survives. Later on, the dark-skinned Father is killed, and a diverse family of 8 devolves into a white mother and a white son. I guess even the apocalypse couldn’t kill white privilege.

Campion and Amanda Collin in Ridley Scott’s HBO Series “Raised by Wolves”
Only the white characters remain | Screen grab from “Raised by Wolves”

One of the death sequences carries special significance: as Spiria starts to exhibit symptoms of illness, Mother lectures her two remaining children on the supremacy of science over religion. She reveals that the religious Mithraic order deemed it blasphemous to send androids into space to rear human embryos. Atheists, however, deemed this option prudent — android parents do not require bulky ships stocked with food and supplies that are needed by human adults. As she stresses the importance of solving problems through science, Campion displays skepticism by pointing out that science failed to save his siblings. The show is quickly establishing its intent to dissect the interplay between God, humanity, and artificial intelligence, and there’s a lot of potential.

Another detail stands out: Mother asks Spiria to recite the ways that “the number ‘5’ relates to all manifestations of life.” Curious concept, given that “5” is also the number of children who die. Campion, the sixth, survives as a special child — raised by androids who denounce religion while gradually embracing faith in secret.

The Chosen One

The last semblance of diversity dies when Mother kills Father for attempting to contact the Mithraic ship that now orbits their planet. Mother becomes powerful as she becomes deadly: she starts to develop new abilities such as levitation and shape-shifting (like Mystique in X-Men).

When the rescue party shows up, the stakes are raised. The humans take interest in Campion, describing him as “an orphan in an empty land” and tying these words to what seems like a prophecy: “ the Prophet who will discover the Mithraic Mysteries.” This part reminded me of Star Wars — just like Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, these men ventured to a desert planet, found a young boy being raised by a single mother, and now they think he is the Chosen One. Perhaps Campion can avoid the fate of Anakin Skywalker and truly bring balance to The Force.

Unlike in Star Wars, these men are weak, and Mother activates a new power to take them down. She takes their scout ship, bypasses their security, and massacres all of the adult humans on board the Ark of Heaven.

Amanda Collin in Ridley Scott’s HBO Series “Raised by Wolves”
Were those her screams, yours? | Screen grab from “Raised by Wolves”

I must commend both the visual and sound editing in this sequence. As she blasts her way through the humans with her explosive shrieks, the droning percussion intensifies the moment. A straight-on shot of Mother repeats while the camera pulls closer to her face and the shot lengths get progressively shorter upon each iteration. When she breaks into the control room and the bullets bounce off her, the gun-shot sounds melt into the soundtrack’s percussion, creating a brief muted effect that functions like the deep breath taken before a triumphant yell. When she exhales this last time, her remaining enemies are blown to pieces.

When Mother finds the ship’s children, we discover them in a special room designed to resemble a forest clearing, covered in snow. We are briefly shown this imagery of sheltered kids lying in a simulated wonderland; the shot then cuts to a similar arrangement of bodies — dead ones — lying on Kepler-22b. In his ragged clothes, Campion tends to the mutilated cadavers, creating a stark contrast between his harsh conditions and those of the Mithraic children.

Foreshadowing his unique role as the one raised by wolves, Campion ends the episode on a foreboding thought: “Maybe there’s something hiding inside of me, too.”

Science-fiction excels when it feels relevant. The lines between human and artificial intelligence continue to blur in the real world, and religion and science will clash like never before if and when we endow our machines with moral frameworks. Could we put future generations of humanity under the nurture of such machines? Combine such salient questions with Ridley Scott’s spectacular visual design and meticulous world-building, and I’ll be honest: I’m hooked.