Raised by Wolves – When Ancient Mythology meets Science Fiction

Raised by Wolves is a science fiction series created for HBO MAX, that begins as an Adam and Eve story on the planet Kepler 22b. Two androids, named Mother and Father, land on the deserted planet and give birth to 6 children, who are supposed to be the last human beings in this corner of the universe. The show is written by Aaron Guzikowksi (Prisoners, The Red Road) and produced by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien, Prometheus), who has also directed the first 2 episodes of the first season.

But this “Adam and Eve” scenario is turned upside down already in the first episode, after we find out that an “Ark”, a giant spaceship with the supposedly last human beings and animals from Earth, arrives at Kepler 22b. The Ark has been built by the Mithraic – a religious order who used to rule Earth, but was forced to leave the cradle of humanity after a great war against an atheist underground movement made the planet inhabitable.

Raised by Wolves has 2 horizons: on one hand the pedagogic-psychological horizon in the interactions between Mother, Father and the children, and on the other hand the theological-political horizon between the Mithraic and the so-called atheists. Of course, these 2 topics are not separated. Quite the opposite, they’re inextricably interconnected, creating a fascinatingly original story with multiple intriguing layers.

The psychology of Raised by Wolves

The first 4 episodes focus on the oedipal, overprotective Mother. While Father is the harmless “nice guy” (he’s just a service model) with a proclivity for flat jokes, the multi-faced Mother is certainly the more complex character. Oscillating between her programming as a loving parent and her capabilities as a Necromancer (a weapon of mass destruction), either the children and the viewers are in permanent doubt whether they can trust her or not. The writing does a great job in portraying situations that make us empathize with the characters’ suspicions against her. On Mother’s side, actress Amanda Collins delivers some fascinating acting, displaying Mother’s effort to overplay the obvious suspicions, while at the same time being in doubt whether such a mechanism could actually be part of her unknown programming.

The show does a great job of balancing the traditional notion that machines do not have emotions with the fantastic element that Father and especially Mother are developing such emotions in the course of the story. This is not new for Ridley Scott, who has already explored this frontier 40 years ago with Blade Runner. Just like Roy and the other Replicants, Mother and Father are increasingly evolving from machines into sentient beings – depicted in a touching and relatable manner with a deep psychological and symbolic context.

In fact, the interparental and interfamiliar psychology does not lose its relatability through the fact that Mother and Father are androids. On the contrary, the accurate psychology of the characters is certainly the most fascinating element of Raised by Wolves. Mother and Father being androids relieves the relationships of a certain weight which we experience watching Marcus/Caleb (Travis Fimmel) and Mary/Sue (Niam Alghar) in their roles as human parents. And seeing a father being denied to tell a stupid joke without getting resentful, but benevolently smiling instead, is truly a beautiful and relieving thing to behold. If only more fathers were like that.

The Mithraic cult

The Mithraic religion is depicted as one of a naïve, blunt faith. Historically, Mithraism is a mystery cult that in the 1st century BE used to compete with Christianity. Both faiths share many similarities, with the former believing in the sun god Mithras, who was sent by a god father to redeem the world.

I found the blunt depiction of faith not very compelling at first. They remind me of the poor depictions of Christianity we sometimes find in modern times, which have but a banal understanding of faith. But this prejudice turned out to be unjustified. The religious horizon displayed by the Mithraic is not the religious horizon of the show. Every now and then, Campion, another child or sometimes even Mother or Father, with a well-rounded thought or question will strike a deep nerve, showing us that Raised by Wolves knows a deeper faith than the unsophisticated religion displayed by the Mithraic.

The mere fact that one first cannot discern whether the initially displayed faith of the Mithraic is to take at face value or with a grain of salt in the big picture of the show, is another display of the great storytelling of Raised by Wolves. Just wait until you hear one of the atheist characters cry out “Jesus Christ!” on hearing bad news.

With the naive faith of the Mithraics being out of touch with reality, we must still find out how they could manage to establish themselves as the leading force on Earth. One significant aspect could be the revelation of the “dark photons”, which enabled them to build the devastating Necromancers. Ironically, the Necromancers were all left behind on Earth – except for Mother. Now, with the atheist warship arriving at the end of episode 10, we’ll have to see how the political conflict takes its course.

Great special effects and expressive visual design

Even visually, Raised by Wolves is a masterpiece. The images of Kepler 22b, with its barren land, its earth holes and the skeletons of ancient, extinct reptiles, are wonderful and breathtaking. Especially the accelerated clouds look monumental and are reminiscent of the 1990’s show Earth 2. The special effects of Raised by Wolves have the quality of AAA-blockbusters – which, with Ridley Scott having his hand in the show, is not very surprising. The flashbacks of the war on Earth can even remind of scenes from the Terminator-saga, except for the different lighting.

The only downside I could find in the show is that some parts of the design are a bit generic. The smaller spaceships look like taken from 1960’s sci-fi movies. The same goes for Mother and Father’s shiny onesies. Meanwhile, the Mithraics’ clothing has an archaic look to it, like the armor of the middle ages’ Crusaders. But as long as it carries the symbolic language of the show, that’s perfectly fine. The design of the Ark and of the overall technology is top notch and even original, especially the holographic steering wheels.

A journey through human mythology

Raised by Wolves is full of mythologic symbolism. Alongside the already noted Adam and Eve scenario in the beginning of episode 1 and the Mithraic “Ark”, there are many more. Already the Mithraic myth around the “chosen one who is to redeem humanity” is present in the story, and it’s highly likely no other than Campion, although Marcus/Caleb is claiming this title for himself.

Mother’s real name, Lamia, is a figure from the Ancient Greek mythology. After having mated with Zeus (which parallels to Mother being fertilized by a yet unknown entity), his jealous wife Hera forced Lamia to devour her own children. This parallel is particularly poignant as the mythological Lamia was bestowed with the ability to temporarily remove her eyes. Due to Mother’s nature as a Necromancer, who uses her eyesight as a weapon, she in fact repeatedly removes her eyes in order to not be able to weaponize. We will have to see whether, paralleling the myth, Mother’s children have already been eaten (the Gen-1 children), or whether the Gen-2 children will die by the hands of her delivered monster – transforming her into a revengeful mother or even into a villain.

Next, the title itself is a mythological allusion to the founding legend of Rome. This is even more obvious after one of the children finds Romolus’ tooth, the actual ancient relic, in the wreck of the destroyed Ark. Romulus and Remus being two brothers, they both were abandoned, to be found and suckled by a she-wolf. Analogically, Campion and the other Children were raised by something other than a human, something that, just like a wolf, can be fierce and dangerous when her offspring is being threatened. The most obvious speculation is that Campion and Paul, who have created a strong bond with each other, might end up as the two ancient brothers, with Campion killing his brother Paul sometime in the future. But that we’ll have to see as the show progresses.

Mother and Father having reached the “Tropical Zone” of Kepler 22b, together with the giant snake to which Mother gave birth, is reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. This is even more intriguing since the last episode of Season 1 is entitled “The Beginning”. Is this a contradiction to the Adam and Eve scenario at the start of Season 1? It certainly could be. Another scenario could be the allusion to the story of Lilith, Adam’s first wife, who left him after mating with the Archangel Samael. Could this be the parallel to what happened to Mother while she was in the pod? We’ll have to see what the story brings forth in the upcoming seasons.

Last, but certainly not least, the “snake” to which Mother gives birth is a mythological figure par excellence. The Snake or the Dragon is the reptile manifestation of Evil since the earliest beginnings of mankind, of which records can be found as early as 3000 BC in the Mesopotamian myth of Marduk. The flying “snake”, to which Mother gives birth in the last episode, is both snake and dragon due to its ability to fly, very similar to the Feathered Snakes in Eastern mythology or the Aztec Quetzalcoatl. As the symbolic representation of Evil, we’ll have to trace its origin back to whatever fertilized Mother while she was dwelling in memories of her creator Campion Sturges in the simpod. And knowing its proclivity to leech of technological objects like androids, the appearing of the atheist’s spaceship does not bode very well.

Beyond Season 1

As we progressed through the Season 1, we came to understand more and more that Kepler 22b is hiding many unknown dangers. Had James Cameron not already used the name Pandora for his Avatar-saga, it would certainly have been the perfect planet name for Kepler22b.

Raised by Wolves is a fascinating science fiction show with a dense symbolical structure. It is beautifully articulate, both in language and visuality, and the storytelling as well as the character development is led by a strong, patient, and masterful hand. In some way, it is a genuine counterweight to the hard-sci-fi show The Expanse, with both shows being excellent in their own right. Raised by Wolves is not so much for enthusiasts of technologically detailed realism. It is for sci-fi fans who like to grasp a fascinating idea and follow its development through the episodes. As showrunner Aaron Guzikowksi announced, the story is designed to go as far as 5 or 6 seasons. After seeing how fast things escalated in Season 1, we can expect one hell of a ride – on a visual as well as on an intellectual level.

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