Raised by wolves takes place in a distant future when the earth has been consumed by a war between atheists and believers. It’s a premise so unbearable that you can almost feel it go to your bookshelf to assess your tastes. Thankfully, that’s not the point – at least for a while. The dazzling new science fiction series is initially mostly about being raised by a robot mother who may or may not secretly want to kill you. And yet, it still manages to look not particularly exciting.
The latest show from HBO Max pulls out all the stops. A lavish, expensive-looking series with the first two episodes of none other than Ridley Scott. Raised by wolves is hard to ignore. It̵
The riflescope starts out refreshingly small: two androids, mother (Amanda Collin) and father (Abubakar Salim), are sent to a seemingly uninhabited planet to raise six children from viable embryos to adult adults. This proves difficult in the hostile terrain of this strange planet, as complications quickly arise, such as an attack by predatory Gollum-like monsters or an army of religious zealots who want to save the children from their android carers.
When it switches from one scenario to the next, Raised by wolves Slowly its scope is expanding: mother and father were sent by atheists to raise children free from religious tyranny after a war that destroyed the earth. Fortunately, this war is not waged by angry men screaming God is not real! and angrier men scream Yes he is! It’s a war with strange androids and people who change faces to be covered up matrix-like virtual world. So yeah, while it’s a bulky show, it’s also one that touches on aspects of any type of popular science fiction movie – which makes sense because Ridley Scott made most of them.
While the series is created and written by Aaron Guzikowski (perhaps best known as the writer behind the Denis Villeneuve thriller) Prisoners), it quickly aligns itself with a number of Scott trademarks: barren alien landscapes, a doomed earth, androids that look and feel like humans, and a hazy view of humanity. For this reason it also feels red: a science fiction project that wants to present itself as brave, but is mainly interested in very tired ideas. As the title suggests, nature versus care is a thematic interest, but also religion, science, consciousness, identity and artificial life. Everyone is gesticulating in the first three episodes alone, and while nothing particularly convincing comes out of it early on, the show feels like a relief at a time when story scraps often span too many episodes.
So it is possible that these ideas could collide in a way that results in television that is as rewarding to ponder as it is to watch. The spectacle may be colorless, but it is wonderfully composed and infinitely unsettling: plants grown in spirals, boneyards that indicate massive dinosaur-like aliens, and androids made of synthetic organs and metallic skin that can emit a scream that makes people burst like a balloon . The performances are unsettling and effective. Amanda Collins, as a mother, has a particularly good turn, treading a strange line between mechanical and wild.
It is also possible that these are just ideas, not stories. In three episodes I know very little about the atheists and the religious who fight against them, or about the specifics of their beliefs. And until I do, I’ll always be tempted to ridicule them with a joke reminiscent of Richard Dawkins from 2007. The same goes for all characters: they’re all up to things, maybe even interesting things, but I couldn’t. I’m not telling you anything special.
Most television takes time: to find its booth, to come up with big ideas, so that its cast start connecting with audiences. Raised by wolves has the potential for this time to be well spent. But without any stronger hooks, it ironically asks us to have a little trust.