Jan's RAISED BY WOLVES – Episodes 1 & 2 Review
Sir Ridley Scott is at it again, asking them big questions. And the result is just what you’d expect after his beautifully shot but mind-numbingly shallow Alien prequels PROMETHEUS and COVENANT. In the new HBO Max Sci-Fi program RAISED BY WOLVES Scott jumps from investigating the origins of mankind by way of Erich von Däniken straight to the end of mankind as we know it: Earth has been destroyed in a war between atheists and religious people (yes, you’ve read that correctly). Fleeing from the destruction onboard a small starship are two androids, programmed by the atheist faction to bring their cargo - frozen human sperm - to distant planet Keppler 22-b, where they are meant to birth a bunch of kids and raise them the atheist way. Because, you see, according to the atheist fraction you just have to eradicate religion to build a forever peaceful utopia. But another group of survivors are hot on the androids‘ trail – and they’re of the especially android-phobic religious kind.
Yes, this is about as deep as RAISED BY WOLVES gets with its hilariously ill-advised attempt at sorting out the pros and cons for both atheism and religion (while mostly focusing on trashing atheism). Other, significantly more clever Sci-Fi shows like DEEP SPACE 9 or the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA dealt with the clash of secular and religious forces in interesting, nuanced ways. But Scott isn’t one for any nuance whatsoever. To be fair to Scott, he didn’t create the show. Aaron Guzikowski did – the man who wrote PRISONERS, later directed by Denis Villeneuve. But writing a great thriller doesn’t necessarily mean you’re good at cerebral Sci-Fi too. Especially not when working with director/producer and noted elite philosopher Scott – the guy who in interviews couldn’t shut up about the “deeper meaning” of PROMETHEUS that he didn’t care to articulate in the actual movie. “Deeper meaning” like: Jesus was actually an Engineer and the Engineers were so pissed about his crucifixion that they hurried towards Earth with genocidal intentions – until getting jumped by their own black goo bioweapon, leaving mankind blissfully unaware of the past threat.
With PROMETHEUS and COVENANT Scott failed at “Creating” cerebral Sci-Fi (while partly succeeding at simple monster horror shlock) because he didn’t have anything worthwhile to say about his chosen theme: “What if mankind was Created rather than evolved, and what if we could meet our Creators? What would we learn about them, us, and our own Creation (David)?” Well, nothing. Other than that Creators and Creations always want to murder each other in the end because reasons?
RAISED BY WOLVES has the opposite problem: Scott and Guzikowski have way TOO MUCH to say about the show’s theme “atheism VS religion”. And all of it is spectacularly dumb. Once more it feels like rather than to an elder statesman of genre cinema we’re listening to a stoned freshman philosophy student irritating his dorm mates with his vapid nonsense. So let’s see what Scott has to say about “atheism VS religion” in the first two episodes of RAISED BY WOLVES.
Before the religious faction (their religion is never specified; its basically „something something Christian“) arrives late in episode one, we follow the two androids called Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim) during their efforts of birthing six kids and raising them by atheist standards. So, what’s the big thesis here that the show is gonna work with? Well, the first episode goes absolutely overboard with making that thesis clear and understood: „Bruh, what if atheists were actually totally religious but didn’t know it?“. This is one of the favorite anti-atheist arguments of madly reactionary charlatans like Jordan Peterson: 1) That atheists „believe“ just as all religious people do - only that their God is called „Science“ and their priests are called „scientists“, armed with their holy books full of research that supposedly isn’t meant to be questioned. And 2) that without actual religious belief and solace every atheist will eventually turn existentially depressed.
The show tries to argue this with basically every other line of dialogue uttered by any of these characters. For example when we see some of the younglings die off, leaving the remaining kids grieving and hungry for solace – which the atheist androids of course can’t deliver. You see, they’re too rational to understand or even see the deep human need for engaging with questions of meaning and wrestling with existential despair (how about a healthy dose of Abrahamic mythology to ease the pain?). Father worries about the main kid Campion (Winta McGrath), about how „each death pushes him further towards belief“. Campion then complains that „not even Science could save“ his siblings and that „the world doesn’t care whether we live or die“ – so he starts to pray in secret to counter the unbearingly bleak atheist outlook on the world… wait, what? If the androids were programmed to raise a strictly non-religious generation, why would the children even know how to pray? Great job, idiots!
The ludicrous thesis that “every human being, including atheists, has a natural urge to be religious (or rather to be theistic)“ is driven home again and again throughout the two episodes. Once the religious survivors of the apocalypse arrive in their goofy, seemingly oversized space crusader cosplay costumes, Mother warns the children how the crusaders are „a threat as vicious as our creator programmed us to BELIEVE“. And once Campion starts questioning the atheist agenda, Father tells him in good scientist fashion never to stop questioning arguments from authority… only to add: „…but you must accept my answers and have FAITH that I have your best interest at heart“.
You gotta wonder whether the moronic simplicity with which RAISED BY WOLVES approaches its subject is by conservative design in order to paint a ridiculously horrible picture of atheism – or whether it is indeed based on a misunderstanding of the term atheism, which simply means: Not-theism. That’s it. Atheism does say nothing whatsoever about your moral code or the ways in which you deal with the world and your existential questions about it. It is not an ideology.
But try explaining that to a show doing its best possible Jordan Petersen impression. Here’s another example: Just like our good Professor from Canada, RAISED WITH WOLVES frames the „atheist extremist“ bogeyman as someone absolutely devoid of morality (which can supposedly only be derived from divine commandments… despite the fact that every single human society that ever existed developed a more or less helpful/harmful moral code of SOME kind. Peterson does this by appropriating Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, in which Ivan Karamazov claims that if God does not exist, then everything is permitted. If there is no God, then there are no rules to live by and we can do whatever we want, including murder. This couldn’t be expressed in a more fitting metaphor than this: The ultra-atheist-android Mother is not just programmed to raise atheist kids – she’s also a „Necromancer“, a scheming and remorseless war bot capable of letting grown men explode into red splatter-spray with the sonic force of her shriek. Accordingly, Amanda Collin plays her like a full-blown psychopath, including tons of weird facial ticks. These damn morally degenerate atheist psychos, always murdering their way through they day as if it was nothing, Amirite, Ridley?
So what about the religious folks? How do they fare in RAISED BY WOLVES episodes one and two? Well, they barely register so far. Except for this one time when a girl explains how they’ve got some priests who like to abuse, rape, and impregnate minors. Classic church stuff. But you know who is also kinda evil?, I hear the show ask. No, I don’t. Who? Well, the „pro choice“ people like psychopathic murder android Mother who grins like Satan incarnate when she sinisterly offers a quick abortion to the priest-raped girl. Good Lord, Scott… really?
Okay, what else? VIKINGS star Travis Fimmel plays an atheist going undercover as a religious dude joining their escape craft before Earth is destroyed. He isn’t present enough in the first two episodes to leave a strong impression though. The one excellent cast member is Abubakar Salim as Father, who seems like he’s trying hard to be the best dad he could possibly be within the limits of his android programming. „Strengths VS shortcomings of android parents“ could’ve been an interesting Sci-Fi topic to explore some more. But Scott and Guzikowski clearly had other things on their minds.
Is all of that nonsense at least beautiful to look at? Well, there’s some nice panorama shots of misty mountains in the far background, like in the Alien prequels. Other than that, the colors are desaturated to hell and back, making for depressingly brown/grey images of mostly boring environments. Visually the show comes alive only when Mother turns full-on murderbot, menacingly hovering in mid-air and delivering splattery death like a female android Dr. Manhattan. And so conclude the first two episodes of RAISED BY WOLVES, another failed attempt at cerebral Sci-Fi by a once great filmmaker.