(RAISED BY WOLVES is out now on HBO Nordic)
RAISED BY WOLVES, executive produced and partially directed by Ridley Scott, feels like a great concept album that doesn’t quite carry its ambitious idea. It is by turns both spectacular and dour visuals, silly writing, with a dedication to its bizarre original world. Just as with Scott’s latest forays into his ALIEN universe; WOLVES will find pockets of audiences who will fervently love the impenetrable lore and heavy-handed allegory. Still, I can’t imagine everyone will be onboard a series this dedicated to keeping its viewers at arms reach.
Set on a deserted, uniformly grey planet where washed-out grey filters are the dominant species, WOLVES begins with a bang as two androids arrive in a crash landing. They are Mother and Father, survivors of the destruction of Earth, who’ve come restart mankind in their own image. With their former home torn apart by religion, the new Adam and Eve come with strict programming to rebuild the new world into an atheist one. A place where no belief in a higher power could again incite wars.
Naturally, nothing comes easily, and it’s not long before other survivors arrive seeking a home. As their own family begins to tear apart when their children start to question their faith, Mother and Father must consider the lengths they’re willing to go to follow their programming.
Scott directs the first two episodes of the season, and they’re easily the best, if only visually. Essentially one film split into two, the early hours set up some impressive stakes and a world that, while not coherent, is at least intriguing. Moments that stand out are more spectacle and emotionally resonant than logical. Much of it feels like a series of singular images that Scott wants to paint on screen rather than a compelling narrative.
These include Mother floating over the barren landscape in her combat mode or Father shepherding his flock of biblical metaphors past unearthed fossils. Yes, it’s that kind of a series, one where the story is in the heaviest of hands. (For peak ridiculous, there’s a Christian spaceship called Heaven.) But like other shows of its kind, you either go with it, or you don’t. WOLVES has very little interest in appeasing everyone.
Most of WOLVES is all about accepting that none of this will make a lot of sense. It’s a series designed to ask big questions and evoke grand themes but never once deliver on any of them. Like in PROMETHEUS, Scott’s derided ALIEN prequel, the trail of thought is more important than the conclusion. But WOLVES falls prey to the same clunkiness as its predecessor. Mother and Father constantly remind each other that they are unfeeling androids, which apparently comes with a necessity to underline exposition at all times. But every single central turning point involves either one of them showcasing rage, fear, or a myriad of other emotions.
While a part of this has to do with the nature vs. nurture theme running throughout the story, Scott and his writing staff do little actually explore what it means. Instead, we get Mother howling like a wolf at the loss of her child, Father testily snapping at his offspring, and much banal bickering over the meaning of a very Christian God.
Which zeroes in on the most significant problem: RAISED BY WOLVES has an aggravatingly limited scope. While there are grand themes of artificial intelligence, creation myths, religion, and extremism, WOLVES still shines through a conservative western lens. There are hints of a larger conversation that future seasons could have, but for now, WOLVES stumbles in limiting itself to a monotheistic worldview that feels like a step back.
And yet, there’s still much to enjoy here. The acting is terrific throughout, especially by Amanda Collin and Abubakar Salim as Mother and Father. The underrated Travis Fimmel is suitably menacing as the antagonist, and even the child actors all feel compelling in their parts.
It’s also a treat to see big and brainy (if muddled) sci-fi on television that isn’t a remake or comic book adaptation. While RAISED BY WOLVES doesn’t soar to the heights it aspires to, it is admirable for trying in the first place. It’s an apt opening for the first season of a series about building greatness from small beginnings.