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‘Raised by Wolves’ Is Back, As Unapologetically Weird As Ever

The HBO Max sci-fi series’ greatest strength is its unpredictability

HBO Max/Ringer illustration
Spoiler warning

In the Season 1 finale of Raised by Wolves, a cloaked figure attempts to assassinate Mother (played by Amanda Collin), an android from Earth who has been mysteriously impregnated on the alien planet Kepler-22b. Mother easily dispatches the attacker before fellow android Father (Abubakar Salim) arrives on the scene. The androids remove the assailant’s veil and make a startling discovery: a new species, one that will also ring alarm bells for audiences. The creature doesn’t just appear somewhat human—it looks like it could be related to the Engineers, a species first introduced in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus as the architects of humanity.

Screenshot via HBO Max

Seeing as Scott serves as an executive producer and sometimes director of the sci-fi series in which androids bleed a milky white substance instead of blood, the connection between Raised by Wolves and the Alien franchise certainly seemed substantial. By the end of the finale, when Mother gave birth in a stomach-turning sequence in which a serpent-like creature—one that also bore a resemblance to a terrifying creation from Prometheus—violently expelled itself from her mouth, the allusions to Scott’s iconic franchise were overwhelming. In what’s become a recurring theme for the show, these moments lent themselves to a buzzy theory: Did HBO Max actually green-light an Alien TV show right under our noses?

Unfortunately, practical considerations ensure that Raised by Wolves isn’t Alien canon: The franchise is now under the ownership of Disney, which is planning its own Alien series from Noah Hawley. (As creator Aaron Guzikowski told Deadline after the finale aired, Raised by Wolves is best appreciated as a “close cousin” to Alien.) But despite not being part of an interconnected Alien universe, Raised by Wolves has posed questions that Scott also explored in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant about the limitations of artificial intelligence and humanity’s place in the universe. However, whereas Scott struggled at times to fit his philosophical ponderings into a franchise originally centered on gnarly aliens with acid for blood, Raised by Wolves is freed from any preconceived notions about what it should be—giving the show license to get unapologetically weird and profound as it embraces mystery-box storytelling.

Set in the 22nd century, Raised by Wolves’s first season opened with Earth becoming uninhabitable thanks to a planet-wide civil war between the Mithraic, an extremist religious faction, and the Atheists (pretty self-explanatory). With mankind facing extinction, an Atheist leader sent two androids with human embryos to Kepler-22b, a real planet that is theoretically habitable. But beginning humanity anew is easier said than done. The problems (and the show’s WTF-ery) started with Mother, who was previously a Necromancer, an in-universe term for a military android capable of mass destruction. Mother was reprogrammed with parenting protocols, but her desire to protect her offspring meant that other humans were fair game. (Imagine a nuclear weapon that can also recite bedtime stories.) By the end of the series premiere, Mother had razed a ship carrying Mithraic colonists, leaving few survivors from what little already remained of mankind. The Mithraic, though, were hardly deserving of sympathy: The zealots were responsible for creating the deadly Necromancers in the first place.

It’s within that context that the sole survivor from Mother and Father’s embryonic offspring, Campion (Winta McGrath), has to grapple with the atrocities committed by his own robo-parent in the name of Atheism and the surviving Mithraic trying to impose their religious dogma: a science vs. religion thought exercise with nothing less than the fate of humanity at stake. To that end, Raised by Wolves keeps its cards close to the vest as to whether the bizarre happenings on the planet can be explained by science or are the makings of some kind of divine intervention.

For starters, the Atheist turned Mithraic leader Marcus (Travis Fimmel) begins hearing a voice in his head that purports to be the religion’s sun god, Sol, an utterly creepy development that could, in theory, be written off as a loopy side effect of hibernating during the interstellar trip from Earth. (The mystery behind Sol, and whether he’s actually communicating with his flock, feels aligned with Game of ThronesR’hllor, right down to the fire-related imagery.) The cloaked figure that Mother kills in the Season 1 finale confirms a suspicion that the native life-forms on Kepler-22b are actually devolving, which is hardly an encouraging sign for humanity’s future. Then there’s the fact that Mother somehow gave birth to an alien serpent—another native species deemed extinct for centuries—which further supports the notion that Raised by Wolves is a warped retelling of Genesis. Once the Season 1 finale threw iconography from the Alien universe into the show’s melting pot of influences, Raised by Wolves’s greatest virtue was its unpredictability: a mystery-box using familiar pieces to form a new puzzle.

That trend continues in Season 2, out on Thursday, which moves the action to the “tropical zone” on the other side of the planet, where food is more abundant and an Atheist colony has set up camp. (The show’s aesthetic, once bleak and desolate, is now more reminiscent of Avatar’s Pandora.) But while humanity’s future on Kepler-22b suddenly appears promising, first impressions can be deceiving. Just as the Mithraics govern themselves based on their faith in Sol, the Atheists follow “The Trust,” an artificial intelligence that gives the colonists orders until it believes that humans are ready to lead themselves. Mother and Co. have effectively escaped one human faction to land under the authoritarian rule of another.

Once again, Raised by Wolves throws a curveball at the audience. After painting the Mithraic as cruel fundamentalists in Season 1, the new batch of episodes underlines that there is no good versus evil binary. The surviving Mithraic that the Atheists round up on the planet are enslaved and fitted with bombs that will detonate if they try to leave the settlement. And just as it’s unclear whether Sol is really communicating with his followers—and what the deity’s intentions might be—the Trust has an inscrutable endgame, leading some weary Atheists to speculate whether the AI will ever cede control of the colony. (As far as Raised by Wolves expanding its sci-fi influences, the Trust is giving off serious HAL 9000 energy.)

Ironically, it’s the Trust’s strict adherence to its own plan that could undermine the Atheists’ foothold on mankind’s new home. It’s becoming more evident that the best-case scenario for humanity is to find some type of middle ground between the strict principles guiding the Atheists and the Mithraic. But there’s a considerable gap between conflict and compromise—one that neither scientific nor religious principles may be able to bridge. As Mother observed when raising her children in Season 1 in what could very well double as the show’s thesis statement: Despite being brought up as pacifists, playtime consisted of fighting.

Adding these new variables to Raised by Wolves’s increasingly chaotic, “anything goes” philosophy makes it tricky to anticipate what direction the series will go in—whether its underlying interest is seeing humanity evolve for the better or merely commit the same sins that nearly led to self-destruction on Earth. (And, for that matter, if artificial intelligence should intervene or allow people to make their own choices, however harmful those decisions may be.) More difficult, still, is what to make of Mother and Father’s larger role in the series, and where an alien serpent that’s grown into the size of an 18-wheeler fits into the equation.

There’s no guarantee that Raised by Wolves will offer satisfying conclusions to all its mysteries—to say nothing of whether HBO Max will even renew the show beyond Season 2. But thus far, Raised by Wolves has proved to be a thought-provoking sci-fi series that is elevated by its mystery elements, rather than hampered by them. Here’s hoping Raised by Wolves continues to reward the audience’s faith and doesn’t let the show’s enduring riddles swallow it whole.