The HBO Max streaming service just released a new 10 episode sci-fi series by Ridley Scott titled “Raised by Wolves”. It’s described as the story of human children who are raised on an alien planet by a pair of androids named “Father” and “Mother”. This of course invites comparisons to the 2019 Netflix film “I Am Mother” starring Hilary Swank and Rose Byrne in which an android mother raises a human child.
Wolves however the much more complicated and nuanced story. The premise is there was a war between religious zealots called the Mithraic and atheists. The war ends up leaving earth uninhabitable. An atheist scientist sends two androids to planet Kepler-22b with 12 human embryos. They are programmed to raise and nurture the human children and to be strictly atheist. Meanwhile the Mithraic survivors have created a giant spaceship called the Ark of Heaven with thousands of colonists headed for the same planet. When they arrive, our android friends have only managed to raise one of the children. The others either failed at birth or died of some strange illness.
I’ve seen the first three episodes which are available now with a total of ten coming this season.
While we expect from the first episode that it’s going to be the story of the androids raising the kids, in the next two episodes the narrative also includes a Mithraic couple named Marcus and Sue who have a young son of their own. Marcus is played by Travis Fimmel whose most notable role was as Ragnar Lothbrok on the History Channel series “Vikings”.
Through a series of flashbacks we learn more about Marcus and Sue. We learn of their role in the war on earth and how they came to gain passage on the Ark to the new planet. We also learn some secrets about the origins of the androids especially Mother. Without giving things away I will just say there are a number of “things are not what they seem” plot points to make it especially interesting.
It’s not really clear which side are the bad guys and which side are the good guys. We aren’t always exactly certain who to root for. That makes the story even more interesting because nothing is strictly black-and-white. There are lots of shades of gray.
By the way, Mithraism or the Mithraic Mysteries as it is sometimes known, was a real religion practiced in the first through fourth centuries. Mostly practiced around the Mediterranean and the Roman Empire it involved worship of a deity Mithra which was loosely based on worship of a Persian deity by the same name. The religion was popular among the Roman army. According to my friend retired Marian University history professor Dr. Jim Divita, it is believed that some of the initiation rites for the religion required hand-to-hand combat. So it can be seen why it would be popular among the troops and never got much widespread acceptance elsewhere. It was sort of a rival religion to early Christianity. In the fourth century as Christianity gained dominance it pretty much wiped out Mithraism. In this show, their version of the Mithraic religion focuses on the God Sol (the sun). In the actual religion Mithra is depicted as having a dinner banquet with the God Sol but there’s no indication that the sun God was their primary deity. Rather it was Mithra himself. For more on the religion check out this article on Wikipedia.
Shot on location in barren areas of South Africa the planet looks sufficiently alien to be credible. The special-effects are state-of-the-art. The detailed world building in the series is fascinating and credible without much if any plot driven technology. “Plot driven technology” is my term for some piece of science or gadgetry that works that way just because the plot needed it to. It’s one of my pet peeves. The acting is top-notch. I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.
I’m giving it a really strong rating of “I really like it” and if you are a fan of science fiction with some politics and religion thrown in then I highly recommend it. This is assuming of course you have access to HBO Max. Check your cable provider because it may be if you already subscribed to HBO you might be able to get HBO Max for free. I’m on Spectrum in Indianapolis and I’m getting it as part of my HBO/Cinemax subscription on cable.
Although my initial review of the show was very positive, it seemed to go off the rails the further it went. The very final episode completely “jumped the shark” with a bizarre twist. Still plenty of room for a second season. I can’t begin to predict where it’s going to go. Maybe you will like it in the end better than I did. It was fun while it lasted.