Created by Aaron Guzikowski, the writer behind the remarkable work of art that is 2013’s Prisoners, comes Raised by Wolves, a sci-fi mystery thriller that follows two androids tasked with raising new life on a mysterious planet.
One thing is certain about this series; it is a brilliant piece of high-concept sci-fi that explores some familiar themes and ideas, but also forges an identity of its own in the process. It’s wild and ambitious in how it sets up its story, the way religion plays into things and how it continuously expands the scope of the narrative with more new and exciting mysteries. Let’s start at the beginning with Ridley Scott, who produces the series and even directs the first two episodes, setting up the tone and visual aesthetic for the entire season. His influence is clearly all over this series, not just in the themes that the story explores, but also in the way it looks, the way it feels and even in the story (which I’ll touch on in a spoiler review). If you told me this series was part of the Alien universe, which it isn’t, I’d have believed you in an instant. Almost everything about it screams ‘Alien’, and it makes sense when you consider Ridley is the one who set the visual style for this kind of sci-fi story and also set the style for this series.
The series hooks the viewer with a premise that sounds ripe for potential disaster. It kicks off on a very self-contained level, with two androids raising life on an alien planet. As it goes on, you gradually learn more and more about the planet their on, the planet they came from and the wider mysteries the lurk around every single corner. It’s a very slow paced story, one that is a little too slow at times, but also one that forces the viewer to stay locked in by throwing more mysteries and more exciting information with each passing episode. Every character, or rather, every group of characters has an exciting journey ahead that makes things thrilling and suspenseful no matter who the focus is on. They all have an end goal, an end goal that, to be fair, shifts and changes as new things come to light. The season focuses on building up this universe to sustain the multi-season plan Aaron Guzikowski has for the story, and as a result; a lot of mysteries get introduced, but not a lot of them get answered. Rather, the viewer is given the pieces to form some rather exciting theories with the promise of answers down the track.
This brings me to one point about the series that has received some criticism following the season’s end. That is; that the series ends in a spot that is so far from where it began, it might as well be a completely different series. The narrative definitely grows and expands throughout the season to a point that not many people, if any, would have predicted. It ends in a very different spot, but it’s a necessary advancement. It’s clear from the get-go that things are going to get much, much bigger… it’s only a matter of time. It’s better to get that wider expansion now, at the end of the first season, than spend multiple seasons treading on the same ground as the early few episodes. Some of the story arcs that fill the time in the season aren’t as engaging, such as one revolving around a convicted rapist, but most are great in furthering the wider story that is being built and developing the characters to greatly.
Speaking of the characters, there aren’t a tonne of them in here, with the vast majority being kids, but there are some stellar performances behind the lead characters. Let’s start with Mother, played by Danish actress Amanda Collin, who is the most stellar part of this entire series. She’s at the centre of everything going on through the entire season and her character develops far beyond how she is when we first meet her. Amanda is absolutely spellbinding in the role, really capturing the balance of ‘menacing’ and ‘caring’ that defines her character. Being an android, they’re typically void of human-like qualities such as emotion, empathy, etc. However, Amanda brings this elegance to her performance that makes both the terrifying and calming sides of her character really powerful. She’s fantastic alongside her android counterpart, Father, played by Abubakar Salim. From the outset, Abubakar brings some of the human-like qualities that Amanda’s character doesn’t have, such as the ability to use comedy. This is great when the two of them interact because they’re playing different kinds of androids that make for some very interesting back and forth moments. The way the both of them develop to the point of being more evolved characters than when the series began speaks not only to the writing, but to their performances to execute that visually.
On the side of the Mithraics, Travis Fimmel and Niamh Algar play a married couple, Marcus and Sue, and their journey is also a treacherous one, with constant danger lurking around every corner. They really display the inner conflict their characters are going through fantastically throughout the season. There’s this constant battle between who they are on the inside, who they are presenting themselves as and how these two personalities blend as their story continues. Travis Fimmel, specifically, has such a tough task through the season since his character goes through so many varied states of mind. Just like all of the other characters I’ve mentioned up to this point, who he is when the finale comes is way beyond who he is in the first episode. He does an incredible job selling us on the fact that this is the same person, just with a very different mindset.
Now, there’s no question about it, this series is visually mesmerising the whole way through… and it’s not just the ‘Alien‘ vibes. Ridley Scott set up the visuals of the series in a way that is eerily reminiscent of his other films but ensures it still has an identity of its own, adopting a somewhat more sleek style that is far more futuristic and less gothic. This is predominantly in reference to the technology used and found in this series as oppose to that in the Alien franchise. The way this mysterious planet is filmed, both in the wide shots and up-close, make for a number of beautiful shots, and also plays into setting up the very eerie tone.
In the end, Raised by Wolves is a brilliant piece of sci-fi that explores some very interesting ideas and themes through a story that develops and expands with each passing episode. I could go further into the story, but I feel like the beauty of this series is watching it develop in a way that not many would have ever predicted. The story does have some pacing issues towards the middle, while it figures out what to do with some of the lingering subplots, but as things gradually ramp up to an explosive finale; those woes are more or less forgotten. The more high-concept sci-fi we get, the happier I am, and I can’t wait to see where this narrative goes into season 2 and beyond!