Raised By Wolves, my rambling review

It’s kind of like “Lost”, in space. Not “Lost in Space.” I mean “Lost,” but in space.

Dave Gutteridge
My Rambling Reviews

--

A “necromancer” android, which means she’s a one woman army. However, apparently she needs the right kind of eyeballs installed in order to use her weapons, which is a really weird design decision. (Image copyright HBO, used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

(Very mild, unspecific, possible spoilers up the the end of episode five. This isn’t so much a review to decide if you want to watch the show, but more for people who have watched a few episodes and are wondering why something feels off in spite of how great it all looks.)

(Part two of this review is available here.)

Visually, Raised by Wolves is near impeccable.

Everything is futuristic, yet drab, in a way that makes magical technologies feel settled into reality. Things that glow do so in just the right amount, in exactly the right shade of color that I bet computer graphics designers spent ages tweaking to get just right. There are hints of style taken from old pulp magazine covers going back to the nineteen thirties, letting you, the audience, know that the people who made this show are immersed in the deepest lore of science fiction.

The stunning visuals give this show an epic feel, so it’s easy to think that the story underpinning it must be really good to deserve such lavish treatment.

And the story is fine. Definitely worth watching so far.

It’s just… they’re clearly going for a big deep meaning to it all, and I don’t think I believe they’ve got the foundations to really sell me on their message.

Just so we’re all on the same page, the overall story is basically this. Way in Earth’s future, technology is so advanced that it’s practically magic, a la Arthur C. Clarke. There’s a big war between a fundamentalist-ish religion called “Mythraics”, if I have that right, and non believers, bluntly called “atheists.” So far as I can tell, these are the only two fighting factions. Their war has basically destroyed the earth, so everyone is trying to get off the planet and go to another one called Kepler-22.

The Mythraics have sent a big ol’ spaceship full of people, and guess what they call it. The atheists have sent a tiny shuttle with a pair of androids and some human embryos. The idea is that the androids will have the kids be born on the new planet, and raise them as a new colony. The androids call themselves “Mother” and “Father.”

I kind of like how the androids talk. They express programmed emotions and nuanced speech in a way that seems more like how truly advanced androids should talk. They don’t do anything hack, like avoid contractions and wonder how to be human, like Data on Star Trek.

Not that Data was hack. He was fine, in his time. It would only be hack to not progress our model of what we think an android could be.

Anyway…

The show is a little slow to start, with the two androids raising human kids on a barren planet, and dealing with challenges like farming and getting sick. I actually had to fast forward a bit to make sure something interesting would eventually happen before I went back and committed to sitting through the beginning.

Space crusaders. (Image copyright HBO, used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

The first hint that the story might not live up to the visuals was when we get an appearance from some people from the Mythraic ship who land on the planet a little later. Their space suits, clearly designed in a way to evoke Christian crusaders from the middle ages, are just a little too on the nose. To the point where I immediately thought, “oh, so this is going to be some big allegory about religion then, is it?”

Yep, it is.

Then there’s the dialog. Mostly straightforward, but every now and again some real clunky lines slip through. At one point, a little girl, frustrated that no one was listening to her, says, “No one ever listens to me because I’m little!” Uh… okay, have any more completely non-subtextual analysis of everyone else’s disposition towards you?

Another character one time gets injured by a spikey thing that jabs him in the eye, and he somewhat calmly, for someone bleeding out their eyeball, asks a medic, “Am I going to die?” and I mouthed the words along with the medic’s predictable response, which was, “We’re all going to die, just not today.” I’ve heard that line in enough shows that it must be part of some kind of Final Draft template. Sometimes the better choice is to not try and be clever and just have characters say things like, “AAAAH!! AHHH!! MY EYE! OW! FUCK! MY EYE!!”

When I started to really cringe, though, is in an early scene, where the android Mother serves some dinner, and some Mythraic children sitting at the table begin saying grace. She screams, “We DO NOT pray!” Or something to that effect.

It comes up a lot in this show that atheism is a belief system just as much as any religion is. In case there’s any doubt, Mother and Father on a few occasions specifically mention “raising the kids atheist,” phrased in various ways.

It’s a particular view of atheism that some religious people have. The idea of being raised with a particular framework of belief with rules of behavior is so ingrained in some people that they can only understand how other ideas work by interpreting them in familiar terms.

I could bore you to death with how atheism is not like that at all. At least, not for me. I could say that thinking of atheism as a religion is the same as saying turning a television off is just another channel. But I won’t get deep into it. Go read Dawkins or Harris or some other militant atheist for that kind of thing.

I just want to tell you about a moment in my life with some parallels. I was raised without religion, as neither of my parents were religious. Note, I was not “raised atheist”, because that just isn’t a thing.

Any-hoo, I think it was last time I was home for Christmas, and there was a big dinner, with everyone on my father’s side of the family, plus some various other people. My grandfather used to say a simple grace before dinner, but he passed away a few years ago. After everyone had been served and were about to start eating, I suggested saying the same grace, because it just kind of felt like a nice ritual to keep. I don’t think there’s any god listening, but everyone at the table shares the moment. Why throw the community baby out with the religious bathwater?

No one yelled at me to remind me that, as “atheists”, we don’t do that kind of thing. Everyone just rolled with it, and no one felt the slightest bit threatened. Why would we?

So, I personally just can’t relate to this world view where atheists are that fanatical about squashing any hint of ritual, the way they are depicted on this show.

To be fair, I could maybe get to where this show wants me to be if I speculate that in the history of Earth, between the now that I currently live in, and the future where this show happens, maybe there was some kind of huge social shift towards a globally oppressive fundamentalist religion. Maybe after that happened, a bunch of people resisted, and, as a distinct and specific reaction to the oppression they were fighting against, they took on a really, really aggressive form of “atheism.”

That could justify the extreme behavior and bridge the gap between their depiction and my experience. Maybe that backstory will come, but I don’t really get any sense of them going in that direction. I don’t know, but I suspect, that the show’s creators are working out their world view from a background of specific religious assumptions.

And that’s where the show makes me wary of where it will all end up. Some of those assumptions make my eyes roll.

In one scene, one of the children raised by the androids is caught praying over some food, even though he’s been raised without religion his whole life. The implication being that religious belief, and specifically prayer as western religions think of it, is somehow so natural that it would arise among people in spite of a complete lack of that cultural foundation.

In another scene, Mother says she’s “grateful” that some kids didn’t get hurt when they were out doing dangerous stuff. Father asks, “grateful to who?” Hah! See? You can’t help but think in terms of some kind of intentionality to the universe, no matter how hard you try to deny the truth! There’s no way that could just be a turn of phrase implying simple relief. Silly atheist robots.

None of which is to say the show is pro-religion. It goes out of its way to show that there is a ton of hypocrisy and bad behavior within the ranks of the Mythraics. The depiction of organized religion is equally as ham fisted as it is in depicting atheism, with things like people following hierarchies even when the person in charge is clearly incompetent. There’s even a rapist who justifies his behavior as the will of Sol, their god. A god who might be a successor to a long forgotten Yahweh, but that’s not made clear so far as I could see. All that’s clear is that Mythraics are clearly an allegory for Christianity, reducing the parameters of the atheism-versus-belief premise down to a very narrow concept of what religion means.

The writers clearly want you to know that they’re not biased for or against anyone. They’re on a quest for the truth, which I think they’re pursuing with good intentions. I just have doubts about their ability to find answers when they don’t seem to have all the possible questions.

I doubt the creators are militant adherents to either side of their two-sides-of-the-same-coin depiction of belief, so any reconciliation is likely to devolve into a toothless conclusion about how both organized religion and outright atheism are wrong, because neither sees the spiritual truth that goes beyond human reasoning. Weak. Get back to me when you’ve got a point of view instead of placation.

That would be kind of lame, but the an even worse outcome would be to not ever clearly propose any answers, and devolve into unmet promises, a la Lost. Remember Lost? That show about a group of factionalized survivors who crash land on a mysterious place where they keep discovering strange mysterious things? Sound familiar? It should, if you’re at least two episodes into Raised by Wolves.

Like how in this show when they find a mysterious temple thing, even though the planet should be uninhabited? Like in Lost when they first found “the hatch.” Or the mysterious ghostly kids in this show that always run into the distance before you catch them, while doing that cheesy echo-y playground music that you get whenever kids in shows are being spooky. Like in Lost, when people would always hear whispers when they went into the jungle. Or how the people in this show so far keep finding wreckage from The Ark spaceship whenever they need to move the plot along. Like in Lost when they came across the tail section, or find scattered luggage… How characters are developed through flashbacks… I could go on.

Lost turned out to be a complete waste of everyone’s time because they just piled more mysteries on top of each other to the point where eventually there would be no way to untangle them all in any cohesive, and satisfying, way. Also see: Twin Peaks. Hopefully this show won’t end up like that.

I’ll gladly take blunt depictions of atheism and religion and a fence sitting spiritualist conclusion if it means there at least is a conclusion. Hopefully I’m wrong about all of it, and something even better will happen.

And along the way, it sure is beautiful to look at.

(Part two of this review is available here.)

--

--

Dave Gutteridge
My Rambling Reviews

I don't post often because I think about what I write. Topics include ethics, relationships, and philosophy.