Raised by Wolves, My Rambling Review, the Conclusion

Well, that was disappointing

Dave Gutteridge
My Rambling Reviews

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Two androids from the show “Raised by Wolves” look off into the distance.
Two androids wondering what happened to all the pretension of being “philosophical.” (Image copyright HBO, used without permission, please don’t sue me.)

(Spoilers a’plenty. I especially talk about the big dumb reveal at the end of the season. This isn’t a review for deciding if you want to watch the show, this is for dissecting the disappointment you felt as each episode took you farther from where you wanted to go.)

When I first reviewed Raised by Wolves, halfway through the first season, I made what I thought was an obviously unflattering comparison to the show Lost, because we all know that Lost is the poster child for failed promises, don’t we?

By coincidence, a few days before writing this, I came across a video of some online panel show from New York Comic Con, where the creators of Lost were talking about what would happen if Lost were made today. I didn’t watch the whole thing, partly because I don’t care what Lost would or could be like if remade or rebooted. But also partly because I was only watching for as long as I needed to in order to confirm that that people were actually talking about Lost as if it wasn’t obviously a pile of garbage.

I guess maybe Lost did well enough that people who make TV shows didn’t learn the lessons that I had hoped they had learned. I had hoped that it was now universally accepted that having a show that just constantly strings an audience along from one mystery or puzzle to the next was only going to lead to disappointment.

Which brings me back to Raised by Wolves, the show that makes it clear. No, no lessons were learned from Lost.

Raised by Wolves has every intention of building up a big pile competing ideas and mysteries that will try and use the illusion of important things happening to hide the fact that nothing is really happening. Its delusions of being philosophical, with deep questions about the meaning of belief, have already faded into the background.

Even if they’ve learned at least enough to have decided from the start that there will be an overarching resolution to tie it all together, I don’t care anymore. It’s like being at a dinner that’s serving five times as much food as I can eat. I might like all the individual items available, but I’m not interested in trying to finish everything.

Which is a bummer, because this show had some things I liked. It has a clear visual style, and I was rooting for some of the characters. I like the actor who was the main guy for the first few seasons of Vikings, even though he’s playing almost the exact same character, right down to it being unclear if he’s really communing with gods or is just going nuts.

I like both android characters, Mother and Father, and was rooting for them to reconcile their differences and get their rag tag family of abducted children away from the religious zealots. But here is where we run into some problems.

As much as I liked Father, there were about three separate times when he should have died in the show, and it would have been the better narrative choice. It would have had weight and meaning precisely because he was such a likable character.

When I say should have died, I don’t mean he came close to death, but then narrowly escaped. No, he gets decidedly murdered over and over, but he just keeps getting up again like some kind of artificial Rasputin. He gets Scarfaced by zealots with machine guns. He has his “heart” ripped out by Mother, not emotionally, but literally, Kali Ma style. And eventually he flies a shuttle into what might have been the literal molten core of the planet, but at the very least was a volcano’s worth of lava. Yet he comes out of all of it looking ready to shoot an artistic cologne commercial.

When a main character just can’t die no matter what, then the show has no real stakes. You can kill all the redshirts you want, but if you’re willing to expose a main character to that level of destruction and not have it count for anything, then I don’t believe any main character is ever really in any kind of danger. It makes me feel like the writers aren’t willing to make brave choices that take me into unexpected directions, they want to just hang out in a safe narrative space where they can hang onto the characters they’ve worked so hard to establish.

It’s not just Father. Mother should be dead too, shot right in the head at point blank range by the Mythraics, except Mr Viking heard voices telling him not to let that happen. Mr Viking should be dead from the beating he received when he was outed as an atheist imposter, since the Mythraics seem to be the types to finish the job when dealing with atheists. Mrs Atheist Imposter should probably be dead too, because her son should have shot her in the head when he confronted her with a gun about the fact that she’s not his real mother.

Instead, he shot her in one of the Hollywood safe spots, which is in the gut, just a little to the side. That’s one of the parts of your body where movies want you to believe you can take a bullet and more or less walk it off. It’s not as safe as being shot in the upper arm, but it depends on how quick you want the character to rejoin the action. She was shot in the side of the stomach because the writers want her to roll around on the ground for a few episodes and presumably reconcile with the unwittingly adopted son she’s come to love.

The show makes a lot of weak narrative choices, but there were a couple I thought were interesting. The main one to do with a prophecy that gets mentioned. There’s this whole thing about how there will be an orphan who leads everyone to… something. I didn’t actually care enough to catch on what the promised child is supposed to do, but, whatever.

Part of the reason I was disinterested in the specifics of the prophecy was because it seemed at first to be going in an all too obvious direction. Of all the children the androids bring with them, only one survives, and he’s kind of an orphan, depending on whether or not you think Androids can count as real parents or not. It seemed to be the color by numbers choice to have the atheist kid become the messiah to the religious group he’s been taught to reject. So much irony, right?

Later though, it gets suggested that it might be the son of Mr Viking and Mrs Atheist Imposter who is the messiah. You see, he doesn’t know it, but he’s also an orphan, because Mr Viking and Mrs Atheist Imposter killed his parents and took their identities so they could sneak on board one of the few precious space ships leaving a dying earth. So, two equally credible applicants to the messiah job makes things a bit interesting.

But then, Mr Viking steps into the ring, because he’s also an orphan, and he thinks the Mythraic god Sol is talking directly to him in spooky whispery voices, so now we’ve got a real race. There’s no standard narrative trope that dictates which one it should be, or even if it could be someone else entirely. It’s good when a story can keep you guessing about where it’s going.

Unfortunately, the future messiah could have had one more contender, and this is where things jumped the shark for me.

Mother gets pregnant, though not by Father. In a turn of events that reeks of a show making wholly unplanned decisions mid season, she finds data left for her by the guy who programmed her, and he releases code into her that makes her pregnant. And if that sounds like an allegory for sex, it’s not, it’s straight up sex. The way he releases the code is through a virtual reality simulation in which he fucks her. He could have left the necessary code for her in a Zip file, but I guess if you’re going to program an android to get pregnant, you might as well program a simulation of yourself fucking her…?

Is this consensual? Does she have agency? Did he program her to want to fuck him? If she has agency and he programmed her to behave out of character, is the reprogramming a form of rape or slavery? If all her feelings are programmed, does she have sentience? If she doesn’t, is she just an elaborate sex toy and his whole ritual of seducing her is just him playing out his weird fetishes and fantasies?

Wait… if she is sentient, with agency and choice, doesn’t that make her a war criminal for killing all the civilians on the space ship she blew up when she abducted a bunch of children?

Good questions. Maybe some other show one day will come along and think about those.

Anyway, she gets pregnant, and that makes you think, hey, maybe this android baby could be another messiah contender. It could be considered an orphan, because you would be justified in proposing that an android that brings it to term is just a glorified incubator. Or, it would be equally fair to suggest that a mother is defined by the actions of being a mother, not what she’s constructed of, so an android mother is just as legitimate as a biological one, in which case, not an orphan.

To answer that question might also require whether or not you think of Mother, and Father, as “alive.” Again, great questions. Maybe you can think about those on your own time. This show’s busy with other stuff.

The being inside Mother gestates at the speed of narrative convenience, so she’s ready to give birth in about two episodes which is two weeks or so at most. And when it’s born… it’s a weird snake monster.

What?

Before I get into why a snake monster is a dumb and disappointing outcome, I want to mention that the show gets inexplicably super cowardly about showing the birth. Births, you see, happen through vaginas, at least so far as I’ve heard. But, the snake monster comes out of Mother’s mouth. It’s played up as being this traumatic and disturbing situation, and I guess a snake coming out of your mouth is pretty upsetting. But, I don’t know. The whole time I was watching it was thinking, while I’m not sure I’d actually want to watch a scene of a snake monster coming out of her vagina, it also makes no sense for it to come out of anywhere else. Maybe as an android she doesn’t have a vagina? Except maybe she does since she banged the guy who programmed her. But that was in VR… whatever. I don’t know what I wanted to happen in the birth scene, but at the same time I had so many questions about what was happening that the whole scene was just awkward.

Right… so… the snake monster emerges from Mother, and, small detail, but, weirdly, it can fly. On the one hand, fine, because this is a future with magic level technologies, so in a way, anything can happen and whatever. On the other hand, it’s a purely organic creature, not anything that would have, say, anti-gravity devices or whatever built in. I think its flying motion bugged me a bit because as someone who used to do a little computer animation, I can tell you that they way they animated it flying, following along a rigid path unconnected from the environment, is the cheapest and easiest way to do it. Did this show get tight on budget late in the season? Ugh, whatever. I’m trying to get to why the snake monster was dumb, and I keep getting buffeted by all the dumb decisions made around it.

Around the time when the guy who programmed Mother banged her in virtual reality, he mentioned something about how the original kids he sent Mother and Father with were “just practice.” The implication being that this new child born directly from Mother is the real mission. Okay, but… you’re saying that raising a bunch of human children she loves was practice for raising a snake monster that terrifies her? That’s a dumb plan.

Or maybe his plan was co-opted by the strange mystic forces happening on the planet?

I’m sure that you can guess why Mother gave birth to a snake monster, and not, say, a duck monster or a koala monster. Throughout the show we see skeletons of ancient giant snake creatures, and there are these large holes in the ground that are almost certainly burrows left behind by said snake creatures. In one of the very last scenes of the season, the last time we see the snake monster that was small enough to emerge from Mother’s human sized mouth, it bursts out of a crashed shuttle to fly away, and now it’s totally huge. The size of, presumably, an ancient snake monster.

I think the intention is that we, the audience, are supposed to be intrigued by how this planet’s past with its snake monsters is tied to the current story where mother is used to bring about a new snake monster. We’re also supposed to wonder how this ties in with the weird creatures that might be devolved humans that the children hunted and ate sometimes. And what about the weird temple thing? What about the neanderthal skull? What about the voice Mr Viking hears? What about the whispery kids who run around in black cloaks? What about the messiah? What about the new space ship that’s probably full of atheists that shows up? What about…

No, fuck you, it’s too much, I stopped caring. I would be down for a show where androids have to raise human kids on an inhospitable planet while being hunted by crazy religious zealots. Or, maybe a story about atheist parents trying to get to safety and taking their adopted messiah child with them. Or something. There are human stories all over this place that could be really compelling and made rich through the sci-fi world they inhabit.

Unfortunately, everything about this show that works is just getting pushed to the side by piles upon piles of “hey, neat” concepts that call for convoluted explanations that can never be as satisfying as the sense of wonder that unanswered mysteries evoke.

The snake monster birth was so dumb to me because of all the moments in the show that are supposed to inspire a sense of mystery, this seemed the most deliberately contrived. To me it screamed out that the writers were desperate for something unexpected on the level of a season closer, regardless of how far it deviated from any reasonable expectation. It made too much sense for her to have a human child, and doing what the audience expects is bad, isn’t it? Isn’t that what made the final season of Game of Thrones so widely appreciated by all its fans? “Subverting expectations”?

Lost took a good two seasons or so before people at the time started to wonder if all the mysteries would, or could, get wrapped up. And Lost was an old school network show with about twenty four episodes per season, so that’s equal to about five streaming service seasons, which seem to have settled on around ten episodes as a standard.

Raised by Wolves has played its hand early, and by the end of the first season, it has already become clear that this show is going to just keep throwing mysteries at you in hopes of keeping you interested. No thanks.

The best thing I can say about this show is that I’m glad it got down to the business of being disappointing in ten episodes. I watched a lot more hours of Lost before I realized it was hot garbage in disguise, and I’ll never get that time back. At least with Raised by Wolves, I don’t feel like my time was too unfairly wasted.

Also, it did look kinda neat.

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Dave Gutteridge
My Rambling Reviews

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