Okay, I’ll just say it: Raised by Wolves is hands down the most thrilling original sci-fi show in more than a decade. Not since the Battlestar: Galactica reboot have I been more instantly hooked by a genre show or flummoxed by its twists and turns. Created by Prisoners scribe Aaron Guzikowski and shepherded to the screen by legendary director Sir Ridley Scott, the new HBO Max series combines mystery with mythology to create a savage vision of humanity’s future. Get hyped because Raised by Wolves is here to take you on an insane ride.
The basic concept of Raised by Wolves is fairly simple by science fiction standards. Two androids named Father (Abubakar Salim) and Mother (Amanda Collin) arrive on an alien planet and immediately snap into action upon a crash landing. Their mission is to save humanity by raising a new generation of atheists on this blank slate of a new home world. After some housekeeping, Mother hooks herself up to six frozen embryos and spends the next nine months nursing them in external incubators. All this is narrated by the “youngest” of the children, empathetic Campion (Winta McGrath). Named for the androids’ creator, he is the one who will wind up carrying most of his robot parents’ hopes.
I hesitate to share more because the joy of watching Raised by Wolves is in letting it unfold in its strangeness. What I will tease is, naturally, the believers eventually show up. An “Ark” containing the chosen faithful from among a powerful faith called the “Mithraic Church” finally arrives in orbit. Vikings star Travis Fimmel plays a high-ranking soldier in the Church, but he and his wife Sue (Niamh Algar) have their own dangerous secrets. And a son they are as desperately attached to as Mother and Father are to their kids.
Raised by Wolves is a show that is deeply invested in what it means to be a parent. From Mother’s rabid devotion to her charges to Father’s adorable “Dad Joke” programming, Raised by Wolves tips its hat to the traditions of parenthood while wildly subverting them. What does it mean to be a good parent? Is it about protecting your children at all costs? Or emboldening them to make mistakes? Should you push your kids into your own faith or give them the leeway to make their own path? What is the tie that binds a parent to a child? Biology or something deeper? Raised by Wolves uses these deep emotional bonds to anchor its more “out there” storytelling.
And Raised by Wolves goes there. Whether it’s toying with its characters’ commitment to faith, introducing strange new alien threats, or going full gore with some of its fight scenes, Raised by Wolves swerves all over the place tonally. In a good way! The last time I felt so simultaneously confused and enraptured by a television show was Twin Peaks: The Return. While Raised by Wolves never gets quite so esoteric as Lynch’s more experimental episodes, it does often feel like a sandbox for Ridley Scott’s darker ideas.
Over the last 43 years, Scott has carved a place for himself in film history with historical epics like Gladiator, intimately visceral dramas like Thelma & Louise, and even feel-good space flicks like The Martian. But Raised by Wolves feels like it was made by the same Ridley Scott who made 1979’s Alien and its stunning follow up Blade Runner. Like those films, Raised by Wolves toys with the humanity of androids and the inevitability of a bleak, dangerous future. In fact, there is so much tonally in the first episode that specifically reminded me of Alien that I briefly thought that Raised by Wolves was set in the same universe as Ripley and those ferocious alien queens. (It’s not. Episode 2 grounds us in a different sci-fi timeline.)
As magnificent as the first six episodes of Raised by Wolves are, they also take some impossibly big swings. It’s really hard to trust that Guzikowski, Scott, and the rest of the show’s stewards can stick the season’s landing. The show could easily get lost in the forest of its own lore before too long. The series manages to balletically spin around these issues in the first half of the season, in huge part thanks to the cast. Travis Fimmel might be the only cast member instantly recognizable to US audiences, but that means the international cast simply sinks into their roles. In particular, Dutch actress Amanda Collin makes a strong case for superstardom with her turn as Mother. By all rights, her performance should be as big a breakthrough for her career as Sigourney Weaver’s was in Alien.
Based on the episodes sent to critics, Raised by Wolves has the potential to be the first great sci-fi show of the ’20s. Visually stunning, technically marvelous, and trippy as hell, it feels like both a callback to the golden era of sci-fi and a template for what the genre could be in this century. Raised by Wolves is a must-watch for sci-fi devotees and a return to early career form for Sir Ridley Scott.
The first three episodes of Raised by Wolves premiere on HBO Max on September 3.