The premiere episode of "Raised by Wolves," which was directed by Ridley Scott, is one of the best pieces of high concept science-fiction media I've seen in ages. Most of the hour follows two androids, the white-skinned, strong-willed Mother (Amanda Collin), and the dark-skinned, more good-natured Father (Abubakar Salim) as they arrive on the planet of Kepler-22b with a group of precious human embryos who they have been programmed to protect and nurture. The youngest of the children they raise is a boy named Campion (Winta McGrath), who is roughly aged eleven by the end of the episode.
It was a canny decision by creator Aaron Guzikowski to make the androids the main characters of "Raised by Wolves." They speak and behave in a very detached, alien way, and are able to approach all kinds of moral and philosophical quandaries with a certain analytical distance. They have emotions, and they're very sympathetic and even lovable at times, but there's a pronounced otherness to them that the show maintains all the way through to the end. Though the production values are wonderful, most of the effectiveness of the show comes down to the excellent performances of Collin and Salim. Mother in particular is an instantly iconic character, merciless and rigid when it comes to fulfilling her directives, but also warm and open-hearted when she's interacting with the children.
Little by little, more and more is revealed about the group's circumstances. We learn that the androids left a war-torn Earth where most of humanity was destroyed. We learn that they were sent by one group, the Atheists, and reached Kepler-22b in advance of the religious Mithraics, who worship a god called Sol, and decided to send their survivors aboard a larger, slower-moving Ark. We learn that Mother has certain hidden capabilities that are revealed upon the arrival of the Ark, and that Kepler-22b has its own mysteries to unravel. A second major narrative emerges involving Caleb (Travis Fimmel) and Mary (Niamh Algar), a pair of Atheist soldiers who found a way to sneak aboard the Ark in disguise. We also follow some of the children from the Ark, including the son of the ship's captain, Paul (Felix Jamieson), and a teenage girl named Tempest (Jordan Loughran), who secretly hates the Mithraics.
As the first season rolls on, the show falls into the more typical pattern of cat-and-mouse games as the androids and the Mithraics engage in hostilities, while the kids are caught in the middle trying to sort out complicated allegiances. Some of the conceits are very old hat, like a Mithraic prophecy of a chosen one that might refer to Campion, or Paul, or Caleb. There's a lot of business with mysterious voices and visions in the second half of the season, when the pace slows down. I appreciate that the show aims to be respectful of religious impulses, but few of the spiritual elements in the show work very well, aside from some of the broader symbolism. None of the Mithraic true believers are given much depth, and the Caleb storyline drags considerably.
On the other hand, "Raised by Wolves" is willing to tackle some pretty wild material that no other science fiction program has ever gotten near, and I like how it handles difficult subjects. There's a lot of violence in this show and some sex, but little of it is graphic. Children are constantly put in danger and die, but we never see them harmed directly. The body horror is constant, and very tactile, but when it's happening to the androids, that softens the impact just enough. The show is very good about showing what it needs to show, and getting the wow factor from the great effects and environments. However, it also knows when to pull back and let the viewer's imagination fill in the blanks.
I'll add a warning that the series looks like hard science fiction, but it's not. As it goes on, the show becomes more fantastical, nothing about the alien planet makes any sense, and the religious allegory becomes far more pronounced. However, I can't help but love that the show goes so big, that it's about ideas and conflicts with some real weight behind them. "Raised by Wolves" has plenty of faults, but its operating in the realm of the old school science-fiction stories I grew up with, and have been waiting far too long to see onscreen. So, let's see where this goes.