‘Raised by Wolves’: Will religion affect human survival?
In “Raised by Wolves”, Earth has been destroyed because of a devastating religious war waged by the Mithraic, the followers of the deity Sol. The last group left opposing them in this war, the atheists, have sent two androids to the exoplanet Kepler-22b to start a human colony and found a new atheist human civilization that would avoid the same mistakes. Meanwhile, the Mithraic have also sent a space ark where the chosen have been placed in stasis pods to survive the long journey to Kepler-22b.
Created by Aaron Guzikowski with Ridley Scott as executive producer (Scott also directed the first two episodes), the HBO Max Original “Raised by Wolves” is a brilliant sci-fi drama series. It boasts intelligent writing, stunning visuals, and awesome performances, especially by the Danish actress Amanda Collin, who plays the android called Mother. It also stars Travis Fimmel, in case you’re a fan of Ragnar in “Vikings”. What’s great about “Raised by Wolves” is that it doesn’t spell out or simplify things. Worldbuilding doesn’t come at the expense of character and story development. The series also takes a nuanced look at the conflict between religion and atheism, and the difference between human and artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, the series only makes one thing clear: whether she’s a human or an android, never mess with a mother who is protecting her children.
Mother and Father
While not explicitly stated, we can infer that in this alternate timeline, the Roman religion of Mithraism, which was one of the rivals of early Christianity in the Roman Empire, emerged victorious and became the foundation of modern civilization. Or at the very least it survived into modern times — or was revived — and somehow succeeded in defeating other religions.
The title “Raised by Wolves”, of course, alludes to Romulus and Remus of Roman mythology, the twins who were raised by a she-wolf. Romulus founded the city that bears his name and the Roman Kingdom.
The first episode of “Raised by Wolves” is one of the best series premieres I have ever seen. We are immediately plunged into an alien world, and hit full force with the strangeness of these two androids, thanks in no small part to the otherworldly — pun intended — performances and costumes of Collin as Mother and British actor Abubakar Salim as Father.
Mother and Father are our entry points into this series, and from the start we see things from their non-human perspective. Once the human children are born, we see how their interaction with humans not only shapes these kids, but also causes both Mother and Father to evolve in different ways. Just as in our real world, AI learns and adapts to humans, and even becomes good at predicting human behavior.
Belief in the unreal
One of the pivotal conversations in this series occurs early on, beautifully illustrating the conflict between religion and atheism.
Mother: But despite their advancements, the Mithraic remain stunted by the tenets of their religion. For instance, they believe that allowing androids to raise human children is a sin, which forced them to send an ark outfitted with stasis pods, rather than a lighter, faster craft, such as the one the atheists so wisely used to send us. Belief in the unreal can comfort the human mind, but it also weakens it. The civilization you’re seeding here will be built on humanity’s belief in itself, not an imagined deity.
Campion: And if it’s not imagined? They won the war, after all.
It’s a question that can’t easily be answered, and I love how “Raised by Wolves” doesn’t shy away from showing things from different perspectives, whether from a believer or nonbeliever, from a human or non-human. While raised as an atheist, Campion can’t help but feeling the urge, or need, to believe in a deity, just as some children who were raised to be Mithraic end up questioning their beliefs.
It is also difficult for Mother and Father to understand how illogical humans can sometimes be, but through their experiences they learn to adjust to the quirks of human behavior. They come to understand that sometimes it is necessary to lie to spare the feelings of humans, or to protect them. And they even learn to accept, while remaining true to their mission of raising atheists, that believing in a deity might be part of human instincts, whether it’s the need to make sense of tragedies, or to feel that they belong.
The arrival of the Mithraic ark many years later sets into motion the deadly conflict in Season 1, and results in our discovery that certain characters are not who we thought them to be.
I won’t spoil the twists, but trust me that you will encounter many of them along the way. And that even when you think you have things all figured out and have a good idea where this will lead, the series suddenly throws you for a loop.
The soldier Marcus, played by Fimmel, is the main character from the Mithraic side, just as Mother is the prime mover for the atheist side on Keppel-22b. It’s fascinating to see how both of them will evolve after that initial meeting, and how they will shape and be shaped by the other’s actions.
This series raises many difficult but important questions — which we as human beings should resolve before it destroys our civilization, and dooms any attempt for a fresh start on another world.
Humans and non-humans
Will we continue to let our differences tear us apart, as we seek to destroy the Other in any form? Whether that Other is another human who is different from us, or a non-human.
Do animals have souls? Do humans who don’t worship the “right” deity have souls?
After all, “Raised by Wolves” shows that non-humans like Mother might be more willing to adapt and compromise — perhaps even act more human than real humans.
Incidentally, “Raised by Wolves” also has a companion podcast produced by HBO Max and iHeartMedia, where experts from the fields of science and technology explore some of the serious issues tackled by this series, including AI, space travel, and religion.
“Raised by Wolves” was renewed for a second season the moment it premiered. It is available on HBO GO in Asia.
See you on Kepler-22b!