One of the best perks critics get is access to screeners, or episodes of TV shows before they are generally released. A pitfall to this, though, is that they usually don’t come with with subtitles or “previously on,” which can be a problem. While HBO Max’s fantastically bonkers Raised by Wolves doesn’t necessarily need subtitles (although I would argue everything needs subtitles), a “previously on” is something you really can’t do without. It’s been almost a year and a half since the refreshingly unique sci-fi series first aired, and not only has a lot happened in that time generally speaking, the show itself is completely nuts. I went back and re-read my thoughts on the Season 1 finale as a refresher, and that helped a little; but frankly I still found it a steep journey back to understanding even half of what was happening in front of me. And honestly, that’s ok. Raised by Wolves asks you to trust it, and so far it’s earned the right to do so.
As you may (or may not) recall, Raised by Wolves began by introducing us to two increasingly human-like androids in shiny spandex, Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim), tasked with caring for and raising a host of children transferred via pods after the destruction of Earth. In this far future, Earth is annihilated by two warring factions: Atheists versus the devout followers of a God called Sol, known as Mithraics. The children were meant to be raised in a utopian atheistic community overseen by Father and Mother, as some of the only remaining survivors of the war.
But from the start, Raised by Wolves began subverting expectations. The religious Mithraics were not anti-tech; they embraced it, building androids and using them in their society. And the utopian atheist community? Almost all of the children were killed as of the first episode. But Raised by Wolves didn’t take sides; over and over again, it showed how fanaticism on either side is dangerous.
That general fabric of belief versus unbelief constantly simmers throughout the show’s return (the first three episodes of which were watched for review), but it never overpowers the narrative. There is a lot at play here between androids and humans, between various kinds of androids and various kinds of humans, between the rigidity of a “just” society and the relative freedom of a burgeoning cult. But once again, Raised by Wolves grounds these grand ideas with its excellent storytelling, balancing constantly expanding mythology with constantly evolving characters. And somehow, it all kinda makes sense.
There are some major changes, the biggest of which is that everyone has moved from the hostile desert region of the planet Kepler-22b to the Tropical Zone, a much more welcoming environment, but one ruled by an Atheistic collective. This of course delights Mother, while her new set of Sol-worshipping children (and those who remain on the fence) aren’t so sure. Though the AI that rules this human community, known as The Trust, instructs everyone to accept these new citizens, our heroes are met with hostility. At the same time, they are getting to eat tons of fruit, play video games, and have their own beds, so… how bad is it, really?
But alongside Mother and her brood, Travis Fimmel’s increasingly deranged and powerful Marcus has also found his way to the Tropical Zone. In addition to gaining new, mysterious powers, Marcus feels called to establish a new Sol-focused church that operates like a family. As such, he attempts to bring in those looking to escape the Trust—especially other believers and those who have violated the collective’s laws and are forced to wear detonation vests at all times.
These are just a few of the myriad threads running through the new season, and I haven’t even mentioned the return of the flying robot eel baby. But again, where Raised by Wolves continues to succeed is in the way it grounds itself in very human stories; yes, young Campion (Winta McGrath) interacts with the eel and is one of three potential Chosen Ones described by prophesy, but he has also literally doubled in height since Season 1, has a voiced that dropped half an octave, and maybe has a crush on an android girl. Tiny traumatized Paul (Felix Jamieson), meanwhile, continues to uphold his devout beliefs, but is pulled between hating his adopted parents (times two) and wanting to be accepted by them. Though there’s less of a focus on the children so far this season, there is also a lot of potential for those stories to be given more depth in future episodes (unfortunately the weak link here is Paul, who hasn’t quite found his rhythm in a role that requires a lot of nuance and charisma).
The bottom line is that there is simply nothing like Raised by Wolves on television. It’s sci-fi, but it also really leans into fantasy. It’s stocked with strange ideas and compelling performances, and has a keen sense of aesthetic; the rendering of Kepler-22b’s landscapes and weather patterns are surprising and eerie. Continuing with the palettes and textures Ridley Scott employed in his direction of the first two episodes of Season 1, this feels like a truly alien world, one that is clearly filled with secrets. The combination of CG and practical effects are well-considered, and the series continues to be an immersive blend of action and lore, never relying too much on either visuals or dialogue to tell the story. Both work in concert to do a ton of heavy lifting regarding world building, without that element ever feeling too dense or boring—it’s exciting, with each twist and turn arriving as clues to better understand this crazy place, from its smallest elements to its greatest themes. And yet, the answers to the mysteries always take a backseat to the interpersonal dynamics among the survivors.
Creator Aaron Guzikowski seems to have a clear vision for the series, even if moment by moment it’s impossible to predict what will come next. A snake god? A skeleton resurrected by blood milk? The Tree of Life? An android fighting pit? Puberty? You simply cannot have a series this out-there and not have a plan. So far, it’s working.
The first two episodes of Raised by Wolves Season 2 premiere Thursday, February 3rd on HBO Max; subsequent episodes will be released weekly.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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