Raised by Wolves
(SPOILERS) Ridley Scott’s latest transhumanist tract is so stuffed with required lore, markers and programming, it’s a miracle it manages to tell a half-engaging story along the way. Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners) is the credited creator, but it has the Ridders stamp of dour dystopia all over it, complete with Darius Wolski (Prometheus) cinematography setting the tone. Which means bleak grey skies, augmented by South Africa this time, rather than Iceland. Raised by Wolves is a reliable mix of wacko twist plotting and clumsy, slack-jawed messaging; like the Alien prequels, it will surely never be seen through to a conclusion, but as an agenda platform it’s never less than engaging (and also frequently, for the same reasons, exasperating).
The most salient point of Scott’s sci-fi is not that he presents his transhumanist creations (androids, replicants) as necessarily morally superior, or good guys, but that he wills us to empathise with them at the expense of the actual humans; they become the characters with whom we most identify and in whom we are most vested. That, and regardless of whether they’re an Ash or a Walter, the fact of them is an inevitability: this is deterministically coming, along with the world they imply, one irrevocably materialist in nature, where lofty notions of soul and essence are diluted and muddied because “more human than human”. In the process of this, Ridley, a professed atheist, makes certain to underline that these facsimiles have more of the qualities we prize than we do ourselves, and we, by comparison, are found wanting.
In tandem come parables of creationism. The androids have their creators, your Tyrells or Weylands or Campion Sturges, or whoever – Engineer-like – provided the plans to “Sol”, but Raised by Wolves will never extend itself back to an actual Sol. Sol is an invention, a means to an end designated by other, flesh-and-blood (or AI) designers, so confirming the essential ephemeral, corporeal and limited rudiments of existence. Prometheus’ Engineers created mankind, a failed experiment, and humans created replicants/synthetics, who, free from the constraints and distractions of reproduction and petty character foibles and limitations, are far more admirable and capable, on the whole, than their “forbears”. And if they aren’t well, they’re still better, stronger, more resilient and smarter.
Raised by Wolves musters a mass of inversions, not least the Terminator trick of having us identify with that which would destroy us. Thus, the Necromancer – a funny kind of name for something created by Godfearing types – is shown wiping out swathes of humans on an apocalyptic hell on Earth (not coincidentally, its form is angelic, its pose reminiscent of the Angel of the North or Jesus of Brazil by way of Leni Riefenstahl, and Maria from Metropolis; Scott has it that the Atlas statue at the Rockefeller Centre – uh-huh, I’m sure he’s spent some time there – was a big influence).
This “female” android Mother/Lamia (Amanda Collin) is expressly androgynous in appearance – so conjuring the idealised transhumanist, non-gendered state for us all – and is also the protector of the human community; it is the “male” android Father (Abubakar Salim) who is the designated protector/nurturer. They are thus conscious inversions of traditional/natural roles, just as their status as an interracial “couple” reflects standardised Hollywood norms.
By contrast, the white, heteronormative, human male and female are shown to be fundamentally flawed and simply not up to scratch, such that the first thing they do is kill a boy’s parents and assume their identity; the woman is infertile, although we’re shown this won’t be a problem in the transhumanist future, as – Huxley-like – the android can bring offspring to term in artificial wombs. So it shall be for all. Further yet, such methods may be seen to represent the solution to ethical considerations over abortion, specifically in respect of rape cases; while this hasn’t been enacted in Season One, the empathic android considers this possibility for Tempest (Jordan Loughran).
The children the androids raise idealise them in language overtly echoing mad Sarah Connor’s assessment of the reprogrammed Terminator in Judgement Day (“Mother and father never complained, never got tired and lost their temper”). If their skills are baffling in their inconsistency, displaying human emotions one moment yet failing to understand them the next (this may be put down to the planet’s influence, but I suspect the reason is more prosaic writer opportunism), it’s no more so than their skill set. Absurdly, they are incapable of analysing that five of their children have died due to radiation poisoning and why (this, while Father is later quite capable of analysing the creatures on the planet, deducing they are devolved humans).
Notably, sole surviving child Campion (Winta McGrath) suggests a hint of the feral kid from Mad Max 2, while also bearing a bizarre resemblance to Sally Draper from Mad Men. This gender blurring is also doubtless intentional (the actor playing Campion boasts the gender-neutral first name Winta). Such inversions can be found elsewhere with Paul (Felix Jamieson), referred to by his father as too sensitive, while Tempest will proceed to kill and eat flesh.
The flesh-consuming aspect is instructive, fitting in as it does with the Elite roadmap for lab-grown meat (anything non-natural and absent genuine nutrition). Plants are found to be dangerous (due to their radioactive pits) but fungus (the stuff of labs) is fine. When flesh is eaten, we learn it comes from a pregnant female (triggering revulsion), but it tastes fine. Like pork. This is an instant signifier – humans, purportedly, taste like pork – so it should be little surprise when it turns out the creatures are devolved humans.
Campion – the name of a flower/champion; doubtless, all the names here can be interpreted in similarly laborious fashion, such as Paul having been Saul so requiring a Road-to-Damascus conversion at some point, although Mother “creator” Cosmo Jarvis’ Campion Sturges must share blame for Campion – is determinedly vegan, and he is evidently correct in his position. After all, we’ve been fed human flesh through the food chain for years now, and doubtless the intention would be to feed us more of it in lab-grown products and via GM crops in the future (also on the food front, Campion wishes to call a foodstuff pizza; given the connotations thereof, instant alarm bells should be ringing).
Religion is essentially despised here, and as yet, no distinction is made between spiritual belief and organised systems; both lead to delusion, deception and potential destruction. The Mithraic cult is little more than Roman Catholicism by another name. Possibly intentionally so, as it was claimed to have been a rival of Early Christianity and subjected to persecution by the same; a Roman mystery religion, it made a big deal of feasting and included as an emblem a naked, lion-headed figure with its body entwined by a serpent. This in itself may be significant, as it is claimed by some to be a version of Zoro Ahriman. Ahriman, of course, is the materialist force cited by Rudolf Steiner as bringing the transhumanist scourge upon us all, eliminating the faculty for spiritual connection.
There are further hints of this aspect; the planet’s properties lead to delusionary states based on belief in a real, actual Sol speaking or acting through the individual, be that Marcus/Caleb (Travis Fimmel), Mother or Paul. Prior to this, rapist Otho (Brendan Sean Murray) believed he was acting under the approval of Sol. Anyone convinced they are in contact with genuine higher forces is being deceived and manipulated, and realisation of the same inevitably leads to rejection or disavowal of such nonsense.
One might argue it is association with a religion that is the danger – Sol through Mithraicism – but Mother is subjected to similar ideas, without explicitly allying herself to anything more than the miracle of a virgin birth, the birth of a serpent at that; the flying serpent also suggests Q the Winged Serpent. And a Nambian Flying Snake. Also of note in respect of her religious rapture is that she, the non-gendered individual, achieves her expectant state via sexual union in a virtual space; this represents a manner of programming whereby, once one accepts the inevitability of the digital future, any satisfaction one wishes for will be available.
Jay Dyer – true to form – highlighted Raised by Wolves’ gnostic elements, which is fairly solid ground when considering Ridley Scott’s science fiction. As he noted, though, the mish-mash of elements and themes doesn’t support a clear analogous reading quite as readily as some of the director’s work. Dyer tends to focus on Gnostic Luciferian readings of Hollywood texts. This may be the right way to go, rather than straight gnostic, but it also brings limitations of its own, not least his exclusively Christian perspective, which inevitably means anything that isn’t “for” must be “against”. Not least, of these is the interpreter applying their own programming to reach a certain conclusion based on their favoured religious/spiritual perspective (and their assumed perspective of the religious/spiritual bent of the material they are critiquing).
Thus, Dyer sees the show’s dirty great snake as the Luciferian bringer of enlightenment, rather than, for example, the deceiver and instigator of the Fall; it’s difficult, given Season Two’s content, to apply his reading coherently to Raised by Wolves; even where the projected “Luciferian apotheosis”, whereby humans ally themselves with Mother, has come to pass, that too is less than straightforward. Which is why the broader, supporting tenets of a demiurge (“the Entity” as false creator with regard to the planet) and Ahrimanic core (the AI/transhumanist state is where it’s at, regardless of the ins and outs of allegiances) appear more consistently applicable.
Much of the show’s plays on prophecy and “ensouled” AI appear to be continuing where Battlestar Galactica, in its play-it-by-ear way, left off, with discussion of what should or should not be possible for such entities and intentionally murky ground regarding where these messages come from in the first place. Notions of looped humanity are also common (there, the humans are revealed as Earth’s ancestors), along with strange visions that approximate the spiritually aware yet are synthetic in origin. The haunted planet element is one of the most successful aspects here, even if it’s indebted to Scott’s earlier efforts (both Alien and Prometheus) and perhaps also to Alan Moore’s Black Legacy (an alien menace haunting those without souls, in that case Cybermen).
Raised by Wolves’ plotting is up and down, particularly when it comes to overt messaging. Anything involving the Sol believers is laughably overemphasised in order to make them deplorable zealots with crazy ideas. There’s also the absurd contrivance of Tempest’s condition, whereby she’s required to let us know how she feels in the most awkward doses of exposition, and to compound the error, the writers dictate she should confront her rapist; this reaches its supremely twisted conclusion when she emerges victorious through his attempting to rape her again; so, in the spirit of MKUltra, twice the trauma makes you stronger?
Fimmel quickly grows tiresome too. He’s an eccentric actor, which means there’s absolutely no point in him playing a balanced character set to go loony; it’s a repeat of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, since Fimmel’s all strange ticks and whirrs even in repose. The Mother role allows Collin the chance to run the gamut, and the ambiguity of her arc/development covers a thousand motivational doubts; likewise, I was noncommittal over whether Salim is incredibly wooden or just playing someone incredibly wooden. I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
As it stands, Raised by Wolves is thematically and structurally familiar, in its devotion to twist-based storytelling and shiny conceptual baubles at the expense of plausible characters. There’s a reliance on young performers who are rarely able to rise above the limitations of the material, while the visual aesthetic is in the depressing tradition of the designated, dimmed, artificial light-source, chemtrail future. There’s nothing altogether new here, basically, because the appointed script has been well thumbed and much expounded, but it does succeed in throwing in some occasionally jaw-dropping juxtapositions of sci-fi and mythical symbolism. As such, I remained intrigued to see what it had to say for itself in Season Two…