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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

HBO Max’s Raised By Wolves asks big questions about identity in its second episode

Jordan Loughran and Amanda Collin star in Raised By Wolves
Jordan Loughran and Amanda Collin star in Raised By Wolves
Photo: Coco Van Oppens (HBO Max
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After the shockingly violent end of episode one, “Pentagram” shifts our attentions away from Mother in order to focus on Marcus (Travis Fimmel), the Mithraic man who had tried to kidnap Campion and who is now struggling to survive alone on Kepler-22b. In the opening scene, we go back in time to the Boston of 2145, which is an unrecognizable warzone filled with androids that look exactly like Mother, floating about the trenches and destroying everything they come in contact with. In this landscape, we meet a couple trying to escape the chaos all around. They find a damaged android with the identities of a few Mithraic people, one of whom is Marcus, and make the decision to get some deeply unsettling robot-administered plastic surgery in order to secure a place in the Ark. In other words, the Marcus we met on Kepler-22b is not in fact a devout believer, but someone who is pretending to be something he isn’t.

While I admired the world-building, I also found myself eager to get back to Kepler-22b and the children that Mother kidnapped from the Mithraic ship. Perhaps because we don’t know much about Marcus to begin with, the reveal that he wasn’t who he initially seemed to be isn’t especially emotionally charged. In particular, Marcus’ partner Sue (Niamh Algar) doesn’t have much of a personality yet. We only know that she’s unhappy she had to have sudden plastic surgery (who wouldn’t be?) and that she has a strong maternal urge to protect the child she is now expected to mother.

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I was originally surprised by the level of technology found on the Mithraic ship, perhaps because I assumed that such fervent believers would put less trust in modern technology. In this episode, we see how the process of selecting members of the Ark was based on a combination of ritual and a range of different kinds of technology in a highly militarized setting. When Marcus and Sue meet their child for the first time, it’s hard to know if his dull affect is based on the fact that he can see through their disguise and know these two adults are impersonating his parents, or if this is simply the culture in which he has been raised.

Meanwhile, on Kepler-22b, Mother is trying her best to get things back to normal. She reboots Father (this was the biggest surprise of the episode for me!) and tries to welcome her new children to the family as though she were simply a caring and friendly matriarch, and not a killing machine. Her inability to empathize is an obvious impediment to her mission and it’s painful to see the ways she tries and fails at emotional connection. When Father is burying the dead Mithraic crew that Mother destroyed, Mother urges him to go back to telling jokes, which even robotic Father can tell is an inappropriate response to the situation. When she welcomes the children to sit at the table, she demands that they take off their Mithraic necklaces, renouncing the religion they grew up with. While she is able to tell that one of her new children, Tempest (Jordan Loughran, is hiding a pregnancy and offers to help her, she is unable to respond appropriately when the girl shares that her pregnancy was the product of rape. It’s obvious to those around her that Mother’s attempts at care are really about control, but Mother herself is often unable to see the ways her actions are hurting her core programming objective, regardless of how many clothes she knits, or bowls of food she prepares.

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In “Pentagram”, we can see this is because Mother was designed first to be a killer rather than a caretaker. When it seems as though her family is under attack, Mother rises to the occasion, searching for her eyes, which hold the key to her destructive powers. Interestingly, Father, who once seemed skeptical of Mother, now obeys his original objective to protect her at all costs. He does not do what Campion suggests and steal Mother’s eyes, even though he knows exactly where they are.

In contrast, Campion is beginning to develop the capacity to think for himself more fully. He steals Mother’s eyes as a way to try and protect the new children from her rages. When he learns that Mother and Father are working together, he recognizes for the first time how truly vulnerable he is with these caretakers, even though they raised him and taught him everything he knows about the world. We begin to see more acutely how Campion is on the cusp of many choices—is his task to protect his new friends by teaching them the culture of the world he grew up in? Or is the only safe option to revolt against the only Mother and Father he has ever known? Will Campion’s decisions be the result of his nature (the Mithraic already seem to think that he is some sort of boy messiah) or will they be shaped by the way his parents raised him and taught him to see the world?

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One of the big questions this series seems to be posing is whether we have the ability to forge a new identity. After all, the plastic surgery that we see Marcus and Sue undergo at the start of the episode merely enables them to blend into Mithraic society, but doesn’t suddenly make them forget their past. Is it the same with Mother, who is clearly still tethered to her original intended purpose as a machine built for war? Raised By Wolves invites viewers to explore if we are merely the products of what came before, or if we are able to ultimately make our own choices.


Stray observations

  • Fashion in the future is pretty bleak, isn’t it?
  • These androids are incredibly...gooey.
  • My favorite moment in this episode is when Father tells Campion the other children will like him because he is human just like them. Poor Father has zero understanding of what it means to be a person in the world.
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I write about TV, film, art, empathy, culture, and our digital lives.

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