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In the Raised By Wolves premiere, Mother is optimistic—and so are we

Illustration for article titled In the iRaised By Wolves /ipremierei,/i Mother is optimistic—and so are we
Image: Warner Media
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In the thrilling and foreboding first episode of Raised By Wolves, we learn that Earth has been destroyed and that humanity, which has divided itself into different religious factions, is in search of a new planet to call home. When we first meet the human-like androids who call themselves Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim), they have just begun to survey Kepler-22b, a sepia-toned world that, to human eyes at least, seems lonely and frightening—filled with clouds of dust, impossibly large craters, and trees that appear to be fighting for life. Despite this, Mother and Father don’t even seem to notice the ways that the planet seems dangerous and inhospitable. Even though the minute they land on the planet they narrowly escape falling into a crater, Mother declares that she is optimistic and the two eagerly embark on their mission to raise human children, Father telling corny jokes all the way.

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Though they look like real people in sleek futuristic bodysuits, Mother and Father’s awkward attempts at humor and care only serve only to highlight the ways that they are not human. Their banter is stilted, their movements often a tad jerky and robotic. When Father helps Mother prepare for pregnancy, we see how the six embryos they carry are externally attached to mother through plastic wires that are meant to resemble umbilical cords. It takes nine months for the little ones to grow into human babies. In Mother’s first act of rebellion from her programming, she saves the life of a baby that doesn’t seem like it is going to survive, holding it close to her own skin as she hums a song and allows her tears to fall down on her child, rather than giving the limp body to Father to break down and feed to the others.

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It’s striking that the youngest baby, named Campion after Mother and Father’s creator (whoever that is), is the only one who actually manages to survive, proving that Mother’s instincts in how she cares for her young may very well be more insightful than her partner, who was very willing to sacrifice the little one immediately in the name of the mission. Indeed, when we first see Mother interacting with her children, she seems warm and caring, eager to provide a stable home in a lonely, unstable universe. Together, Mother and Father both provide their young ones with basic needs like food and shelter, as well as education and emotional care. They work hard to instill their children with the values that they were programmed with, especially a devout atheism, and they warn their children about the dangers of religion.

Still, despite their care, the children die one by one, and Father makes the unilateral decision to contact the Mithraic Ark, the same surviving group of humans who believe in religion and who don’t believe that children should be raised by androids. Father’s reasoning seems logical. He believes that he and Mother have failed in their mission and that Campion’s (Winta McGrath), their last remaining child, only chance at survival is with other people. Meanwhile, Mother has an entirely different interpretation of her primary directive. She believes her role is to be Campion’s protector and that means making sure that she keeps him away from dangerous influences like the Mithraic.

Throughout its first episode, Raised By Wolves creates a binary where Father is depicted as logical and slightly removed, while Mother is depicted as emotional and potentially unhinged. The way we see these two parents operate is shaped by gender expectations, but it’s unclear at this juncture whether these differences are deliberate. In some ways, Mother’s compassion and rage make her less robotic than Father. When her baby seems like he is stillborn, she starts to cry. When her first child goes missing, she howls like a wolf. When she feels that Father has betrayed the mission by contacting the enemy, she violently kills him. Mother’s increasingly deranged emotional responses are depicted as a potential flaw in programming. She often feels ill and also seems to be leaking some sort of strange milky fluid from her nose and mouth. Still, it isn’t clear to me that Mother’s increasingly emotional responses to the world around her mean that she is broken exactly. Her first encounters with the Mithraic confirm her worst suspicions as the group of humans attempt to steal food and take away her only remaining child.

Still, the narrative certainly wants us to question not just Mother’s choices but her sanity. From the first moments of Raised By Wolves, we see the world through the eyes of Campion, who provides several voiceovers and becomes increasingly skeptical of Mother’s ability to function. He loves her, but has also become deeply afraid of her strange mood swings and outbursts, not to mention her obvious dodging of questions when she explains how Father died. When a member of the Mithraic tries to convince him to leave with them, Campion admits that she is an android (which she begged him not to do) but also refuses to leave without her coming with them. Like Father, he hopes the Mithraic will try and help him. In fact, they do the opposite when they attempt to kidnap Campion, arguing they have to do so in order to protect him.

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In the final 10 minutes of the episode, we see Mother unleash her full power as she seeks revenge against the men who tried to steal her only living child away from her. Mother is a monster in these scenes, covered in milky white bodily fluids and blood, as her screams explode every member of the Mithraic crew she comes in contact with, except for the children, who are in a wondrous nursery that looks like a serene and snowy forest. She returns to Kepler-22b with five new human children to rear and is clearly surprised when Campion doesn’t embrace her after she reveals the new friends he now has to play with. The episode ends with Campion’s fearful recognition that Mother is untrustworthy, as well as the unsettling question of what it means that the woman who brought him into this world is an unreliable monster.


Stray observations

  • Mother tells the Mithraic men that her name is “Lamia” which is a Greek mythological creature who becomes a child eating monster after her children are destroyed. Mother has a dark sense of humor in her less than subtle threats.
  • I do think that Campion would enjoy having a mouse he could teach to do tricks rather than a sad little doll made of sticks to play with. Mother needs to up the entertainment now that she has more children to take care of.
  • I want to learn more about why having two gendered parents was so important to the atheists who reject religion but embrace…heteronormative android parenting?
  • The violence at the end of this episode was thrilling and shocking, but there were moments in where I worried that Mother’s “hysteria” was being played simply for shock value. I really hope this series explores more about Mother’s creators and why they made her so differently than Father. The female bodied robot holds such a compelling space in our cultural imagination and I would love to see the show investigate the Mother archetype more fully.
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I write about TV, film, art, empathy, culture, and our digital lives.

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