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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Raised By Wolves asks what a robot girl wants without offering any interesting answers

Amanda Collin
Amanda Collin
Photo: Coco Van Oppens (HBO Max
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“Infected Memory” provides our first real glimpse at Mother’s origin story. After many episodes of hearing talk of a creator, we finally get to meet him and find out that he was a sort of bizarre romantic interest who teaches Mother about human love, child rearing, and what it means be humanity’s saving grace. Having Mother’s motivations entirely tied to a male creator she idolizes was incredibly frustrating to me, especially since there seemed to be a lot of potential to explore more complicated depictions of gendered A.I. Over the past 25 years, we’ve often seen the female android reduced to a plaything for her male creator. From the cartoony Buffybot and the Fembots of Austin Powers to the ingenues turned heartbreakers in Ex Machina and Her, we’re used to seeing (and hearing) female-bodied and -voiced A.I. who are designed in order to provide emotional care for the men around them.

I had thought that “Nature’s Course” (which I loved) would pave the way for something more unique in terms of Mother’s development, but instead we get a backstory that ultimately left me cold, and also ended up dragging a ton of female characters through the mud. First, the poor older female cleric and her years of experience get pushed to the side when Marcus is proclaimed the new leader. Then later, we see Sue get jealous when another woman offers them extra food and accept Marcus’ decision to keep the rapist alive, even though it makes her (and probably most of the women) incredibly uncomfortable to be sleeping so close to a man who shows no remorse for his crimes. In the most bizarre scene of the entire episode, Sue actually comes on to Marcus after he speaks to the rapist, climbing on top of him and laying it on thick with the overbearingly cheesy line, “You’re a good man. Now make love to me like a great man.”

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The lack of interiority in female characters is galling throughout this episode and confirms some of my initial concerns that women in this series are really reduced to flattened roles: the supportive partner, the caretaker, the victim of male violence. It seems so strange to have this reductive view of the female experience in 2020, when any number of contemporary science fiction series have tackled female characters with tremendous nuance, from Battlestar Galactica to The Expanse to Westworld. Moreover, giving more dimension to female characters isn’t some feminist box to check off; it’s an essential aspect of modern storytelling, especially if the story you are telling is invested in exploring themes like motherhood. In place of true interiority, all the female characters in this episode respond to men’s needs, rather than their own. Even Mother’s reaction to Tempest’s killing of the creature treats Tempest as a vessel, rather than a person who is capable of as much feeling as her beloved child Campion.

Overall, I’m less confident that the show will begin to explore female characters with care and complexity after seeing this episode, but I think what also frustrated me about “Infected Memory” is how the series’ obsession with plot often seems to come at the expense of character development in general. I want the series to slow down, to help me understand more about who Marcus and Sue were before the Ark and who they are now. Likewise, I want to understand more about Mother and Father’s relationship to one another, which is actually hard to do when we keep having new crises that drive them apart from each other.

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At least we know that it’s Tally who is haunting Mother and Father and who may be more than a ghost because she also led Paul away from the rest of the group. I found Mother’s desire to discover more of who she was through her grief for Tally to be very moving and Amanda Collin does so much to infuse her character with subtle longing beneath her stiff robotic mannerisms. Both her and Abubakar Salim play their roles with striking emotion that is always right underneath the surface of their robotic countenance. Likewise, I am intrigued by Mother’s awareness about her own reprogramming. In particular, I thought it was interesting that in Mother’s vision, she is reprogrammed through both nature (her hardware and software is changed) and through nurture (she continues having to practice nurturing with android babies).

Of course, an even bigger question is how much we can trust Mother’s visions. Are her experiences in the simulator an accurate depiction of her lost memories? Or is the dream state something her own consciousness creates in order to comfort her and give her life meaning? The simulator isn’t meant for androids (and also appears to be falling apart) so we don’t really understand how much of her experience is meant to be taken at face value. Nor do we really know what to make of the visions that Marcus keeps having. When they are having sex, he imagines Sue covered in blood, a knife in his hand, while he sees a vision of himself with the same helmet that was on the rapist who is being held in Mithraic custody. Is he aroused? Terrified? Whatever he is feeling, we can be sure that, for now at least, he is keeping it to himself.

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Stray observations

  • It’s really interesting that Mother’s creator was someone who grew up to betray the family who raised him. Some foreshadowing about little Campion, perhaps?
  • Mother’s sudden destruction of the android baby creeped me out more than the entire massacre in Episode 1.
  • Come on, Father! Stop leaving the kids alone!
  • I feel like this show keeps trying to give Tempest interiority by having her point out the ways that Mother is reducing her to a vessel and I just want to…see Tempest as a more fully developed character?
  • I am ready for Campion to rename the fungus, “pizza.” 
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I write about TV, film, art, empathy, culture, and our digital lives.

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