Before sitting down* to write this review, I quickly re-read my review of Westworld and Devs, and it’s clear that a lot of what I said there could be applied to Raised by Wolves (Sky Atlantic in the UK), the Ridley Scott produced science fictioner which seems to be riffing on some of the ideas in his Blade Runner and Alien/Prometheus franchises. We’ll get to that in a moment, but suffice it to say, what grinds your gears in a 2-hour film actually works pretty well in a slow-paced Peak TV series.
To quote myself:
[D]o we begin life as pure and unsullied, perfect individuals, and does the game of life and the quest for meaning turn us into something else? … [W]hat if there was a controlling intelligence, who could predict and know our every move, who could use what appeared to be fate and chance to steer our lives?
The show asks other questions, too, about who deserves to live, and who deserves to be treated as human. Is an AI a person? Can a robot be a person if that robot is self-aware? What if that robot bleeds: should it have the same rights as a human? And what if it doesn’t?
The Guardian, never known for its good taste, managed to be lukewarm about Raised by Wolves, complaining about its pacing in particular and its bleak tone and what the reviewer saw as inconsistencies. A review written without watching the whole thing, I’m sure, but still one which seems not to play fair. For example, Wolves is compared unfavourably to Westworld, which was absolutely brilliant in its first season, but then fell off a cliff in its second and crawled about halfway up again for its third. The show I’d compare this too is in fact Devs, because it has the same slow-burn, novelistic pace, and many of the same concerns about whether we can exceed our programming.
The Graun reviewer complains about the emotional androids of Wolves, when clearly their emotions are a plot point, their very unpredictability suggesting they can exceed their programming. Similar questions about the innocence of children are also baked into the show. Why, when they’re raised as pacifists, do they want to play War? As to the novelistic pacing, well, not everything has to charge along, does it? The action when it comes is tense and gripping, and well worth the wait. I just watched an episode of Minority Report, which fairly ripped along in its pilot episode, with lots of whooshy sound effects and short scenes. It was still shit. Be careful what you wish for.
If I had a complaint, it would be about viscera. There are some fairly horrific scenes of (for example) self-mutilation, and it’s hard to watch. Another complaint would be about the muted colour palette, such a feature of Peak TV, and such a yawn. Sure, sure, alien sun and all that. But please: turn a light on. We’re not all sitting in the dark.
I’ve watched eight of ten, and I’ll watch to the end. It’s pretty good, I think. There are aliens who have mouths that remind you of the Xenomorph; there are androids who bleed white; there are Mysterious Artefacts; there are ghosts. The imagery is haunting at times. The show is in no hurry to reveal all its mysteries, and I’m fine with that. The two factions of humans are a bit of a bore. Some kind of Mithraic, pre-Zoroastrian religion vs. atheists. Sure, sure. If you want a further explanation of the religious back story, revealed in flashbacks, here it is:
At the beginning of the story, Sneetches with stars discriminate against and shun those without. An entrepreneur named Sylvester McMonkey McBean (calling himself the Fix-It-Up Chappie) appears and offers the Sneetches without stars the chance to get them with his Star-On machine, for three dollars. The treatment is instantly popular, but this upsets the original star-bellied Sneetches, as they are in danger of losing their special status.
So, you know. We could do with something better. On the other hand, the android Mother and Father are great, and there’s a twist in every episode.