This might be one of the few bad reviews for the second season of Raised by Wolves, and being insecure by nature, I might as well doubt myself into thinking I am in the wrong here.
I took over from Dustin, who noped out of it after the first two chapters. Not the “this is terrifying” nope, but an “I can’t with this shit” nope. So I eagerly jumped in, with solid fan credentials backing me up. It seems Dustin was right; I didn’t outright hate this season, but I am disappointed, and I actually loved the show.
Season two’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t live up to the promise that knockout of an opening title lays before us. During season one, it set the mood for a story about humanity rebuilding itself on another planet with a little too much help from uncanny humanoid robots. The title song is also evocative of a looming sense of end-of-times, coming from an Earth that was destroyed by holy war, this time between atheists and the Mithraic (apparently, mid-empire Roman sects based on Indo-European mythologies are all the rage in the 22nd Century). A mood that at the same time conveyed that things would get better for these humans, but also had a nagging undercurrent that everything will be for naught in the end.
Season one also set up a truckload of mysteries that left you wanting more, because they weren’t at the heart of the main themes. The true story was about the impossibility of starting humanity from scratch, as every human artifact inherits traumas and irrationality, with Campion, the surviving child of the Mother and Father androids, trying to build his identity from his own balance between reason and religiosity. The entire weird lore of the worldbuilding was just a reflection of this, and a treat for those of us who dig old Indo-European religions.
Instead, season two simply lost the plot and dove straight into J.J. Abrams’ mystery box shit, foregrounding the unexplained lore while still paying lip service to the big philosophical questions it posed. The end result is that the former ends up being less fun and the latter is replaced with characters speaking in paragraphs.
A symptom of this is just how much damn stuff happens in only eight episodes even though the characters seem confined to an area no larger than a city. To recap: Season one ended with an android Mother giving birth to her seventh child, a freaking flying serpent, after having cyberspace sex with … an AI replica of her creator? Whatever, that’s fine for me. Later, Androids Mother and Father managed to get themselves to the other side of the planet, a tropical zone.
Long story short, season two opens with Mother (Amanda Collin), Father (Abubakar Salim), Campion (Winta McGrath), Sue (Niamh Algar, simply outstanding and repping this wave of Irish actresses), and the rest of the children on an atheist colony controlled by a plenipotentiary AI. Most of the Mithraic have been wiped out, and the few remaining ones have been turned into slaves. Meanwhile, Marcus (Travis Fimmel) is still running around trying to become the Mithraic Jesus, which kickstarts of all these things:
— Mother works together with Plenipotentiary AI until the AI pisses her off and she unplugs it.
— The humans keep finding artifacts from an alien culture which is apparently pulling the strings of the Mithraic’s whole belief system and technology. And since Mithraism is an expression of Indo-European Sky Father beliefs, which itself influenced pretty much all religious systems from Bangladesh to Portugal, this makes Raised by Wolves yet another case of ancient aliens lore.
— Marcus gathers a small following of Mithraic and they discover a subterranean temple of the planet’s lost humanoid civilization, which look suspiciously similar to the Engineers from Prometheus. Then, most of his disciples are massacred by an android that replaced the dead daughter of one of his followers.
— Also, Marcus is captured by the atheist at least two times, and at least twice he succeeds in escaping.
— Campion and Paul, the biological son of Marcus and Sue, bond but also start clashing on their beliefs.
— The flying serpent that Mother gave birth to turns out to be docile and childlike until she isn’t.
— Atheists are shown to be as brutal and extreme as the Mithraic. Absolute power corrupts, oh the humanity, both-sides, etc.
— Tempest, a Mithraic teenager who was impregnated after being raped by one of their leaders, gives birth to a daughter in some scenic rocks by the sea. Immediately afterward, her baby is stolen by a humanoid sea creature. But then they get her back.
— Paul is stricken with an atheist bioweapon, turns into a solid cocoon, which leads atheist Sue to pray for a cure, and lo and behold, she gets an answer via disturbing dreams. Paul is cured.
— Paul, Sue, and Marcus get back together as a family to activate a Mithraic artifact that supposedly will sprout a mystical tree. It ends up turning Sue into said tree, which is in turn eaten by the flying snake, turning it into a weapon of mass destruction. I have no notes here, this is exactly my kind of weird.
— On top of all this, android Father discovers the skeletal remains of the planet’s humanoid civilization. It’s also an android. Because he just couldn’t do normal archeology, he reactivates it. It turns out the android is Grandmother (Selina Jones), the OG android that has been charged with protecting human life-forms. And the way she’s going about that is by devolving the surviving humans into less advanced species. Android Mother tries to stop this, but android Grandmother subdues her with the cosmic-horror, android version of a chancla.
It’s a lot. A lot of weirdness that instead of being fed to us as mysteries for us to theorize about, or as simple pieces of a puzzle, they instead become seeds for further mystery-box tropes. There’s still this sus notion that the whole thing is a prequel to Prometheus and Alien. Either that or Ridley Scott isn’t being very innovative with his sci-fi aesthetics and motifs. Throw on top of that a series of disturbing scenes that come across flat. I don’t mind gory deaths, I love gory sci-fi. But you don’t need extra disturbing shit after coming up with a creature as creepy as the Necromancer.
Going forward, if there’s a third season, I hope the showrunners go back to the original spirit of the series: A coming of age story about kids being raised by cosmic-horror machines on a mysterious new planet with said cosmic-horror machines having a coming of age of their own. Call Damon Lindelof to give you some notes people! He is the very definition of someone who had promising ideas but kept losing the plot until he left behind his worst tendencies as a writer. And no, I couldn’t fit in a Watchmen reference.
Raised by Wolves is streaming on HBO Max.