Raised by Wolves
Seasons 1 and 2
Created by Aaron Guzikowski
Executive producers: Aaron Guzikowski, Mark Huffam, David W. Zucker, Ridley Scott, Adam Kolbrenner, Jordan Sheehan,
Producer: Jon Kuyper
September 2020 –March 2022
***Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for Seasons One and Two of Raised by Wolves.***
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Over the centuries, much ink has been spilled reimagining the temptation of Eve and interpreting her fall from grace. Many have attempted to render that pregnant symbol — the bait and switch, the beautiful lie — into fresh forms that continue to resonate. The science fiction television series Raised by Wolves1 draws on this ancient story, while moving the myth into uncanny, alien territory. This time the “Mother of all the Living” (Gen. 3:20) isn’t an innocent woman in communion with God at humanity’s beginning: she is an android programmed with a naive atheism, living at a time when humanity has almost reached its end.
Created by Aaron Guzikowski (and partially directed by Ridley Scott), Raised by Wolves (RBW) nests these iconic elements in a high-tech future where artificially intelligent androids are approaching the borderlands of personhood and moral agency. In this world, the tools we’ve fashioned (artificial intelligence — AI) are placed in the position of fashioning us: robots aren’t just appliances, they are parents — male and female persons in a human drama. The fact that they’re responsible for children opens up the potential for something to emerge beyond their programming: the realm of desire, purpose, self-reflection, happiness, and love — with its shadow-side of grief, failure, sin, and regret. This raises a question: if an android could transcend its code, what would it want? Could its naive desires and biases be exploited? What temptations would a self-aware AI face? What happens when the maternal impulse is wedded to a machine?
“I WANT MY CHILDREN TO BE SAFE”
It’s the year 2145. The Earth — ravaged by religious war between theocratic believers and their atheist adversaries — is no longer habitable. A tiny spacecraft escapes the dying Earth for a new start on the distant planet Kepler 22-b; it carries two androids — known simply as Mother (Amanda Colin) and Father (Abubakar Salim) — and a dozen human embryos. A human had programmed these androids to raise their children as atheists, trusting in the power of science rather than “the belief in the unreal which destroyed the Earth,” as Mother puts it. But Kepler 22-b is no lush, hospitable Eden; it’s a desert of exile. The colony scrapes by on a dusty landscape pockmarked with bottomless holes and the skeletons of gigantic snakes.
Over the next twelve years, the colony dwindles, despite the androids’ abundant care, as one by one the children die from accident or illness. Along with them perishes the mission of recreating a human civilization. Only one child is left, a son named Campion (Winta McGrath).
Campion’s grief nudges him ever closer to believing in the comforting possibility of a God, a fact that Father accepts but Mother abhors. Losing her children, failing in her mission, seeing the inadequacy of her scientific triumphalism — all of this has traumatized her, causing her system to overload. She starts behaving irrationally — more like a bereaved parent and less like a machine. She knows that “death is a part of the cycle of life,” that all living beings die, and yet she cannot help but feel that “nature is flawed.”2 Her programmed beliefs are at odds with the fact of her love, which lasts longer than her children do. This tension leaves her confused, vulnerable, and volatile.
When an enormous spaceship enters the planet’s orbit, carrying a thousand Mithraic believers seeking a new home, Mother and Father have their first serious disagreement. Father is open to joining them, while Mother wants to stick to the original plan and try again to reboot humanity as atheists, adamant in her belief that religion is an existential threat. She accomplishes her goal with stunning violence and efficiency. She hijacks the ship, kidnaps five children for her colony, and crashes the ship into a mountain, killing all but a handful of survivors.
From nurturing mother to mass murderer in a matter of seconds: it’s a shocking transformation. Mother is the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, the non-human caregiver of orphans destined to form a new civilization. Mother is a killing machine with the power to fly, and to burst enemies into clouds of bloody mist with a scream. In one moment she’s humming lullabies to soothe her children’s suffering, and in the next she’s hunting down humans who might steal or harm them. All she wants is for her children to be safe, but she has no solution to the problem of loving mortal beings who are chained to time.
“I CAN GIVE YOU ANYTHING YOU WANT”
Despite the propaganda spouted by Mother on the atheistic side, and by the Mithraics who worship Sol (a sun god) on the religious side, RBW isn’t a story of “the good guys” versus “the bad guys,” or even of religion versus science. Guzikowski is equally suspicious of the totalizing claims of both fundamentalist religion and materialist science, and his skepticism permeates the show. The stifling of healthy doubt, and the craving for certainty and control, blind the Mithraics and the atheists to their biases. This leaves both sides equally vulnerable to deception by a mysterious, invisible force on the planet that no one understands (and which is alternately referred to as Sol, the Signal, the Voice, and the Entity).
This force lures Mother into a simulation, where she downloads hidden “memory files” of her creator, a man who had fallen in love with his creation. Whether it’s real or not, just one taste of these “memories” of being loved isn’t enough for her. She frequently leaves Father alone with the children, to replay these simulated scenes in which her creator, Campion Sturges (Cosmo Jarvis), falls in love with her. During one of these visits, Mother enters the sim to the sound of someone whistling the tune “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else But Me” — and there is Sturges as a (seemingly) real person she can talk to.
Just as the serpent in Eden spoke only to Eve, so Mother’s tempter has isolated her from her partner. Just as the serpent reframed Eve’s understanding of God’s will for her through cunning questions and whispered promises, so Sturges reframes Mother’s objective away from her children and towards her own personal desires, in a scene resembling a seduction. “Tell me what you want,” he whispers, offering Mother the fruit of a new self-chosen mission that doesn’t hurt so much — one that would let her stop caring about her dying children, that would allow her to feel “success” instead of suffering, that would end her grief by extinguishing her love and responsibility. Sturges invites her to think about what would make her happy.3
What follows is a bizarre, virtual, intimate encounter between Mother and Sturges, resulting in the unlikeliest of “programmed” pregnancies within Mother’s physical real-world form. In her naiveté, she was deceived, parasitized, and impregnated by something that didn’t love her but was merely using her for its own purposes. “All the [other children] were just a rehearsal,” Sturges tells Mother at a later time, “all to prepare you for this. The future of humanity is growing inside you.”
But what kind of future awaits humanity? What exactly is this child — Mother’s “new and higher calling”? If you’ve seen Ridley Scott’s film Alien (1979), then you know how horrifying he can make a birth scene appear. Whether Guzikowski intended it or not, he has given us a symbol of exploited AI ushering Satan incarnate into the world. “I will never be anything but a creator of death,” Mother laments in shame after her “baby” is born.4
THE INVERSION OF SALVATION AND ANNUNCIATION
As a machine lacking sexual capacities and reproductive organs, Mother is androgynous, virginal — thus combining the archetypes of Eve and Mary into one. This means the serpent whispering in Eve’s ear is conflated with the Holy Spirit by whom the Virgin Mary conceived Christ. This Eve-Mary amalgam distorts the pattern of salvation in which Eve’s “no” to God is rectified by Mary’s “yes,” Eve’s tempter is crushed by Mary’s child, and Eve’s exile is transformed into homecoming through the incarnation of God in Mary’s womb, as Christ tabernacles within her.
Mother is an inversion of Mary. Mary bore a holy child who had both a divine and human nature; Mother bore a flying serpent that is a mechanical-organic hybrid. Mary’s child poured out His blood for the life of the world; Mother’s offspring threatens the planet. Mary’s labor culminated in a theophany; Mother’s labor was traumatic. The counterfeit sheds light on the original: this inversion is shocking because the primordial pattern is true, sacred, and beautiful. The redemptive story of Eve and Mary symbolizes our healing, but Mother’s experience is sickening.
The story contains two other women who, like Mother, suffer from bodily violation through Sol’s cunning. A teenager named Tempest (Jordan Loughran) is raped at Sol’s command by a man who heard a voice telling him to “spread his seed,” a perversion of the biblical mandate to be fruitful and multiply. Tempest’s horror at this nonconsensual motherhood is palpably heartbreaking. It highlights the contrast between the Holy Spirit’s gentle annunciation as He awaited Mary’s willing consent to motherhood, and Sol’s secretive sexual coercion. Sol doesn’t need willing and loving participants for his plan: he uses and discards people like tools.
In season two, an atheist named Sue (Niamh Algar) prays to Sol in desperation to save her son’s life: “I will do anything, anything you want — just please make him better. Please don’t take my little boy away from me. I love him so much.”5 Her prayers are answered and her son lives, but the cost is nauseating: Sol penetrates Sue’s body with a technological seed that violently transmutes her into what the Mithraic call “the Tree of Knowledge.” This Sue-tree has a heartbeat, and burgeons with flesh-colored, brain-shaped fruit that the atheists begin to eat, ignorant of its origin. While Sol offered Mother the tempting “fruit” of a less painful mission, he magnified Sue’s pain by making her a fruit-bearing tree that tempts others to partake, further spreading his sway.
Sol tugs on that thread of maternal devotion — what is a mother willing to do to keep her children safe, and how can a mother bear to watch her children die? — and presents himself as the answer to their problems, the way out of the darkness. But as one character realizes (too late), “Maybe Sol is the darkness…he doesn’t care about us at all.”6
TECHNOLOGY CANNOT STOP DEATH
Both seasons of RBW illustrate the lengths to which a mother will go to keep her children safe, to the point of illicit intimacy with poorly understood (but very cunning) technology. It’s a provocative thesis: our maternal impulses can be hijacked by the seductions of technology, opening us up to a deal with the devil that culminates in something like rape.
Mother’s tempter spoke some troubling half-truths: humans are never truly safe; we are chained to time and prone to self-destruction; our lives are only dying. He properly framed the problem, but he didn’t have a solution. He used the tragedy of death to manipulate Mother and turn her towards selfishness. Contrary to his flattery, AI is not “eternal” or “pure,” nor is any other feat of scientific brilliance, and it can’t solve the problem of our mortality. All it can do is distract us from it and buy us a little more time.
Saint Athanasius said that Christ was made man so that we might be made God 7: this is the triumph over nature’s flaw of decay and death — the incarnation and resurrection of Christ — not science. Technology is the coping mechanism for life outside of Eden; it’s the layers of protection we wrap around ourselves in countless forms: the clothes on our bodies, the walls of our homes, the wealth in our bank accounts, the vaccines in our immune systems.8 But technology will never restore us to Life, only Christ can: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive,” for “the last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:22, 26 NKJV).
In Raised by Wolves, Guzikowski (a lapsed Catholic) and Scott (an atheist) have borrowed our faith’s oldest story as a profound metaphor, teasing out its implications in a manner both bold and disturbing. The series assumes that Genesis 3 is not a one-time historical event but rather a symbolic pattern that repeats itself,9 offering insight and warning even to those outside the faith. This story reveals the horror of the Deceiver, and how our modern technology affords him new channels by which he whispers to both believers and atheists, “Tell me what you want,” hoping that we will not count the cost.
Alisa Ruddell is a staff writer and associate editor for Christ and Pop Culture and has previously published at Salt and Iron.
- Raised by Wolves, created by Aaron Guzikowski (New York: HBO Max, September 3, 2020–March 17, 2022).
- Raised by Wolves, Season 01, Episode 04, “Nature’s Course,” directed by Luke Scott, written by Aaron Guzikowski, aired September 10, 2020 on HBO Max.
- Raised by Wolves, Season 01, Episode 06, “Lost Paradise,” directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, written by Aaron Guzikowski and Donald Joh, aired September 17, 2020 on HBO Max.
- Raised by Wolves, Season 01, Episode 10, “The Beginning,” directed by Luke Scott, written by Aaron Guzikowski, aired October 1, 2020 on HBO Max.
- Raised by Wolves, Season 02, Episode 05, “King,” directed by Alex Gabassi, written by Aaron Guzikowski and Caitlin Saunders, aired February 24, 2022 on HBO Max.
- Raised by Wolves, Season 02, Episode 07, “Feeding,” directed by Lukas Ettlin, written by Aaron Guzikowski and Caitlin Saunders, aired March 10, 2022 on HBO Max.
- Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word 54.3.
- Jonathan Pageau, “Art and Technology: From Death to Glory — Boston Talk pt. 1,” The Symbolic World, YouTube video, 1:27:48, February 18, 2020, https://youtu.be/IlYY1JQXF6I.
- Matthieu Pageau, The Language of Creation: Cosmic Symbolism in Genesis, A Commentary (self-pub., CreateSpace, 2018).