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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Everyone starts making choices in the penultimate episode of Raised By Wolves

Ethan Hazzard and Abubakar Salim star in Raised By Wolves
Ethan Hazzard and Abubakar Salim star in Raised By Wolves
Photo: Coco Van Oppens (HBO
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One of the defining features of civilization in the world of Raised By Wolves is the lack of true choice. The Mithraic are trained from childhood to blindly follow a faith that outright enables cruelty and abuse, and the remnants of atheistic civilization are based around survival and resistance more than any true moral code. Mother and Father are designed to nurture, but they also force their children to see the world the way their creator programmed them. Their children are forbidden from praying or asking questions that may lead them to question their atheistic way of life.

In the appropriately titled, “Umbilical” a number of characters cut the cord from their original primary directives, not just questioning the narratives they were raised to believe but outright upending them. Hunter reboots Father (hooray!), Sue bonds with Mother, sharing her miscarriage story and giving her own blood to help save Mother’s fetus, and the Mithraic fight back against Marcus. These transformations are interesting, but I wish we got to spend more time with each of these individual storylines. The penultimate episode of this season really illustrates the show’s propensity to throw a ton of intense and bloody plotlines at the expense of simply allowing us to see characters evolve more organically.

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This is most evident in the way that the series deals with Tempest’s rapist, who is used as a plot device to show the ways that Tempest, Mother, and Holly are able to evolve and grow. I could handle watching Marcus cut his face open last episode, but I found it utterly intolerable to watch Tempest get tormented by the man who violated her. The dialogue between them felt entirely wooden and scenes of Tempest being threatened and strangled by her rapist felt unnecessary and cruel. For a show that seems deeply interested in women’s bodies and offers occasionally subversive views on what it means to nurture life, the show also has very little original to say about being female. In particular, the female anger we see in Raised By Wolves is almost always portrayed as impulsive or self-destructive, rather than a meaningful emotion that will lead to change.

Then again, male characters aren’t fully realized either. Besides Father, all the other adult men are narcissistic jerks! Throughout this episode, Marcus continues to be a cruel bully, drunk on his own power and the conviction that he is some sort of messiah. It’s clear that Marcus’s journey is supposed to parallel Mother’s. Both characters return to the places where they first became aware of their true power, but while Mother seems to be embracing empathy, Marcus is so deep in his own delusions that the love he once felt for his son is now about possessing him, rather than seeing him flourish. It’s honestly shocking that the Mithraic have tolerated Marcus’s abuse for this long—he killed their original leader, set their church on fire, lashed out at his own wife and child. By the time the Mithraic brutally try and put an end to his reign, Marcus seems less like a person than a monster.

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One of the real problems with Raised By Wolves is how all its central characters are increasingly flattened over time, save for Father, who remains the most charming, heartfelt, and—dare I say it—least robotic character in this entire series. Honestly, I’m ready for the next season to be entirely about Father! The single most thrilling moment of this episode was when he returned, jokes and spirit intact, and I was equally moved that he continued to honor and protect Mother even after learning that the fetus had nothing to do with him. A good man is hard to find, and this android is a real keeper.

Despite all the increasing mysteries of Kepler-22b, the show doesn’t feel as though it is building to a satisfying conclusion in this penultimate episode. One can only spend so much time wading in blood, milk, and violence before viewers start to get a little restless. We’ll see what happens with Marcus now that he has been fed Mother’s eyes (is he dead? Alive? What was that milk pouring out of his mouth? Will it kill him? Make him stronger?) and with Mother now that her fetus is getting carbon-rich blood. I don’t know that we need every single mystery explained in order to leave viewers with an enticing ending, but we do need to stop circling the same motifs long enough for viewers to reach some sort of satisfying resolution. My fear is that the next episode will simply open up more unresolved plotlines rather than giving viewers a sense of true closure.

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Stray observations:

  • I understand why Campion would want to protect Mother, but why are the other children suddenly so attached? Did they forget that she destroyed the entire Ark, along with all their other childhood friends? I get that the Mithraic are terrible, but this just seemed like a strange and sudden shift to me.
  • I think another reason that Father is such a great character is he injects a little warmth and humor into a series that just feels incredibly bleak all the time. Between the sepia tinged color palette and the beautiful but bland soundtrack, the world of Raised By Wolves paints a portrait of humanity that just feels devoid of any kind of light whatsoever. Believe me, I love a devastating show as much as the next TV critic, but the series would really benefit from a greater variety of textures and tones.
  • I want Father to survive primarily so he can get his own spin-off series!
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I write about TV, film, art, empathy, culture, and our digital lives.

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