While showcasing breathtaking visuals and an expansive science fiction universe, the heart of Raised By Wolves has always been a more intimate project: exploring the inner emotional world of Mother and Father, two androids tasked by their atheist creators with the job of raising human children. The question of whether these machines are capable of actual emotional growth is one that haunts season two, as viewers are yet again invited to watch Mother and Father wrestle with how they must negotiate their programmed identity as protective parents with a world that often seems completely indifferent, if not outright hostile, to them and their children.
Unlike a show like Westworld, where AI hosts are so realistic that they seem virtually indistinguishable from the humans who created them, Raised By Wolves focuses on androids that are obviously robots, which makes the ways in which Mother (Amanda Collin) and Father (Abubakar Salim) grapple with moral choice even more consistently intriguing. In an early scene at the start of season two, Father reassures Mother that she is “good,” and we can see a range of emotions flicker through her tensed, not-quite-human face. What does “goodness” mean to a machine? Are Mother’s human-like impulses helping her to be a better caregiver? Or are they adding complications to the team’s central mission? And, perhaps most strikingly, when Mother’s serpent-like natural child reappears in the tropical zone, will her instincts tell her to kill or protect it?
While eager to consider the emotional complexity of man-made machines, season two of Raised By Wolves continues to struggle with creating human characters that demonstrate similar depth. If season one’s primary focus was on the dangers of religious zealotry, season two highlights the ways in which the atheist colonizers are just as cruel, small-minded, and inhumane as their Mithraic counterparts. Whether they are putting their faith in a benevolent sun god, as the Mithraic do, or devoting themselves to an atheist-created machine that is lovingly (and creepily) called, “The Trust,” the humans in Raised By Wolves often come across as abstract ideas of what a person might be like, rather than actual people with unique stories, experiences, and motivations.
These problems with character development relate to pacing issues that have been true since season one, as tangled plots end up feeling like distractions, instead of organically evolving storylines. This format keeps even central characters at an arm’s length from viewers. For example, rather than fully probe the psychology behind each of Mother’s unique children, many of whom were originally kidnapped by Mother, the first three episodes of season two render them increasingly interchangeable vehicles for Mother and Father to achieve their self-actualization. Likewise, while many different characters are placed in any number of dangerous situations, there is also rarely any real sense that these experiences will provoke any genuine evolution or change, which makes increasingly high stakes scenarios start to feel less important over time.
The result is a show that, though intriguing, never ends up being entirely satisfying. While Raised By Wolves is clearly invested in exploring its expansive universe, the series simply feels more compelling when it spends less time fixating on the abstract idea of long-suffering human colonists and more on the inner emotional world of its central robotic protagonists. One of the greatest pleasures of the series is watching as Amanda Collin and Abubakar Salim so expertly embody the characters of Mother and Father, adding subtlety, nuance, and depth to characters still learning how to understand their own instincts. Though it continues to spend an inordinate amount of time panning over its beautiful and haunting sepia-tinged landscapes and offering vague critiques of the cruel and warlike nature of humans, Raised By Wolves is at its most riveting when viewers get the opportunity to simply watch a close-up shot of Mother’s face as she attempts to reconcile what she wants to do with what she knows she should do instead.