Mother and Father embark on their edenic mission. HBO
The robot is black. His name is Father. He is played by Abubakar Salim. This black robot just might be the greatest of such robots in the fiction TV/Film history. At the beginning of Raised by Wolves, which is a part of the science fiction universe that the director Ridley Scott began in 1979 with the movie Alien, Father arrives at the Kepler-22b with Mother, who is played by Amanda Collin and who is white, and builds a little paradise.
He and she have an edenic mission. They are to seed the habitable planet, which is about three times the size of Earth, with human life. This planet must be very heavy. But this fact is never addressed. Humans can live here, and other life forms have evolved here. Earth was destroyed by a war between those who believe in God and those who do not.
My impression is that religion, once the “opium of the people,” has become the madness of the elites. This switch can be easily explained by developments in our times. Since the reinvention of the Republican party in the early 1980s, business interests have been aligned with those of white, working-class Evangelicals. The latter provided the former with the bodies it needed to be competitive in a system that universalized voting rights in the 1960s. In the future imagined by Raised by Wolves, the business elite have apparently adopted the spirituality of its suckered hoi polloi. After destroying the world in a final fight for power with a proletariat that has adopted Marxist godlessness, the elite believers leave the planet in a massive spaceship/church.
The robots, it turns out [SPOILER ALERT], were programed by an atheist to apparently establish a new human course that is liberated from religious feeling. (I say “apparently” because the last 10 minutes of the excellent TV series introduce an entirely unexpected and utterly disappointing twist.)
But back to the black robot, Father. He is really the mother of the human kids. He is attentive, does much of the domestic work, and provides human warmth in the form of jokes and real concern. The kids love him. The mother, on the other hand, is dangerous. Put the wrong eyes on her and she’s blasting living things into “bloody atoms.” Mother is never really there but almost always elsewhere.
In the second half of the series, this elsewhere turns out to be a place where she conducts a love affair with her maker, a white man, by way of a memory-accessing machine/bed that fell out of the sky when the spaceship/church crashed on Kepler-22b. When feeling that mood, Mother rises to sky and flies away from the family, from Father, to a memory tryst with her maker. One of these encounters ends with a bun in her robot oven.
And here is where the TV series becomes very interesting. At first I thought the best thing going for Raised by Wolves was its robot/atheism and human/theism dialectic. I even compared this dialectic to what I mistakenly recalled as its opposite in the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. But the theological themes in Raised by Wolves turn out to be dry and predictable. (The same, however, cannot be said about Battlestar Galactica, but I will return to that matter in another post.) But what really pops in Raised by Wolves relates not to religion but to marriage.
At this point, I want to leap to another science fiction work. This one is Steven Spielberg’s 1977 Close Encounters of the Third Kind. At bottom, what is this movie, which is ostensibly about a connection made between technologically advanced humans and even more technologically advanced aliens, about? The collapse of a suburban marriage. It’s about the end of the Father Knows Best era. Bring-home-the-bacon Dad has decided to leave his wife and children. He wants out. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in short, is a movie about a divorce, that, through the imagination of the director, has taken on galactic dimensions.
As I wrote in 2018:
Remove all of the extraterrestrials, the manic scenes of the man building a model of the Devil’s Tower, the space music, the colorful lights of the UFO, the scientists with notepads, the computers with bright buttons, the landing strip in the middle of nowhere—remove all that and what you are left with is a story about a father leaving his family.
The abandonment is so painful for the suburban children and their mother that it is experienced with galactic intensity. The father does not move to another house that has another woman but goes up to the stars. This kind of imagery and structure of feeling was perfect for the late 1970s, the period that witnessed the first unraveling of a suburban order that was established after the Second World War and rapidly expanded in the 1950s.
In Raised by Wolves, it is the mother who leaves the father for what she believes is a much greater love/purpose. And the fact that this other man is white is a detail that a Black observer cannot ignore.
Upon learning of Mother’s pregnancy, the Black robot does not believe she is a Mary. He will have none of this immaculate conception crap (the point at which the series switches from the Old Testament to the New), which she at first hints at. He wants to know who fucked her. And he wants to know this now. She finally tells him. And he collapses. Father acutely experiences for the first time in the history of robots, lovesickness.
The master has had his way with his partner. (A Black observer at this moment might recall a line by Burning Spear: “Do you remember the days of slavery?”) Black Father leaves the family and roams the wilderness. The feelings of betrayal are just too much for him. He would kill the master if he could. The kids want their Father back. But Father needs time to process these feelings that “cut like a knife.”) It’s during these moments, during the Father’s Black agony, during the Black robot’s lovesickness, that Raised by Wolves reaches that region of thin atmosphere that makes science fiction rare and special.