‘Raised by Wolves’ Episode 4 Recap: Divine Intervention

Four episodes in and I’m willing to stake a claim: You’re not going to find a better show this strange September than Raised by Wolves. Using hoary old sci-fi concepts—androids, aliens, harsh desert worlds, war-torn dystopias—it seems to have tapped into deep new veins of vitality in each, something I wouldn’t have thought possible in a prestige-TV format. But I suppose that just goes to show you that the death of prestige TV has been greatly exaggerated.

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Amanda Collin turns in another almost inimitably precise performance as Mother, who has her hands full in this episode. First, she rescues the Mithraic child Paul from certain death when he falls into one of the serpent pits—and I mean falls, like for half a minute, it’s that deep. In addition to her Superman-like feat of speed and flight, she also reveals she has the power to put people to sleep with a simple command. This comes in handy later, when she knocks out all the children and removes small homing devices implanted in their heels. This is how the Mithraic are tracking them down; Mother tosses the devices down a crevasse.

Mother’s other task is, essentially, soothing people who don’t want to be soothed. “I was in error when I told you your kindness makes us less safe,” she tells Father (the equally excellent Abubakar Salim), who’s experiencing doubts about his own utility, and who doesn’t believe her. “You are a creator, whereas all I’ll ever be is a creation,” she tells Mithraic teenager Tempest, who doesn’t want to carry her fetus to term. Mother eventually relents and attempts to repair the incubation unit on Tempest’s behalf.

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Hunting for parts for the repair job amid the Mithraic ark’s wreckage, Mother succumbs to curiosity and plugs herself into the vessel’s non-android-compatible simulation. At first all she sees is a glitchy cleric welcoming her to the ship, but then she enters a painful old memory—discovering that Campion has destroyed the six previously unaccounted-for fetuses placed aboard the atheists’ landing craft. It turns out he’s covering for two of his siblings, who don’t realize they’ve harmed anything more valuable than snowballs; this says a lot about Campion’s willingness to take on responsibility for the well-being of others, even as a very young child.

For Father, the primary task is to provide food for the children, a tall order now that he knows the carbos that had been their sole diet are poisonous. After a failed attempt to find another food source among the local vegetation, Father determines that the only course of action—one that will prove his usefulness to the group, after Mother’s weaponization has rendered him largely obsolete—is to slaughter and eat the creature he captured in the previous episode.

The problem here is Campion, whose pronounced sense of empathy makes killing the creature an agonizing choice. He tries to stop Father from doing it, he refuses to do it himself when Father insists, and he leads the other children in retreating from the grim task when Father tries to teach them how to do it instead, reasoning that they all must learn to survive in case he and Mother break down. It falls to the pregnant, starving Tempest to finally do the deed, with the same scalpel Mother used to extract her tracking device—but to her horror, she discovers the creature was both female and pregnant.

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Meanwhile, in the Mithraic camp, there’s dissension in the ranks. Marcus is visibly chafing at his enforced subservience to Ambrose, the faith’s highest-ranking surviving member, who gets carried around on a litter while everyone else is trudging through the desert on foot. (Marcus is one of the litter bearers, and he does not look thrilled.) Marcus and Sue are anxious to track down “their” child, Paul, and every delay pains them.

Divine intervention, of a sort, occurs when the group come across a massive pentagonal stone structure, clearly the work of intelligent design. When they find that the object exudes warmth, the Mithraics’ conviction that this is the fulfillment of prophecy and a sign from Sol appears confirmed. This redoubles Ambrose’s unwillingness to divert the group for a search for the missing children, not until they can figure out a way to get inside the thing.

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But the delay gives both Ambrose and Varlac, the group’s surviving android, a chance to poke and prod at Marcus and Sue, who alternately display a lack of deference to the hierarchy and a lack of familiarity with the kind of “now I lay me down to sleep” nursery-rhyme prayers any good Mithraic ought to know. Ambrose uses Varlac in an attempt to murder Marcus with a sonic weapon called an earwig, but the plot backfires when Marcus and Sue get the drop on the ‘droid.

In the end, Sol helps those who help themselves, as Marcus puts it. During an especially cold night, the big stone object ceases to radiate warmth, and Ambrose insists on attempting to blow a hole in the thing to seek shelter, over the objections of his followers. Marcus sees this as his chance and publicly renounces Ambrose for his lack of faith. Then…well, it’s not clear exactly what happens. Marcus starts hearing voices, and part of the stone object begins to glow red hot. A struggle ensues, and Marcus shoves Ambrose into the fiery glow, burning him to death. Sure enough, the rest of the object starts radiating warmth again, saving the groups’ lives. Everyone takes this as a sign that Sol punishes the wicked and rewards the faithful. How Marcus, an atheist in Mithraic clothing, takes it is not yet certain.

The episode’s only real misstep is a minor one, made confusing more by its timing than anything else: Mother’s flashback involves a different child actor playing Campion, at a younger age. This would be fine—if the two looked anything alike. But they don’t, and introducing the new-old Campion when Mother is plugged into the Mithraics’ simulation makes him seem like a hallucination—or even an entirely different child, also named Campion, perhaps from a repressed memory of a previous attempt to raise children on Kepler-22b—rather than the younger version of the character we’ve come to recognize. It takes you out of the action at a moment when immersion is central to Mother’s experience of the memory.

But I’m quibbling; it’s easy enough to figure out what’s going on by the time the flashback has finished. Dotted with moments of profound pathos—like Father joking with the captured creature, an act that takes even himself by surprise, or Mithraic teenager Hunter’s insistence that as the son of a cleric he can’t sully himself by killing something, or Mother’s declaration that things die because “It is nature, and nature is flawed”—this episode continues the show’s strong run thus far. Best of all, thanks to elements like the mysterious, ghost-like child who has now appeared to both Paul and Father, I’m still not sure where it’s going. I just know I want to go with it.

Sean T. Collins (@theseantcollins) writes about TV for Rolling Stone, Vulture, The New York Times, and anyplace that will have him, really. He and his family live on Long Island.

Watch Raised By Wolves Episode 4 (“Nature’s Course”) on HBO Max

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