raised by wolves

We Simply Must Discuss Grandmother

Grandmother knows best. Photo: Coco Van Oppens/HBO Max

Warning: Spoilers ahead for the season-two finale of Raised by Wolves.

There is a lot of bonkers television being made right now, but there is nothing operating out there at the edge of the gravity well of coherence like Raised by Wolves. I mean that in the best way. The HBO Max sci-fi series started out its first season with the parablelike situation of a pair of androids, Mother and Father, raising a bevy of children on an inhospitable planet and teaching them the ways of atheism. As the season went on, Mother (Amanda Collin, with a perfect buzz cut and a knife-sharp demeanor) and Father (Abubakar Salim, selling his service robot’s love of goofy dad jokes) kept making wild parenting decisions, a group of Mithraic true-believer humans landed on the same planet, the androids kidnapped those humans’ children, and Mother gave birth to a flying serpent.

Refusing to rest on its batshit laurels in season two, the show relocated to the tropical belt of the planet Kepler-22b and continued to get exponentially more surreal, Sol (the Mithraic version of God) bless them. The characters met an atheist human colony in the thrall of a supercomputer; the true-believer human Marcus (Travis Fimmel) tried to start his own rival Mithraic colony; one of the children got cocoon-ified then saved by leeches; we learned there are sea creatures hanging out in the acid ocean having a good time stealing babies; and one of the humans, Sue (Niamh Algar), turned into a tree. (There’s so much more if you want to catch up on the recaps.) But by the finale, the show has a new breakout star, and it’s Grandmother, an even more ominous version of Mother that Father has reanimated and who, of course, has a tense relationship with Mother. She’s spooky, and we love her.

Grandmother isn’t directly related to our heroes Mother and Father; she’s an older model of android that Father discovered on Kepler-22b, and she mysteriously shares her composition and photon processor with Mother, indicating that she may be a relic of whatever previous human culture lived on Kepler-22b. She’s given her name by Campion, one of the human children, who I guess assumes all robots are related (rude), and she’s played by Selina Jones wearing some unsettling contact lenses, though you don’t see her eyes at first because she typically rocks a veil over her face (more like Grand-ville Peck-mother). Because Raised by Wolves is all about the strange obligations of parent-child relationships, Grandmother’s arrival on the Kepler-22b scene supercharges a lot of the show’s conflicts. Father, in part because he revived Grandmother, vibes with his pseudo-creation, while Mother is distrustful but curious about this being who shares some of her superweapon programming. It’s a sort of daughter–mother-in-law tension, an AI riff on the J.Lo–Jane Fonda film Monster-in-Law.

In the second-season finale, Mother and Grandmother’s relationship is put to the test. Mother knows she should probably stop her serpent child — dubbed No. 7 and recently supercharged after eating the tree that was previously Sue — but needs a way around her programming, which prevents her from endangering her children. The solution: donning Grandmother’s veil, which subdues some of her softer instincts and allows her to do grand, glorious battle with No. 7 in a sequence that nearly goes full Evangelion as she faces off in Necromancer form with the serpent in space, managing to defeat it and pull out its eye. (R.I.P. No. 7. Hope you get revived somehow because I still have a lot of giant-serpent questions.)

But Grandmother’s veil seems to turn against Mother as the two android women’s divergent parenting philosophies start to clash. Grandmother, sans veil, starts to act kindly toward the children and especially toward Father, whom she makes a robotic pass at (he bats it off and says he’s committed to Mother, their names making the moment even more awkward and Freudian) and even suggests they might be able to survive off fungus from the ocean now that No. 7’s death seems to have disrupted the electromagnetic shield protecting the tropical zone. That might be all well and good, but through her veil, Mother realizes Grandmother’s plan would turn the humans into sea creatures, which isn’t exactly the kind of survival she’s programmed to fight for. As Mother freaks out, the veil spreads over her body and chokes her, further evidence Raised by Wolves loves a cocoon moment.

So the season ends by setting up a grand conflict between Grandmother and Mother with Grandmother trapping Mother inside a simulation after explaining that, hey, to her mind, if the humans all turn into sea creatures, at least they’re still alive. “They are still human beings, a simpler, happier version of themselves,” Grandmother says. “In order to produce the necessary answer, I had to alter the equation.” “It’s not right,” Mother answers. “It equates. It is logical,” Grandmother responds, later telling Mother she is “still very young for an android,” basically just a child.

To this exchange, I say, “Hell, yeah” — what better way to set up a third season of this delirious show than to have two strong android women icily insulting each other? Give us a whole treatise on what exactly it means for humanity to survive as a species but in the form of two warring android math equations. Mother vs. Grandmother: Dawn of Differing Parental Philosophies!

We Simply Must Discuss Grandmother