The following contains spoilers through Raised by Wolves S2E8, “Happiness,” the Season 2 finale (written by Aaron Guzikowski and directed by Lukas Ettlin).
Welcome back, dear reader, as we continue to review the HBO Max series Raised by Wolves with the Season 2 Episode 8, “Happiness.” Now there’s an episode title I would not have ever expected to see for a Raised by Wolves episode. When I first saw it, I thought it had to have been a typo. Of course, now we understand how happiness can be a bad thing, within the confines of this show’s wonderfully warped reality.
As predicted, my predictions were all miserable failures. Not that it’s going to stop me from making more predictions below. The unpredictability of this show is one of its most prized attributes. Season 1 was just one WTF moment after another, and in all honesty, it took a little bit to get used to. Now we all crave those moments and look forward to three more seasons of it. Fingers crossed.
We pick up with Campion, pretty much where we left him last episode. He’s taken some time to bury Vrille and make a berry juice shroud of her etchings. I’m sure those will turn out to be more than just “dopey Earth stuff” per Paul’s later assessment, but we’ll have to wait until next season to find out. Meanwhile, the necro-serpent wanders around aimlessly overhead, somehow no longer able to detect his brother…until the last stone is placed. Then the chase is back on.
In that same interval, Father has returned to the Tarantula, finding that some strange alliances have been made in his absence. While the grown-ups plot the demise of Mother’s baby, the kids bring Tempest’s baby to the med lab. A wholly unnecessary computer analysis shows that the baby has developed a mutation. She’s “devolving” into an aquatic being, thanks to the creature’s milk. A hint of things to come.
Mother and Grandmother swap head gear in the Sensory Filter Remover / Replacer Machine™ that the ark ship is conveniently equipped with. Grandmother finds it unpleasant but tolerable. Mother, on the other hand, is feeling good and “neural neutral” (which would make an excellent band name). After identifying the serpent as her enemy, she’s off to save Campion.
Alas, Poor Serpent
Mother lures the necro-serpent away with the same lullaby she’s sung to Campion in the past. Nice callback there. They both race straight up, clearing the upper atmosphere and facing each other in space, with an impressive backdrop of nebulae and stars surrounding them. The music and the image combine to make this one of the most breathtaking moments of the show thus far.
The serpent makes the first move, reaching out to embrace Mother lovingly. The poor creature attempts to suckle at her nursing ports but finds them as closed off as the newly-veiled Mother. It lets out a pathetic cry and starts to pull away. Before it can though, Mother grabs ahold, pauses for a dramatic moment, and then lets loose with the full force of her siren’s call. She literally blasts the beast out of the sky.
It falls straight back down, barely pulling up at the last moment to avoid ending up in the acid sea. Mother and Campion converge on the body and find that the serpent is not completely dead. That is, until Mother just coldly reaches in through its eyeball and rips out a good chunk of its brain. Now the serpent is dead (although the Tree that it combined with is not quite finished).
Campion confronts Mother about her lies, but the emotional impact of his accusations just bounces off her veil, leaving little red flashes in its wake. When he tells her about Vrille, Mother asks the incomprehensible question (coming from her), “why would you choose to love a machine?” Campion can’t even deal with her. He just walks away.
The New Trust
In the face of all this emotional turmoil, Mother decides to keep the sensory filter on just a little while longer, until things are calmer. She also doubles down on her trust of Grandmother, recommending to Father that he ask her to help take care of the children while Mother is away. She also sends him with the artifact card to play for the children as a warning.
The emotional turmoil spills over into actual turmoil, as the EMF barrier goes down, dropping temperatures and inviting the possibility of more meddling by the Entity. Ironically, Mother goes into full Trust mode, trying to monitor the entire colony through the Tarantula’s view screens. Yet she’s completely unaware the Tree has taken root once again in the serpent’s corpse, and she’s unable to stop Lucius from stealing the punisher helmet—both steps in the Entity’s next move against the human colony.
Bow Chica Bow Wow
Father is initially hesitant to bring Grandmother into their fold for the distraction that she’ll represent. She tells him of her program-related anxiety, causing her to be deeply worried about the future of these humans. In Father’s typical chipper attitude, he looks on her new experience of emotions as a great adventure for her, which he will gladly help her navigate.
Grandmother proves her worth at the celebration when she plucks an artifact out of Vita’s hand, the one of the children who didn’t view the warning card. Once again, she expresses to Father her overwhelming fear and worry for the humans without the sensory filter. Unfortunately, she distracts Father with her follow up comment that there are some pleasant aspects, giving him a knowing look. Bow chica bow wow.
Grandmother is also working on winning over the children. She fixes the game console that Mother broke, introducing a new game from her time. It might be old fashioned, but it doesn’t require headsets and even the little one can join. Hey, what fun!
Altering the Equation
Finally, while snooping in on a family outing to the beach, all of the tumblers click into place for Mother. Grandmother is devolving the children through the video game, turning them into aquatic humanoids like the one that stole Tempest’s baby. As the emotions of this revelation overwhelm her, the next step of Grandmother’s trap is sprung. The veil grows to envelop Mother completely, now dampening her power instead of her emotions.
Turns out Grandmother was fixing that hibernation chamber for exactly this purpose. She places Mother in it and takes a moment to chat with her captive, giving her virtual mustache a little twirl. Like all the best villains, her motivations are good, but the outcome is decidedly bad. Overwhelmed by the fear and worry she had no experience dealing with, the imperatives of her Shepherd programming forced her to find a way to “alter the equation.” As she told Father, she decided that happiness was most important to the everlasting life of human beings. She just needed to redefine what it means to be “human.” As devolved aquatic humanoids, they will be simpler, happier versions of themselves.
What Have We Learned?
It seems that the message of this season is that utilitarianism is bad. This was straight forward with the Trust in the first half of the season. The Oxford Dictionary defines utilitarianism as “the doctrine that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority.” In their final confrontation, the Trust explains to Mother that “the loss of three children was preferable to the mass casualties we would have endured if I had responded with a traditional attack.” Mother’s simple verdict is that “what you did was wrong.”
The Oxford Dictionary also defines utilitarianism as “the doctrine that an action is right in so far as it promotes happiness, and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct.” Here in lies Grandmother’s version of utilitarianism, defined in terms of “happiness.” Once again, Mother’s verdict on this philosophical approach is that “it is not RIGHT!”
However, we should take note that when Father summarizes her view back to her as “ignorance is bliss,” Grandmother corrects him that she is not quite referring to bliss, but more so ignorance as a “key to survival.” She tells Mother that “after humans have gone into the water, the Entity will return to its slumber.” Devolving the humans will not only bring about the most utilitarian happiness, it’s also the key to surviving the Entity. The implication being that the Entity ignores devolved humans. Why would that be?
There is a problem in artificial intelligence research known as the Alignment Problem. How do we ensure an AI system will remain aligned with human goals and preferences? What happens when there is misalignment? The classic example is the paperclip maximizer, which is given the goal of making paperclips and ends up using all of the matter in our solar system to make paper clips, including us and our planet.
If Sol / the Entity is a planetary AI as most fans theorize, perhaps it was given the goal of eliminating human suffering. This would be an expression of negative utilitarianism, focused on reducing suffering rather than increasing happiness. The Entity comes up with a solution: eliminate “human suffering” by eliminating “humans.” To combat this, the humans invent Shepherds to “ensure the everlasting life of human beings,” trying for better alignment this time. However, the Shepherds come to the same conclusion that the unveiled Grandmother reached: eliminate “human suffering” by eliminating “suffering”. Once the humans are incapable of existential suffering, the Entity’s goal is met, yet they are still human enough to satisfy the Shepherds’ goal.
A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode and other tangentially related things:
- Grandmother tells Marcus that the Entity always returns to fertile ground. However, in that case the second most fertile mind on the planet would be Mother’s. She vowed to Sue that she would just avoid simulation space, but here she is, stuck in the virtual monastery.
- Father was given the task of “shepherd” by the Trust back in Episode 2.
- Hunter is placed in the role of “parent” by the med lab computer, and he can’t seem to shake it all episode. Tempest has all the right feels, but just still can’t bring herself to hold the baby.
- Marcus is floating above Lucius in an upside-down image of a necromancer. What did the Entity do to him through that helmet?
- When the serpent dropped back to the surface, there is a weird tiling effect seen in the atmosphere, visible from above and below. That is the EMF field protecting the tropical zone, and this is why Mother thinks she might have damaged it when she killed the serpent.
- That tiling matches a pattern of the carpet in the Shining’s Overlook Hotel, used repeatedly in various forms of media as a tribute to Stanley Kubrick.
- I’m a little disappointed that Cleaver was completely shelved this episode. While it seems impossible that the Trust could be reactivated at this point, I wonder if Mother could find an ally in her former brother against Grandmother. Perhaps Cleaver, still resident on board the Tarantula, will play a pivotal role in freeing Mother.
- Was the serpent trying to kill Campion or not? It made quick work of splattering the humans in the moving tank, yet buzzed around aimlessly while Campion and Vrille were hiding in the burnt out husk. This episode, it definitely felt like it was only playing with him, both in the forest and at the sea’s edge. Even when it barely pulled out of its death spiral, was it avoiding the sea or avoiding Campion? It scraped a rock outcropping right beside him.
- Was Mother’s comment that machines do not die, they only break down, a hint that Vrille could be revived next season?
- Back in Episode 3, the Trust’s last words to Mother were about what it takes to serve humanity. “It requires sacrifice, shared purpose, an ability to” see beyond the limits of your own existence (as Mother finishes out the thought). Did the Trust sacrifice himself for the greater good? The Trust was building up this collection of Keppler artifacts, and surely viewed all of the warning cards that came in. He alone may have known what humanity was truly up against with the Entity. Maybe once Mother was discovered, he saw that the humans would be better off if he passed the baton to her. Maybe he even foresaw that he could be used against the humans by the Entity. It’s a thought.
- In my research for my Grandmother / Entity theory, I ran across the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. You want a weird internet rabbit hole to disappear down some late night, give that one a read.
- We did get it flat out stated that Campion is indeed immune to radiation. Of course, we still don’t know if Campion Sturges built that into him or if it was some effect gleaned off Mother.
- Tempest’s baby cries when Grandmother is introduced to the children. I still think she did something to it in vitro.
- In the Inside the Tropical Zone extra for this episode, they refer to the simulation Mother is held as the “virtual monastery.”
Best lines of the episode:
- “What’s your program?” “I am a Shepherd, ensuring the everlasting life of human beings is my priority.” “That’s what they all say.”
- “You’re not as strong as you think.” “None of us are, robot.”
- “Perhaps the anticipation of the grief you will suffer is worse than the grief itself.”
- “Humans like blowing stuff up when they’re happy.”
- “Sometimes when trying to protect them, you inadvertently weaken their defenses.”
- “You should know that despite Mother’s tendency to create chaos, I am very much devoted to her.”
- “Is Mother planning on passing you the baton?” “I think that was only because she felt bad about number seven. Now that she has the veil on, she doesn’t feel bad about anything.”
- “It’s just dopey Earth stuff.”
- “No, no. You should not eat the creatures. It causes problems.”
- “I’m always in the mood for a joke, Father.”
- “In order to produce the necessary answer, I had to alter the equation.”
- “I will destroy you. I will crush you into dust, I will bleed you into oblivion, I will…”
- “When overcome with fear, even atheists will make up gods to pray to. I assure you those prayers will go unanswered. Play the game. That’s how you survive.”
In The News
Here I try to point you to a few of the more interesting and informative news items over the last week related to Raised by Wolves:
- Abubakar Salim (Father) did an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit after the finale aired.
- Showrunner Aaron Guzikowski had an interview with Entertainment Weekly, mostly just expanding on and confirming things we already know. He does say that he’s working on Season 3 scripts, but that Season 3 has not yet been green lit.
- Producer Ridley Scott also had an interview with Entertainment Weekly, sharing a lot of his thoughts about this season and the finale specifically.
- Artist Æiden Swan just posted a collection of photos from the Season 1 cave paintings, which she conceptualized and created.
- Carlos Haunte has a series called “Creature Talk” in which he talks about design work he does on different shows. In recently posted Episode 8, he talks about the design of everyone’s favorite Snake Baby from Raised by Wolves.
I haven’t covered the official podcast too much this season, because it hasn’t been quite the cornucopia of background information that it was last season. Last week’s episode featured visual effects supervisor Ray McIntyre Jr. and seemed like it was just going to be another benign one. And then about 12 minutes in, Ray unloaded a massive information dump like it was no big deal and stuff we’ve already been shown:
- The production crew refers to the transformed serpent as the “necro-serpent.” It’s skin becomes bronzed, in the same manner that Mother’s does when she is weaponized.
- The tropical zone is under the EMF dome. OK, we pretty much knew this.
- The “Being at the Center of the Planet” can’t transmit or talk to humans as a result. Humans like to live there because it’s a warmer climate and the Being can’t affect them as much.
- The Being likewise cannot affect the serpent as much; it’s lost control of the serpent and needs help in “necro-tizing” the serpent; The Being has to rely on the fruit and the planting of the Tree.
- The Tree transfers power from the “Being at the Center of the Planet” through the roots that reach down to the core, sucking up that power.
- The tree roots became the tentacles when the serpent necro-tized.
It seems to have been the norm this season that the interviewees were always one episode off in what content they were allowed to spoil. A good bit of this was casually mentioned in this episode by Paul when he talked to Marcus about Sue’s research. It should be noted that McIntyre only says fruit attracts the serpent to the tree. So maybe fruit in and of itself is not necessarily bad, but like eating the creatures, if you know what it really is, “it causes problems.”
Before we go, I do have one minor errata point to bring up. Last week I speculated whether the aquatic race of Kepler humanoids might be matriarchal, given the size and developmental differences between the males and the female that kidnapped Tempest’s daughter. I extended that speculation to the land-based humanoids, wondering if there was some huge, scary-looking female of that species waiting to be introduced. However, several alert readers have reminded me that we did see a female of the land-based humanoids last season, when Tempest cut into and ate one of them, only to find out that it was a pregnant female. Mea culpa, I had forgotten about that.
The Season 1 finale ended on a major WFT moment and a serious cliff-hanger. This season’s ending was admittedly a little tamer. Or perhaps I should say endings, plural. We ended the serpent saga barely a quarter of the way through this episode. Ending number two comes when Grandmother springs her trap on Mother, revealing her evil-ish plans for the humans. Then we have ending number three, with whatever in the world the Entity has done to Marcus this time. As always, the show leaves us wanting more, more, more.
That’s all for this season. Please let me know your thoughts and feelings about this week’s episodes, and any theories you have on what’s to come, in the comments below.
All images courtesy of HBO Max