This interview includes spoilers for the first season of “Raised by Wolves.”
Outside of a failed pilot in 2013, it had been about 50 years since Ridley Scott sat in the director’s chair for a television series. (He got his start as a director doing live TV at the BBC.) Scott has spent most of his career in film and commercials, with his TV work generally limited to executive producing series like “The Good Wife” and “The Terror,” among others. But none of those shows bore his distinct visual stamp.
That changed after he read the pilot script for “Raised by Wolves,” which debuted in September on HBO Max. The writer Aaron Guzikowski had submitted the project for production consideration, and while the story spoke to Scott’s sensibilities, he worried about repeating himself.
“My tendency was to think, ‘I don’t want to go down that road of androids again,’” said Scott, the creator of “Blade Runner” and the “Alien” series. “I try not to play the old music.”
But by the time Scott finished reading the script, he had changed his mind. “It’s a very rare bird, this story,” he said. “I thought: ‘Oh my god. I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to set the pace and direct the pilot.” He immediately started storyboarding and designing costumes, spaceships and more, and he ended up directing the first two episodes.
The result of those labors is a story that is set on an actual planet — the barren Kepler-22b — but that feels very much of the Ridleyverse. Humans face a hostile alien world; androids have emotions and dreams. Like Ash, the sinister science officer in “Alien,” these robots bleed a white substance (in this case, milk).
The threat of forced maternity is ever-present: A killer android model is reprogrammed to protect humanity’s last surviving embryos, a teenager is impregnated while in stasis, and then the android — now known as Mother — is herself impregnated. In Thursday’s startling finale, Mother finally gives birth, through the mouth, to another of Scott’s phallus–shaped monsters: a serpent that grows exponentially larger, capable of flight, hungry for blood and impervious to the androids’ desperate efforts to kill it.
“It was meant to look like a sea eel, with a disgusting mouth and a long body,” Scott said.
In separate phone interviews, Scott (in Ireland, resuming production on his latest film, “The Last Duel”) and Guzikowski (in California) discussed the show’s finale, which debuted Thursday on HBO Max, its brand of psychosexual horror and some course-corrections that will be made in Season 2. These are edited excerpts from the conversations.
Congratulations on the Season 2 renewal.
RIDLEY SCOTT We’re very excited.
AARON GUZIKOWSKI I can’t spell it all out now, because the show is so much about mystery, but we have a multiple-season plan that will illuminate a lot of stuff. It’s like a big haunted house, and it’s about the people who lived there before, all the rooms you haven’t seen the inside of, the backyard you haven’t seen yet.
SCOTT This planet had life on it prior to these people’s arrival. When they arrive on the planet, [the androids] Mother and Father discover that there is this dinosaur-sized skeleton of a serpent. Initially we assume these massive creatures were like our dinosaurs and died off. And we discover that there are other forms of life on the planet. And then Mother creates new life with one of these serpents.
GUZIKOWSKI Mother and Father think the giant skull is from an extinct creature, not realizing that someday Mother would give birth to one and reintroduce it to the world and reactivate the planet. You’re seeing all of these iconic elements — the serpent, the garden, Adam and Eve — but they’re not the versions we know. We subvert expectations a little bit.
Let’s talk about the serpent. Its birth alone, through the mouth, is disturbing. But can you clarify how an android is able to get pregnant and give birth to a serpent in the first place?
GUZIKOWSKI It’s kind of a weird thing, because it’s almost like she’s been digitally impregnated with information, as it were. While she was communing with her creator in a virtual space, basically having sex in the simulation, something else got inside and downloaded her drive with information about how to build a new being. In essence, Mother is like a 3-D printer. Her body starts to work on that digital information and it decides that it needs more organic compounds. Because she’s an android, her body could download that information and make something out of it. Her body was never designed to give birth, though, so it has to improvise a bit to get the thing out of her. The birth is pretty wild — it never fails to disturb me.
SCOTT On “Alien,” we had a guy in a rubber suit. Today, digital effects can do anything, but it better look real, and not digital.
GUZIKOWSKI The serpent can also fly because it has traits that Mother passed down to it. So it’s slightly different than the monsters that have come before.
Ridley, you vowed not to read criticism of your work after “Blade Runner.” Has that changed now that you’ve moved back into directing television?
SCOTT No. I knew I had done something special with “Blade Runner.” I knew it was very challenging in terms of the world I’d done and the story we were telling, but I thought I’d nailed it. I didn’t expect such vitriolic criticism. I was slaughtered by Pauline Kael. She never even met me! But what that taught me was to never read critique again, Because you have to be your own critic.
Multiple reviewers have noted the drab, washed-out look. Will this desaturated gray palette change in Season 2?
GUZIKOWSKI Like Earth, this planet hosts a variety of different climates, flora and fauna. So we are going to a very different region for Season 2. It’s like Season 1 was in Arizona, and Season 2 is in Siberia. That’s just as an example — we’re not going to a snowy place. And there are going to be new arrivals from Earth and a change in power dynamics.
The gray look extends from the landscape to the wardrobe. Ridley, did you design the skin suit to help accommodate the pregnancy?
SCOTT The skin suit is a metaphor for being naked. I thought: “Can I do elastic suits? Can I give a female an androgynous look like David Bowie?” I wanted Mother to have a short haircut, red hair and an elastic suit — she has this wonderful demeanor of placidity, but she could become suddenly dangerous.
GUZIKOWSKI And those suits were so uncomfortable for the actors! They should be credited as stunt people for wearing those outfits every day. In real life, they’re made from a latex material, and the idea is that in the future, the material never needs to be washed and won’t rip unless you purposely cut it with a knife. It would last a lifetime. In the first meeting we had, I told Ridley about the plan for the season finale, so he knew that the suits would have to accommodate pregnancy.
What’s the deal with androids and milk?
GUZIKOWSKI When I pitched this to Ridley, I told him that I had androids with black blood. He asked, “Why black blood?” I said, “Well, I didn’t want to rip you off, basically.” He was like, “Don’t worry about that.” So we have this connection to android characters that he’s previously created. And there is just such a visceral reaction to the white blood, the milk — all the places that it takes the brain. Ridley is a master of creating those gut reactions.
SCOTT On “Alien,” I was in a room with Sigourney Weaver, who was being attacked by Ian Holm as an android. His acting was just sublime, and his character was on the verge of completely losing it and getting violent. I said, “Does anybody have an eyedropper full of milk?” The makeup department brought out an eyedropper, and I got the milk, and I reached out and put a drop of milk above his eye and then started rolling. As it dropped down across his eye, it freaked everybody out! And then I thought: “Do androids all have white blood? Like milk of magnesia?” So that’s why my androids are milky white inside. And for Mother, I wondered, “Should I use that again?” I think it works great — it’s more uncomfortable than seeing red blood.
It also amps up the psychosexual body horrors. Ridley, you have these recurring nightmares throughout your work of characters impregnated against their will and then forced to give an unconventional form of “birth,” whether it’s a chestburster in “Alien,” Shaw’s procedure in “Prometheus,” or Mother’s serpent here.
SCOTT The idea came from Oxford Scientific, where they showed some footage of grubs in tree bark. A wood-boring beetle would be walking across the bark, pass a grub that was underneath, on the other side, and drill down through the bark — which by comparison was like a 10-foot piece of concrete to us — to impregnate the grub, to make it a host for its larvae. That blew me away. There’s nothing more extraordinary than nature. Mother Nature gave us a giant slap this year, and we better start paying attention.
GUZIKOWSKI It’s almost like you’re writing the original “Grimms’ Fairy Tales,” the really weird ones. It’s a gut reaction, with thematic resonance. A [forced pregnancy] happens to Tempest, and then it happens to Mother, which changes Mother’s perspective on what happened to Tempest. She keeps gaining more emotional intelligence, and she comes to understand Tempest’s point of view.
This show has some very female-centric themes, but critics have noted the lack of female input. Are you looking to hire some female or nonbinary directors for Season 2?
GUZIKOWSKI Yeah. That’s absolutely our goal. We wanted to do it in Season 1. We’re working on it now. We’re going to do everything possible to find those people and get them in the director’s chair.
SCOTT That can certainly happen. It’s all about who can deliver.
Given that it’s the future, why do people still have mullets? How did space mullets happen?
GUZIKOWSKI It just happened! Everybody just had these mullets one day. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but very quickly I was like, “This feels right.” We can’t escape mullets.