Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for the Scavengers Reign season finale.
The Big Picture
- Scavengers Reign breaks the mold by starting the story after the crash, with survivors already adapted to Vesta’s exotic wildlife.
- Sam and Ursula’s journey is filled with danger and sacrifice, as they navigate the challenges of Vesta and encounter deadly parasites.
- Azi and Levi’s relationship evolves from tool and operator to friendship and equality, highlighting the theme of adaptation and growth on Vesta.
Scavengers Reign, an animated sci-fi show created by Charlie Huettner and Joseph Bennet, tells the story of the Demeter, a deep-space freight hauler that explodes over the planet Vesta, forcing its few survivors to try and survive on a planet teeming with exotic and dangerous wildlife. From the day the first episodes dropped, it was clear that this show was aiming to break the mold. Among its many unconventional choices was the decision to begin the story months after the crash, at a time when our scattered band of survivors had already adapted to Vesta’s psychedelic ecology. The season ends more conventionally, with an explosive collision of all its storylines. But what a strange journey it has been! Read on to find out how things worked out for Sam, Ursula, Azi, Levi, and Kamen – and what the future might hold if there is a second season.
After their deep-space freighter is damaged, the stranded crew of the Demeter must fight to survive on a beautiful yet dangerous planet.
Sam and Ursula’s Story Comes to a Sad But Hopeful End in ‘Scavengers Reign’
The seed of inspiration for Scavengers Reign was Huettner and Bennet’s animated short, “Scavengers.” In the short, we follow a pair of colonists, also stranded on a planet called Vesta, as they make their way through a series of bizarre tasks, harvesting strange gooey enzymes from one alien creature in order to stimulate another species’ secretions, and so on, and so forth – all wordlessly. The story of Sam and Ursula (Sunita Mani and Bob Stephenson) is somewhat derived from them. When we meet them, they have already figured out how to harvest ingredients from Vesta’s plant and animal life and use them to repair the equipment from their damaged escape pod. Together, the pair is able to get a signal to the Demeter, the wreckage of which is still in orbit, and remotely command it to land on the planet. This sets the events of the rest of the season in motion, and Sam and Ursula begin the long trek towards the Demeter.
Have you ever gone camping, and one friend is the one who gets bitten by all the mosquitoes? Sam is that friend. As he and Ursula make their journey, he is beset by one creature after another. First, he’s pricked by a biological system that infects its prey while extracting its DNA and using it to hatch a cloned duplicate. Sam, of course, gets infected, and while the monstrous Sam clone is dispatched easily enough, the infection soon spreads throughout his arm. A mysterious human appears out of the forest and is able to heal Sam using locally sourced herbs. But, the cure turns out to be worse than the disease, and Sam is infected with a parasite that intermittently seizes control of his mind, giving him the uncontrollable urge to spread the parasite to others.
Over this time, we get to learn more about Sam and Ursula. She was the ship’s botanist and finds herself better able to adapt to Vesta’s hostile climate – and even find wonder in it. He was the ship’s captain, although it was owned by a large corporation, and now just wants to get back home. He’s noble to the point of stubbornness, and it’s these qualities that inform his decision to sacrifice himself at the end of his journey. With the Demeter finally in sight, he tells Ursula to go on without him, as the parasite makes him a danger to others. As Ursula survives until the final act, we watch Sam tear the parasite out of his chest cavity, which seems to kill him. Although, on this show, death is not always the end, and often just the beginning.
Azi and Levi Discover What it Means To Be “Human” in ‘Scavengers Reign’
Meanwhile, on another part of the planet, Azi and Levi (Wunmi Mosaku and Alia Shawkat) have crashed in a separate escape pod. Azi is the head of the ship’s cargo bay; she’s independent and tends to keep people at a distance. Levi is one of countless models of the same service robot. Though they are programmed with a voice that is designed to signal helpfulness and servility to humans, they are gradually growing a new level of awareness, courtesy of a mysterious sticky substance spreading throughout their body. “This biological material seems to have a complementary composition to my circuitry,” Levi chirps optimistically.
When the Demeter lands, Azi and Levi see it as well, and begin their own long trek across Vesta’s varied terrains. As Levi transforms, Azi, used to thinking of Levi as a tool, has to learn to grant them a new level of independence. Gradually, Azi begins to think of Levi as an equal, and a friend. But, in the middle of their journey, Levi is destroyed in an encounter with a hostile creature (more on that later).
This death radically changes our expectations of what Scavengers Reign will deliver. To this point, a major character death seemed impossible, simply because there were so few characters to begin with. But, at this point, the show introduces three new characters. Kris, Barry, and Trevor, travelers from a distant colony who hear Azi’s desperate distress call. After they track her location on Vesta, losing their ship in the process, they join Azi on her journey to the Demeter, with the understanding that they will loot its cargo and take it back to their colony, and shuttle Azi and any other survivors to a nearby outpost, for rescue.
However, Kris soon reveals a sinister side. She lives according to a doctrine of selfishness, and after Trevor is gruesomely killed, the young and naive Barry becomes a pawn that Azi and Kris each try and win to their own side. The primary issue is that the Demeter is full of passengers in cryogenic sleep. Azi wants to wake them up, but Kris refuses to help. Once their conflict reaches a boiling point, Kris and Barry knock Azi unconscious and leave her behind to claim the prize of the Demeter for themselves.
Kamen’s Story Is an Unfinished Redemption Arc on ‘Scavengers Reign’
Kamen (Ted Travelstead) crashes in a third escape pod, alone. Worse, the pod’s door is jammed shut, trapping him inside for months. During the pilot, he is finally freed by one of Vesta’s native creatures. This toadlike being is never given a name, although it is clearly highly intelligent. (Later, I learned that the creators of the show called it Hollow during production, but not before I became used to calling the avocado-colored creature Guacamole.) It has psychic and telekinetic powers, and survives by hypnotizing other animals into bringing it food. The being makes Kamen his food-gathering puppet. In the being’s service, Kamen becomes a skilled hunter, and the being changes its diet, becoming a meat-eating predator, and growing vastly in size.
The being communicates with Kamen by forcing him to relive his own memories, and so we end up learning much more about his backstory than any of the other characters. We learn that he was obsessed with fixing his broken marriage to Fiona (also voiced by Alia Shawkat), and so he got them both positions on the Demeter, where he served as a kind of company stooge for their corporate bosses. It was Kamen who steered the ship into danger, in order to save time and keep his position, and so he’s responsible for the crash of the ship and the death of his wife.
As the being grows in size, its psychic powers become fearsome. It eventually consumes Kamen, storing him inside a womb-like pouch inside its body. The being becomes the season antagonist, though its motivations never become clear, and its relationship with Kamen remains mysterious. It heads to the Demeter as well, but why? Has it absorbed Kamen’s desire to go there? Or has it learned from Kamen’s memories that the Demeter is a threat that must be destroyed? We never learn. But when the being crosses paths with Azi and her crew, it destroys Levi, and sabotages Kris and Barry’s ship, so without quite understanding the being, we learn to hate and fear it.
All the Storylines Converge in the Final Act of ‘Scavengers Reign’
Ursula and Azi, Kris and Barry, and Kamen inside the being all arrive at the Demeter during the final act. Kris’s goal is to use the ship’s single working shuttle to escape Vesta, along with as much of the Demeter’s valuable technology as she can harvest. Eventually, Barry rebels against her fanatic disregard for the ship’s hibernating passengers and insists on saving them. Kris takes the shuttle and the cargo by herself, abandoning him. Barry is left with Ursula and Azi to battle the being, which has grown far too powerful for the three of them to overcome.
However, at the last minute, they are rescued by an unlikely savior. Levi, earlier dismantled by the being and assumed to be dead, has been reassembled by the creatures of Vesta (in a sequence that evokes the birds and mice that help dress Cinderella). Levi is now half-machine, half-plant, and very powerful. The being attempts to psychically bond with Levi, but the robot is too psychically strong. The resulting psychokinetic explosion allows Kamen to break free of the creature’s grip (in a sequence visually reminiscent of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey), and after a very trippy climactic scene, the being reverts to its former size and hops away. “What have you been doing?” Ursula asks Levi when they meet. “Adapting,” says Levi.
Adaptation Is One of ‘Scavengers Reign’s Most Potent Themes
The show’s creators have spoken with Collider about how one of their inspirations for the show was the Gaia theory, a fringe theory that posits that the earth is one single biological entity, with all of its many species operating as sort of planetary gut bacteria. The scientific community remains skeptical, but the theory has influenced the design of Vesta, on which all species coexist in complex but harmonic relationships. And though Vesta is dangerous to humans, it also offers them a potential place in its ecology, if they are willing to adapt.
This change is frequently presented as a form of terrifying body horror, an invasion of the flesh. But Season 1’s epilogue finds the survivors of the Demeter living in harmony with Vesta. The remaining survivors have been awoken from cryosleep and have formed a stable colony. Kamen has partially rejoined humanity but remains too traumatized to relate to anyone else. Azi has embarked on a new relationship. And, most intriguingly, Levi has become so merged with the planet, that they can recreate tiny life in their own botanical-mechanical image.
A second season of Scavengers Reign would surely be different from the sparsely populated first — but that would suit this show, which wended its way through Season 1 with great spontaneity. To be clear, a second season has not been announced, and the first season does find some closure. But its final image (before the teaser, which hints that life from Vesta has escaped its planetary confines) is of Ursula, flipping through the pages of her journal. Many of the pages are still blank.
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Khushi Patel is a science fiction author who lives in Austin, Texas. She has published three novels, and her work has been praised for its originality and imagination. Khushi is a graduate of Rice University, and she has worked as a software engineer. She is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and her books have been nominated for several awards.