The Big Picture

  • Ursula, a horticulturalist in
    Scavengers Reign
    , embodies empathy and observation, central to the show’s message.
  • The series highlights a hopeful view of unity between humans and nature through Ursula’s relationship with the alien planet.
  • Ursula’s compassionate and inquisitive nature sets an example for viewers on how to coexist with the environment in
    Scavengers Reign
    .



Animation has always been a genre used to tell truly fantastical stories, with creators using this medium’s artistic liberties to create plots that have a resounding effect on their audiences. Countless animations present viewers with a compelling narrative, but few are as impactful as Scavengers Reign. Created by Joseph Bennett and Charles Huettner, this series astounded audiences with its story of workers on a space-faring freighter being forced to survive the multicolored hardships of a foreign alien planet.


Through this relatively common science fiction plot, the show investigates what happens when an explosive human race and a violent nature collide. A myriad of interesting characters push this core concept along, with the program coming to embody this tenuous conflict and what it means for humanity as a whole — but one person truly exemplifies the core themes at this series’ center. She can be easy to overlook in favor of her flashier, more bombastic contemporaries, but it’s this character’s observant and empathetic nature that completes the series’ core question of what needs to happen for humans and nature to coexist. The story can’t function without her, making the compassionate, observant, and overwhelmingly badass horticulturalist Ursula (Sunita Mani) Scavenger Reign‘s most important character.



‘Scavengers Reign’ Shows the Horrors of Humanity

Many stories focus on stranded humans trying to survive in the far reaches of space, but few are as stunning — visually and thematically — as Scavengers Reign. The first season begins weeks after a freighter ferrying resources throughout the cosmos, Demeter 227, was damaged, with many of its survivors escaping the failing ship by using escape pods to find shelter on the nearby planet, Vesta. Viewers are introduced to the show’s core cast of intriguing survivors; there’s the melancholy Kamen (Ted Travelstead), whose marital strife may have killed dozens of people, and Azi (Wunmi Mosaku), who, along with her AI helper robot Levi (Alia Shawkat), works hard to battle this new world’s harsh elements. These headstrong characters are in good company with Demeter’s former commander Sam (Bob Stephenson), a brave man who eventually lands the ship and embarks on a multi-day trek to see if any of its remaining crew somehow survived. His partner on this journey is Ursula, a sardonic former member of the ship’s horticultural lab who lacks the cutthroat nature of her fellow survivors, viewing this strange place’s flora and fauna as enticing discoveries just waiting to happen rather than potential threats — which is exactly why she is so essential to the story.


In the few moments when the series flashes back to the time before its main characters crashed, Ursula stands apart from the more excitable natures of her companions. While they’re shown romancing other ship dwellers or engaging in physical fights with one another, the only clip audiences see of the woman is a seemingly uneventful one: kneeling on the ship’s farm, carefully planting a seedling that will one day join the hundreds of other plants she’s shown to have nurtured. It’s that fostering of nature – a grueling yet rewarding task, as any person with a green thumb can tell you – that defines her character, as Ursula’s time in the present sees her constantly halt her and Sam’s trek to observe this new world to study some new element she’s never seen before. This doesn’t always yield good results, as she is forced to kill some of Vesta’s original inhabitants when her exploring proves dangerous, but it’s clear that her preference is always to learn as much as she can about this new world and pay it the respect she knows it deserves. She is a strong yet deeply empathetic character, and it’s because of this empathy that she not only emphasizes the entire program’s central message but potentially saves the life of every human left on Vesta.


In ‘Scavengers Reign,’ Nature Doesn’t Always Look Natural

Sunita Mani as Ursula in Scavengers Reign
Image via Green Street Pictures

Scavengers Reign is certainly not the first series to portray the struggles between humanity and the nature it inhabits. Countless series have dissected both the reality of this conflict and an imagined scenario of where this could lead, with films like The Happening or Underwater portraying nature as a malicious thing that will eventually get fed up with human indignity and strike back. Yet Ursula envisions a different kind of existence as she studies this new ecology, learning its needs and how to maneuver it, paints a heartening image of the cohesive relationship many environmentalists hope for humanity. Through her, the series’ creators display a mutual fostering of growth; while they clash constantly, the characters and their new planetary residence could live in peace with one another if only these proverbial intruders stopped acting as though they were entitled to everything Vesta had to offer and instead learned how they could give back to it. A rocky yet ultimately peaceful symbiosis, one which may be difficult to achieve initially but that is overwhelmingly possible with a mindset like hers.


Viewers may feel inclined to cite Levi as the character who best represents the show’s message of bonding with nature, as this robot’s eventual turn into a mechanical-plant hybrid makes them a living metaphor for humanity and Vesta coming together. But Levi’s overwhelming newness makes them an unattainable aspiration, whereas the creators are stressing that the cohesion Ursula constantly strives for is overwhelmingly possible. Vesta is immensely more dangerous than the Earth viewers are watching from, yet even in this new setting, a person’s compassion allows her to learn from the world, to care for it, to grow in genuinely unimaginable ways and forge her own place in this foreign environment. The results of Ursula’s mindset are shown in the season finale, where her constant studying has created a greenhouse filled with different kinds of useful plants and a constant food source for the remaining survivors. Because of her, they carve out a safe space – because of her mindset, these people can finally find rest, and it’s through her that the series makes clear not only how attainable this natural cohesion is but exactly how viewers can achieve it.


‘Scavengers Reign’s Ursula Shows Humans At Their Best

Stories focusing on the environment and people’s place within it are always extremely complex, with many viewers considering Ursula’s behavior throughout Scavengers Reign ignorant of the dangerous possibilities of her new planet. In a setting where bloodthirsty vines and psychic frog creatures are constantly looking for the next thing to eat (or enslave), acting as an explorer could cost someone their life. But it can’t be ignored that Ursula survives just as well as the other survivors around her — in fact, she does better.


Whereas other characters all immediately resort to either complete supplication or immediate battle, Ursula instead searches for the nuances in the world around her, finding new pathways around danger and understanding how to overcome it if ever faced with unavoidable conflict. It’s because of Ursula’s studying that she uncovers so many wonderful things about this world, as well as tools to help them survive in it, making her the most important character in a show focused on how humans can flourish in an environment (without destroying it). She is the epitome of the inquisitive, compassionate nature the creators stress throughout Scavengers Reign, and she offers a helpful model that many of those watching today can learn from.

Scavengers Reign is available to watch on Netflix in the U.S.

WATCH ON NETFLIX

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