Scavenger's Reign


(Spoilers below)

I'm all caught up on HBO's Scavenger's Reign. My initial take, after watching the first two episodes, was lackluster.

It's clearly inspired by Mœbius, which isn't bad, but it felt somehow derivative, instead of "inspired by". On twitter I called it "a tour with no stakes". I've now caught up, (I believe the final three episodes drop tonight), and I think I can better articulate my thoughts on the show.

I don't like the characters. Particularly Sam and Ursula (seen above), but I want to run through them.


Azi is cool. Azi is fine. I think she's a bit slow on the uptake of realizing and responding to the fact the "slime mold" is making it come alive. And once she seems to fully realize it, the robot is almost immediately taken away. I guess I'm left wondering, why tell *that* story? Why spend the time giving us a character who doesn't get it and then immediately ripping it away? 

The show begins at some undefined point after the crash. They've all been there a while (long enough to grow tomatoes, but not quite harvest them so maybe 40-60 days?). Why not start the characters of Azi and Levi, singing together and farming? Introduce the characters with something like "I still can't believe you've started making your own music Levi!". We can still have the concern of what's this slime mold doing to the machine? and "what's does this mean?". But instead we get a sort of "bombastic side eye" for several episodes until there's finally a realization/acceptance and then there's an immediate death (to be followed I'm sure by a resurrection in tonight's episodes).


Kamen is fine. He's a straight forward, cowardly, weak, but backstabbing villain character. And he's been enslaved by a psychic frog thing. This is fine. It's pretty cool. He doesn't seem to have more depth than that though, and so, I think they spent way too much time on him. 

I feel like they did this because of the way they chose to structure their story (3 disconnected but connected stories told semi-simultaneously). Everything about him could have been covered in one 15-20 minute block imo because all the flashbacks hit the same note. We'd have been better off if they'd spent that animation time on the world instead of "Here's Kamen seething in the past again". We get it. If you're going to flash back on him though, give me more notes or personality or something.

Sam and Ursula

It's these two who drive me crazy. They are so horribly inconsistent I can't stand it. To be fair, the possibility exists that Ursula has been some sort of fungus clone for all this time, and that's why her choices don't make sense, but I don't know that that makes it better? Guess I'll find out tonight.

1. We're introduced to Sam and Ursula as what I would consider to be thriving in their shipwrecked environment. Sam goes inside a creature and performs a complicated series of moves on its guts in order to access light producing orbs. As the show goes on we see they have plenty of these. The two of them then turn fruit guts into electrical cables. Then they pick up a tiny creature, open it up, stick it on their face and put its two tentacles up their nose, to protect themselves from killer fungal spores. This shows a pretty significant "mastery" of the world where they are. At least to me. At the end of episode 1 they're able to bring the ship down to the planet and now they need to adventure to go get it. Perfect.

2. Episode 3: The Wall. All of a sudden, Sam and Ursula are stupid. They come to a weird wall (it's very cool). Ursula gets a magic bird feather thing that causes the wall to open, but Sam doesn't seem to respond to it or acknowledge it at all. The same guy using all this "animal biotech" appears to ignore it completely. Ok fine, he's focused on getting to the ship. And he's scared and he runs through the wall, barely escaping because he's moved too far from the feather. No problem. I can go with this. Meanwhile, inside the wall Ursula finds some strange little pseudo flower thing with a tiny green alien guy in it who does some sort of ritual. Super, fantastically cool. But then when she comes out of the wall she doesn't describe what she saw at all. She is vague to the point of nonsense. And it drove me crazy because she says a lot of words. There's a lengthy dialogue of nothing. "I can't describe it". I honestly came away wondering if the script was written and recorded before the animation was done.

As if, the script writers said "Ok, you guys come to the crazy alien wall. As you go through it, you get separated. Ursula, you stay inside and see something insane!" Then they recorded it. Then they had the animators come up with something *crazy and insane*. Additionally, in this episode, we see multiple times that these black egg things attract the bird monsters. And the characters see it. But Sam, our bioexpert who's making electrical cables from plant guts, only says "Man that stuff stinks" when one of the eggs is broken open. And after Sam gets scooped up by a bird we get this montage of Ursula "realizing" the connection after she's tried and failed to climb a tree. Who are these people? Did their brain fall out? I don't understand.

This is the main reason that I came away feeling like this is a "no stakes tour". The viewer doesn't get to see the world unless they're seeing the characters in the show interacting with it (basically). So in order to show us cool things, and in a certain way, sometimes the characters need to be smart, and sometimes they need to be stupid. Whatever they've done previously has no impact on the way they interact with the world. All their behaviors are "in this moment" and "for this story beat".

3. I will happily admit that the entire doppelganger light forest event was amazing and phenomenally done, and I want to steal it for an RPG. Hiding the wound was stupid, but that's such a trope that I guess I can accept it. Nothing makes a story as good as a monster that's killed with fire. It's so primal and human. I love it.

4. Sam gets a parasite. Much of this arc has been really cool. It works. Except when it doesn't and stupid Sam and Ursula have to show up for the sake of the story. Ursula. Your buddy just stayed awake and hyperactive for at least 24 hours. You were able to open a flap of skin on his chest and see a little black and red tentacle creature tied into his organs. And when he snaps at you, as you reach for the creature inside him "Don't touch that." you're like "Ok, sure no problem." And then you continue to hang out with him in close physical proximity, and act confused by the things he's been doing and the things he's been building. A bridge too far.


Kris, Terrence, & Barry

These guys are great. They're outsiders. Here to get some (hopefully) easy loot. And they get wrecked.

As an outside observer, I think the problem is that for some reason they tried to make a cohesive narrative that incorporated all these cool moments (and they're really cool moments) but they did it with an incredibly limited cast.

The price of knowledge is death. And they didn't have enough red shirt NPCs to kill to actually show the planet's dangers and wonder. So for these main characters there are no stakes until their climax. And the main characters can't learn from their experiences on the world, because if they do they won't do the obviously dangerous things.

I think it would have been so much better if they'd given us a bunch of different characters, and they had such a great opportunity to do that, because it's a shipwreck of a colony freight ship, full of people. They should have embraced the death and given us vignette after vignette. We still could have had our main characters (those who ultimately survive) without the "artifice" of the story interfering.

All that said, the worldbuilding and world itself are fantastic, and I hope you watch it because I hope we can get more shows like this.