Raven Reyes is first introduced in season one, episode two of The 100 as a spunky, young, Latinx zero-g mechanic living on the Ark. It’s clear from her first scene that she has a taste for adventure and an aching curiosity that can sometimes get her into trouble. And although we aren’t told until much later in the show, Raven Reyes has a physical disability from the moment we meet her: a heart murmur, which nearly stopped her from achieving her zero-g dreams.
Notice that I said nearly. Raven doesn’t let anything get in her way.
She’s given to us as a girl whose boyfriend is locked up in the Sky Box for committing a crime, and when she isn’t allowed to visit him because of a supposed contamination, she suspects there’s another reason why she can’t go.
Of course, she’s right; the real reason she can’t go to the Sky Box is that the Sky Box is empty. Its 100 underage prisoners have been sent to Earth, 97 years post-nuclear apocalypse, to see if the Ground is once again habitable for humankind.
Raven’s distrust of authority and desire to see her boyfriend lead her to Abigail Griffin, who enlists Raven to help her figure out what’s happening to the hundred. Raven rebuilds an escape pod that’s been on the ship since the nuclear apocalypse and uses it to go to Earth, crash-landing just days after the hundred.
From there, she’s forced to figure out how to survive in the wake of all kinds of horrible setbacks; those include, but aren’t limited to, a debilitating leg injury that brings her constant pain and limits her mobility.
Raven is, quite simply, a genius. She’s the Ark’s youngest zero-g mechanic in 52 years and passed the written exam for the job with the first ever perfect score. However, she fails the physical exam due to a heart murmur and therefore gets rejected.
Her rejection from the program is later overruled by the engineer Sinclair, who functions much like a father figure to Raven whenever we see them interact. As such, we don’t even learn about Raven’s heart murmur or the difficulty it posed for her until well into season two, after she’s been on the Ground with the hundred for weeks (and after she’s been shot by Murphy, giving her a much more visible and crippling physical disability). Everything about her zero-g exam and rejection is shown to the audience in flashbacks, so that we can see why her boyfriend, Finn, was really put into the Sky Box.
Raven’s heart murmur is an invisible disability — in fact, we never find out if it’s actually an abnormal murmur or an innocent one. Her rejection from the zero-g program doesn’t necessarily indicate either, though given the oxygenation issues on the Ark, as well as the fact that Raven’s mom traded her ration points for moonshine and Raven was forced to depend on Finn for sustenance, an abnormal murmur seems as likely as an innocent one.
Regardless, it’s not something that holds her back once Sinclair overrules her rejection. It does put an extra sting in what happened to Finn, knowing that if they had just waited, she would have gotten into the zero-g program regardless.
On Earth, Raven’s zero-g skills obviously aren’t needed. But her mechanical skills hardly fall by the wayside; she establishes a radio connection with the Ark (which allows the hundred to communicate with the station for the first time since their dropship crashed and communication lines were severed) and makes bombs, bullets, and other weapons for defending their makeshift camp. In the season one finale, as she’s trying to rescue Bellamy from a hostage situation by rigging the mechanics under the dropship to open the door, Murphy shoots her through the floor.
Unlike her heart murmur, the bullet in Raven’s leg poses a significant threat to her ability to survive. As the hundred attempt to flee to a safe place in the wake of an impending grounder attack, the bullet works its way up to Raven’s spine and she loses all sensation in her legs; she is bleeding internally and loses enough blood that she loses consciousness. Finn retrieves a coagulant from grounder ally Lincoln’s cave, which is administered to Raven to buy her some time, so she manages to survive. Barely.
In season two, Raven receives an operation to remove the bullet from her spine so that she might be able to walk again. Because there’s no available anesthesia, the surgery poses the risk of death. Although Finn thinks it isn’t worth the risk and advises against the surgery, Raven says she needs her legs on Earth and decides it’s worth that risk. Following the surgery, Raven still lacks feeling below the knee in her left leg due to nerve damage.
Raven refuses to allow this injury to prevent her from working. As a mechanic, she argues that she doesn’t need her legs to do needed work. Now that the remaining survivors from the Ark have come to Earth (again, crash-landing, because all of the technology is too old to realistically survive the descent through Earth’s atmosphere), Raven’s skills are needed more than ever to help this growing colony of people survive on the ground. She’s cleared for work and goes back to it.
But it isn’t that simple. We see in episode four of season two that no matter how much grit and determination Raven has to just keep going, even without feeling in half of her left leg, she needs help. An engineer she knew on the Ark builds her a leg brace that she refuses because she says she doesn’t need it, but later we see her try to climb a radio tower and give up because it’s impossible to do without something supporting her leg.
She accepts the brace, grudgingly, and though it’s clear that even basic movement causes Raven significant pain, nevertheless, she persists.
Later in the series, she’s tortured twice: once by grounders who believe her responsible for trying to poison their commander, who sentence her to “death by 1000 cuts” and later by mountain people who seek to harvest her bone marrow. Before the latter, her brace is broken when she’s too near a bomb as it explodes, and since she’s unable to walk without it she’s captured. Even still, Raven fights when she is picked for her bone marrow, lashing out and even biting one of the doctors. After she’s rescued, she has to be carried back to camp, both because of her leg brace and because of the trauma of being drilled for marrow.
It’s not until season three that we see Raven give into her pain in any way, which is incredible given just how much physical trauma she’s forced to experience. Even when she has the bullet removed and when she’s drilled into for marrow, she attempts to remain stone-faced until the pain is so intense that she cannot help but scream. She constantly struggles to stay strong and not let her disability or her pain affect her, even when she’s literally facing off against death.
Of all of the characters on this show, Raven is the only one with a noticeable and lasting physical disability, not even including her heart murmur or the scars she has from being cut and drilled and everything else. Additionally, she has significant emotional trauma, most of it relating to Finn, who’s continuously presented as her only real family, the only person she’s ever been able to count on.
Raven opts to take a chip in season three that will supposedly end her suffering, though only after putting up a helluva fight for why she doesn’t need it. And then when she does take it, and she discovers that rather than easing her pain, the chip has simply made her forget it, Raven struggles to get the chip out.
Though several characters choose to take the chip in season three, erasing their pain and making it significantly easier for them to live in the virtual City of Light where no one has ever suffered because they can’t remember what caused them suffering, Raven is the only one who actively tries to get out. She chooses to remember her emotional trauma and feel her physical pain because it’s more important that she remember than that she live a pain-free existence.
In rejecting the chip’s effects, Raven chooses to not only accept her pain and her suffering but to acknowledge that her disability and her trauma are parts of her that make her who she is. She chooses to overcome rather than erase her pain because her truest strength lies in her ability to continue on in the face of all of the adversity she’s run up against her whole life.
And in spite of everything, she continues to try to save her people from death and destruction and suffering. Raven uses her skills to take major risks in order to help everyone survive, and she snaps back at characters like Clarke and Bellamy when they do things she doesn’t think are right.
It’s so, so important to see a character like Raven on a show like The 100. So rarely do we see characters with physical disabilities in mainstream fiction, especially women, especially women of color, whose disabilities aren’t the sole informants of their plots. Raven Reyes’ story is, of course, impacted significantly by her disability, but it isn’t the only thing that matters about her. It’s something she has to deal with and counteract in her pursuit of a better life for her and her people, but it’s not the only thing there is. Raven is a super-smart mechanic who can do things with computers that no one else can. She has emotional ties and personal investments in her chosen family and she fights for what she believes is right, even when she’s the only one clapping back at the chosen leaders for their people.
Raven is inspirational and incredible, and her plot line is possibly the only one on this series that hasn’t been led so far astray that she seems, at any point, to be behaving out of character. At every step, Raven fights for her own autonomy and her own desires. She doesn’t give up, and even when it seems like she has, she comes up swinging.
As season four progresses, I hope Raven continues to be a leader and a voice of reason in this ridiculously messy world. See her Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.