The Pilgrims’ journey to the New World in 1620 was not an easy one. The trip itself was fraught with peril where one wrong turn could shipwreck the crew. Upon arrival, there was no opportunity to rest as the harsh environment was not conducive to easy settlement. Shelters had to be constructed, new locations had to be scouted out and claimed, and preparation was necessary to combat the difficult weather conditions.
Thus far, the National Geographic miniseries Mars (9 PM/8 CT Monday) has offered a similar look at a possible colonizing attempt on the Red Planet. To summarize the series thus far, just substitute the crew of the spaceship Daedalus for the Pilgrims in the first paragraph. In the fourth episode, we see yet another similarity between the two groups: power struggles.
It’s now 2037, four years since the original crew of six arrived on Mars. Mission Commander Hana (Jihae) leads the staff after their last-ditch effort to find a suitable location for Olympus Town succeeded. There is a normalcy that settles as the first group of scientists arrive to help out and conduct experiments. However, this feeling is short lived as the next rocket brings Leslie and Paul Richardson (Cosima Shaw and John Light) into the fray. She’s a world-class nuclear physicist (on Earth, at least); he’s a respected botanist. The crew is thrilled to have them on board to help out and continue the colonization process, but Leslie wants to speed up the process significantly and basically take over the place. Ed Granz (Olivier Martinez), head of the for-profit MMC (Mars Mission Corporation) on Earth, is the instigator for the faster expansion, but is that a good thing considering there are still so many unknowns about the planet? One of the crew members discovers the answer to this question the hard way. The fourth episode leaves the viewer with two different and lasting images: a) a budding romance between original crew members Javier (Alberto Ammann) and Amélie (Clementine Poidatz), and b) an incredibly bad-looking storm.
Back on Earth in the year 2016, the episode looks at how we’re attempting to prepare for the conditions of Mars. It involves the McMurdo Station in Antarctica, an incredibly harsh and unforgiving environment (consider Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin was recently flown from there due to health issues). The scientists there conduct experiments, cycle people in and out on a regular basis, and learn how to make things work in an isolated community. The lessons learned there will serve the first groups of Martian explorers well.
In many films about space, there’s a focus on the landing and (perhaps) the early forms of exploration, so I appreciated the deeper dive into what life might be like once things settle down. In this episode, the humanity of the characters finally begins to break through—Hana struggling with the potential change in power structure, Javier’s frustration over others’ incompetence, Leslie’s stern demeanor. It makes me think the next episode could be a bit volatile. I also appreciated the occasional science focus as an effective way to lessen the tension. Besides, who doesn’t want to learn a learn a little about Antarctica in the process?
Hana’s opening voiceover was intriguing: “They say that science and faith don’t mix. But when everything is telling you you’ve already lost, there’s nothing you can do but believe.” For me, this is where the Pilgrim/Martian comparison comes into play. Just because you’ve made it to a new land doesn’t mean the battle is over. The Pilgrims had a Thanksgiving to celebrate but then had to endure a brutal winter that threatened the colony’s existence. On Mars, the celebration time existed after the team discovered the location of Olympus Town, but that storm looks like it’s about to put the crew to the ultimate test.
It’s also a reminder of what the disciples had to deal with when one of their own betrayed Jesus, sending him to the cross to die. Even though Jesus had told them repeatedly not to fear, his betrayal, arrest, and death must’ve made them feel the game was over. It was eleven disciples against a world that was possibly coming for them next. But if Jesus was telling them the truth, they had no other option but to believe it. Three days after the crucifixion, they found a previously sealed tomb opened with no one inside. And within the next few days, they would all see him again.
Belief can be an incredibly powerful thing when it’s all a person has to lean on. I have a feeling we’ll find out how next week–stay tuned.