DAVID BIANCULLI

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Drama on the Red Planet with Nat Geo's 'Mars'
November 12, 2018  | By David Hinckley
 

Nat Geo’s ambitious hybrid docudrama Mars seems to focus more on the drama and less on the "docu" part as its second season begins.

That gives the show a better flow. It also makes the story feel more like traditional TV sci-fi.  

Mars, whose six episodes launch Monday at 9 p.m. ET on Nat Geo, combines the fictional story of the first earthlings to colonize Mars with real-life interviews and news footage about the planning for such exploration in 2016.

The first season dramatized a Mars landing in 2033 then jumped ahead to 2037 as several crises threatened the survival and future of the fledgling colony.

Apparently, those difficulties were surmounted, because Season 2 opens in 2042 with an impressive amount of infrastructure now in place.

Where Season 1 spent a good deal of time focusing on the technology of settling Mars, much of it outlined in Stephen Petranek’s 2015 book How We’ll Live On Mars, Season 2 seems to have shifted toward human dramas.

That includes some of the romances and inevitable personality clashes we glimpsed in the first season. The initial focus, however, falls mostly on the larger and infinitely more depressing question of whether humankind can do better on Mars than it did on Earth.

The International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF), the multi-racial, multi-national, and multi-gender group that landed in the first spacecraft, touched down with a lofty goal. The settlers vowed to avoid the kind of greed, treachery, and power-seeking that has poisoned so much of the Earth experience for millennia, leading to millions of deaths and untold misery.

Mission commander Hana Seung (Jihae Kim, right) explains, both in conversations and in voiceovers, that the goal is to create life on Mars without repeating the mistakes of Earth.

That assertion sounds as tenuous as it is bold since we’ve already seen in Season 1 that changing planets hasn’t changed human nature a scintilla.

That concern gets underscored early in Season 2 with the arrival of miners from Lukrum, a private corporation that plans to start extracting valuable raw materials from the Martian ground.

In one of the real-life interview segments, Petranek argues that the lure of making money comprises one of the strongest and most critical incentives for developing Martian colonies. Once it’s feasible to get to Mars, he says, hundreds of corporations will want a presence there, which in turn will make the colony ever-more desirable.

For purposes of the drama, Mars sees that development in a more complicated light. 

Yes, everyone insists, corporations have the same goal as IMSF. They all want the colony to succeed, grow and thrive.

Inside that common mission, however, lurk differences, like the fact that the interests of the common good and profit-making don’t always align.  

The boss of the Lukrum team, Kurt Hurrelle (Jeff Hephner), tells Hana that while Lukrum will try to be a good neighbor to the scientists and the rest of the IMSF team, Lukrum has never signed any of the international agreements about conduct and behavior on Mars.

The boundaries set by all the major Earth governments – now including China, which has a space station orbiting Mars – “only apply to you guys,” Hurrelle ominously declares.

This would seem to set up a central drama for Season 2, and it’s one that apparently never goes out of style anywhere in the universe.

It’s also one we’ve seen many times on television. Whether wrapping it in the trappings of Mars gives it a fresh twist will be yet another dramatic question for Season 2.

 
 
 
 
 
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