This article contains spoilers for Episode 5 of National Geographic's "Mars."
Yesterday (Dec. 10), National Geographic's "Mars" Season 2 returned with a heart-pounding fifth episode. This week, the fictional mega corporation Lukrum displays the holdit has on government decisions and the future of life on Mars. This episode also confronts the potential dangers of changing leadership as well as childbirth on Mars.
In the world of the show, Olympus Town is the only place where humans reside on Mars. Scientists, doctors, researchers, engineers and leaders had joined together as part of the International Mars Science Foundation's (IMSF) mission to explore and experiment on the Red Planet. This quickly changed when Lukrum, a powerful international corporation, landed on the Martian surface. [How Living on Mars Could Challenge Colonists (Infographic)]
After Lukrum landed on the planet, tensions began to rise. Previously, residents of Olympus Town had abided by rules set out by IMSF and the Outer Space Treaty. But in Episode 5, Lukrum, which hasn't signed the treaty, shows how corporate power drives political influence.
Olympus Town shares some of its power with Lukrum — they are hoping to work together and benefit from the solar mirror Lukrum has promised to build to support the terraforming process. But, when Cmdr. Seung leaves with engineer Robert Foucault to investigate a possible liquid-water source, this relationship turns sour.
Cmdr. Seung puts Lt. Michael Glenn in charge in her brief absence, and his actions end up almost killing all of Lukrum's inhabitants.
Earlier in the season, Lt. Glenn reported to Leslie Richardson — who now acts as secretary general and head of IMSF — that he felt that Cmdr. Seung was not an effective leader. He said that she was too affected by her sister's death to stay in command. At the time, Richardson dismissed his insinuation that Cmdr. Seung was unfit, and in this episode, Lt. Glenn seeks to take charge.
Lt. Glenn decides to cut the power supply to Lukrum because the corporation was using more power to drill than what had been initially agreed upon. But because he has not been in command until now, he was not aware that this action would cause Lukrum's base camp to completely run out of power. If not for Javier Delgado's drastic actions to restore power, Lukrum's inhabitants would have quickly suffocated from lack of oxygen. When Cmdr. Seung is made aware of the life-threatening situation, she rushes back to Olympus Town. Once she arrives, she confines Lt. Glenn to his quarters for his mutinous actions.
While these tense scenarios play out on Mars, political representatives in IMSF and Lukrum's corporate leadership butt heads back on Earth. Russia announces its intention to leave IMSF and partner with Lukrum to claim and profit from land on Mars. This sparks anger and debate, as IMSF and the residents of Olympus Town wonder how it is possible to collect and sell resources from land that no one can own.
The episode compares the turmoil of real-world issues in the Arctic to what is occurring here on Earth. The Arctic does not have its own government, so instead, the Arctic Council — a group of political leaders representing nations around the world — governs the area. The Arctic Council's governing structure is like IMSF's in this regard: They both represent a number of different countries and work to protect and regulate an area that no one owns.
But, just as Lukrum aims to turn a profit on Mars, corporations are bound to want to take resources from Mars to sell, both in the television show and in real life, once we inhabit the planet. As the episode illustrates, this is also starkly similar to the challenges that the Arctic Council faces, because so many companies want to drill for oil in the region. Because drilling and oil usage damage the land and contribute to climate change — which is causing the Arctic to melt — there are many who oppose these corporate goals. [Incredible Technology: How to Live on Mars]
The episode shows that this issue is not clear-cut. Yes, just like in the Arctic, the land on Mars does not belong to anyone. But, when companies are more rich and powerful than their so-called governments, is it possible to stop them from going ahead and mining for resources anyhow?
In the episode, this power struggle over who has control over decisions on Mars is comparable to the actions of companies like Exxon and major pharmaceutical companies, which often have more influence than entire nations. In smaller nations where this is the case, those companies end up making decisions for the nation's population. And because these decisions are made by a profit-driven corporation, they are made with the best interests of the shareholders and company heads in mind rather than of the citizens who will be most affected by them.
In this episode, Richardson confronts the issue at an IMSF meeting and calls for a sanction of Lukrum, in the hopes of regulating its influence and ends up facing this reality. Consequently, while in earlier discussions, all of the government representatives had agreed that Lukrum needed to be reeled in and controlled to an extent, this time, the company's massive financial and political influence rears its head, and the majority end up voting no to Richardson's sanction proposition.
This whirlwind conclusion, which showcases the hard truths of corporate greed and power, is coupled with a dramatic birth in Olympus Town. Amelie Durand goes into labor two months before she is due, and doctors have to perform an emergency cesarean section. The episode ends on a cliffhanger: No one knows if the baby survives this premature delivery.
"Mars" airs Mondays at 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST on the National Geographic channel.
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Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined Space.com in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.