The Face of War: A Review of “Children of Mars”
“You’re a stranger to history, you’re a stranger to war. You just wave your hand and it all goes away. Well, it’s not so easy for those who died, and it was not so easy for those who were left behind.” — Admiral Jean-Luc Picard, Retired, addressing a young reporter, PIC: “Remembrance”
In watching mesmerizing depictions of horrific events unfold upon the screen, it’s so easy to lose sight of the human (or occasionally humanoid) face of some tragedies. We get caught up in the cinematic effects and lose touch with the most basic truth: that precious lives were lost during those events, and that other precious lives are shattered and changed forever. It’s easy, in short, to tell the story of a devastating event but neglect to tell the story of the cost and consequences of that event. The faces of Kima and Lil, two girls who represent the “children of Mars,” remind us of the faces of all children who are innocent bystanders.
More Than a Teaser Trailer
Every generation has at least one defining event in which the world changed forever. We remember until our dying day where we were and what we were doing when the event happened. For Kima and Lil, it was April 5, 2385 – the day they witnessed a brutal and unexpected act of war on Mars.
There isn’t much dialogue in “Children of Mars”, which I think is meant to convey a sense of disconnection. For me, the lack of dialogue made the facial expressions and body language in the episode more important to read and interpret. Much of the episode’s soundtrack is provided by the David Bowie song “Heroes”, performed by Peter Gabriel, and the song’s haunting words remind us that those who are left behind are not only survivors but heroes too. The notion of the everyday is given importance in both the song and the episode. The reference book The Complete David Bowie (by Nicholas Pegg) refers to the song as “a painfully compassionate [artwork] that grasps at an optimistic future in a present full of disillusion.” The same could be said for “Children of Mars”.
The Story of Two Girls
Kima is an Akoszonam, and her mother works as an anti-grav rigger on Mars. Although we only get a glimpse of their relationship through a brief communique, we get the impression of a very warm, very close, very silly mother-daughter relationship.
Lil isn’t so lucky. Lil is a human girl, and her father works as a quality systems supervisor at the Mars Orbital Facility. Although we only get a glimpse of their relationship through a brief communique, we get the impression that Lil’s dad has a very long, very painful history of putting work before his child. We read in Lil’s face the layer upon layer of disappointment, as once again her dad isn’t able to make it “this year,” of heartfelt longing for her dad’s presence in her life, of missed opportunities to bond.
Who knows what caused bad blood between Kima and Lil? Was it as simple a beginning as an accidental push, while waiting for the shuttle to take them to school one day? Was it an old rivalry of many years past? Perhaps neither of them could put words to the unspoken jealousy that Lil, an unwanted, insecure, lonely girl, felt toward Kima, who walked in the confidence of being a loved and wanted daughter.
Whatever sparked the conflict, tension between the girls escalated quickly. Lil’s anger toward Kima was fueled by the pain of her father’s absence; Kima’s anger toward Lil was fueled by her own pain at missing her mom. Both girls were hurting and lonely, and throughout the one ordinary school day when their lives would change forever, they took out their pain and angst on each other, first in pushes and shoves, then tripping each other, and finally culminating in a proper exchange of blows and knocking each other down.
Reaching for Each Other
It is when the girls are sitting in detention – quietly seething, with their backs to each other – that the last breath is drawn before their worlds are shattered.
We all recognize the look on the unnamed secretary‘s face as she rushes up to the Vulcan principal, with PADD in her hand and tears in her eyes. It is the look we had when we got the phone call, or saw the very first footage on television, or heard the announcement over the intercom at school or at work. Something’s happening, something bad.
Awful scenes unfold on viewscreens reporting Mars under attack and on fire, desperate shipyard workers fleeing for their lives before perishing. The teachers and students gather around – some crying, some in shock – as alerts sound throughout the school.
Meanwhile, Kima and Lil turn toward each other and instinctively draw increasingly close together, as all sentient beings do in times of devastation. And for one moment of recognition, they finally see each other.
The pain on their faces is far greater than the pain they had just been inflicting upon each other, and it is shared pain. Has each of them, in essence, seen her parent die before her eyes? Has Kima lost forever the loving and nurturing relationship with her mother? Has Lil lost the chance for a loving and nurturing relationship with her father?
There are no words, only tears. And there’s nothing to do but join hands and hold on tight.
I often think that those two girls are forged together for life. In the days and years that follow, their lives will be as inextricably intertwined as their two hands.
Final Thoughts and Ratings
I cannot watch this episode without tears running down my face. In a universe where evil exists and entropy prevails, we cannot avoid tragedy, loss, and heartbreak. But for each and every one of us, may there be a hand to clasp in the darkest hours, and someone to weep with us. I give this episode ten out of ten friends in need, who are friends indeed.
Ruth Anne Amsden has been a Trekkie since she was a ten-year-old reader voraciously devouring Star Trek novels (her family did not allow television in the home). She is working toward her first BA and aspiring to professionally write Star Trek novels as love letters to the novels she loved growing up.