New writer (Julie Rutterford) and director (Richard Clark) to the show this episode; they do a fine job, Rutterford even getting to approach some character development for John Simm as far as his relationships with his teammates. There’s not a lot, there’s nothing conclusive, but there’s more to it than usual because Simm’s big mouth gets someone else hurt.
The episode opens with two doctors in the present talking about coma Simm’s mental state; the one on the TV thinks he’s doing fine, the one on the radio thinks he isn’t. While the present directly impacting the past (or imagined past, however you want to define Simm’s condition and the show’s reality) is now an episode and series standard, there really aren’t any rules to it. It’s a B plot directly and obviously affecting the A plot but the only time Simm acknowledges it is in the B plot. Even though he’s making all sorts of bad calls in the A plot and he probably ought to see the connection.
There are going to be a series of IRA bombings, only Simm considers himself an expert in IRA terrorism and he knows there’s no IRA attacks using dynamite in 1973 and so it’s all got to be a hoax. It takes until after one of his teammates gets hurt, after he can’t remember how to disarm the next bomb, does he finally consider the possibility there’s really a series of bombings happening. He spends most of the time—outside the actual bomb action—arguing with Philip Glenister and Liz White about how he’s got to be right.
All the evidence points to Irish workers who want a living wage, with main suspect Brendan Mackey having stolen dynamite from his workplace, a construction company run by Peter Wight. Simm’s going to spend most of the episode protecting Mackey from the rest of the team, occasionally in amusing scenes, but Mackey’s a sturdy guest star not some kind of standout. It’s Simm’s show and it doesn’t help when he spends the entire episode looking like an unsympathetic asshole to everyone else.
There’s a lot about the British being xenophobic about the Irish, with the promise of actual racism around the corner thanks to East Asian immigrants. It even makes a joke about it; maybe the episode’s strangest moment. Not sure why they needed to include it. The show’s got so many layers and it only acknowledges a few of them, but sometimes it seems like “Mars” doesn’t get at least a couple of other really obvious, important ones.
Especially when you lay over the whole “coma fever dream from Simm’s perspective” thing.
Though the season did establish Simm can change the future from the past, which seemingly didn’t make the show bible because the resolve this episode should’ve made it into Simm’s past future studies of the past.
It’s a really good episode for Dean Andrews. It’s a good episode for everyone, though it’s just too thin for Simm.
“Mars” is tricky because it’s so well-produced, so well-acted, the lack of overall show direction makes for a very sore thumb.