Welcome to the recaps of For all mankind season two. Season 3 debuts on June 10th and what better way to whet viewers’ appetites than to review the fast-paced season For all mankind to size?
This week we begin our analysis with a quote from the great poets of Loverboy: “Everyone is watching! To see what you will do! Everyone look! To you!” This is literally true, of course, as we click play with every new episode. It’s true, as NBC’s TracyCam follows their space shuttle launch on live television, and it’s also true on a more detailed level between the characters. Karen looks out for Ed’s next career move, which will lead to Molly’s next visible role at NASA; Ed and Dani keep an eye on Gordo as he masters his fear and (shaky but real) newfound ambition; Tom puts his laser focus on Ellen and her political future; and the eyes of the world will soon be on a joint US-USSR PR mission. Let’s dive into this buffet of narrative and thematic riches, shall we?
A morning after surviving her family’s meltdown over Kelly’s desire to attend the Naval Academy, Karen and Ed have hearts to heart about their own future plans. It’s really more Karen talking and Ed’s head is spinning at how well his wife sees and understands him, but he eventually catches up. He is not content to remain on earth, he does Consider it a sacrifice, and while she’s glad his presence has given him a chance to be a better father and husband than he was before, Kelly goes to college and Karen has to run the outpost. He can follow his dreams again, so why shouldn’t he? It seems like taking command of Pathfinder’s inaugural flight would be a perfect fit for him, so why not just do it? Once again, the women in Ed’s life revolve around him. you love to see it
His crewmates on Pathfinder will be Gary Piscotty (a name I can never hear without thinking of Biscotti) and Sally Ride. Yes, that! Ed’s Mission Commander pep talk at their first team meeting in Pathfinder’s hangar is every aerospace nerd’s dream, which involves identifying and fixing every bug they can find, and the one in this show version Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech culminates, “We’re gonna work our asses off!” Let’s hear it as you triple-check every calculation!
Speaking of the Pathfinder and other recent advances in space travel over the past nine years, you could be dragged into the aftermath of the recent international relations drama sparked by the solar storm and the attempted Soviet takeover of NASA’s lithium mine site. American space PR guys think it would be just nice to invite the Soviets to dock one of their spacecraft with one of ours for an invigorating handshake from the international side… well, “friendship” is a strong word, so let’s call that one Dynamics “acceptable levels of mutual hostility instead”.
At NASA, everyone but Tom Paine thinks this is a terrible idea and a waste of time, but no one has put much energy into thinking about it because it’s all going to go nowhere. The Soviets will think it’s the pointless PR stunt it is, and they’re too paranoid to want to do anything the US is proposing. Aside from that, those wily Soviets have called the American bluff, and now our heroes must find a way to pull this off without also triggering several new international incidents. The thought of letting the Soviets see our fancy new space technology understandably annoys Margo, and when Ellen suggests using one of the old Apollo modules instead to prevent the cosmonauts from seeing new technology, everyone is delighted with her elegant solution . No-fams, no-musts…for now.
In his final act as chief of the astronaut bureau, Ed proposes Dani as commander of the handshake mission. This is minutes after Dani’s passionate demand in his office to be cast in the lead role. An unruly but very rewarding visit to her late husband’s sister has led Dani to a new understanding of what she deserves for her years of service and sacrifice to an institution she doesn’t seem to respect nearly as she deserves. In this interaction, Ed was defensive and tied himself in knots to absolve himself and, in turn, NASA of blame. Changing his mind so abruptly is something Past Ed probably wouldn’t have done, expecting a lot of opposition from Tom (he’s right). Still, there is freedom of not having to face consequences for a principled choice, and besides, Dani (using some words of her sister-in-law and some of her own) is right. Given the astronaut corps’ 205 members (11 are black), it is shameful and absurd that there has never been a single mission in the history of the program that has been led by a black woman. Dani’s professional experience and excellence are worthy of a mission command, making her an ideal candidate for this long overdue historic milestone. The eyes of the world are always on NASA missions and this would send out a message that they are moving with the times. Also, girls of any race here in America would see Dani and think that one day it could be them. Ed holds on, and Bradford immediately backs him up, happily (and demonstratively) offering to bring the Secretary of Defense on board to help Tom ensure Dani’s assignment gets approved.
Tom is frustrated enough with Ed to stop by his almost empty office afterwards to register his annoyance at being caught unawares by Ed’s recommendation that Dani be the mission commander. But he has to give that up after setting his sights on a new protégé, Ellen. In what appears to be a small decompression session about her frustration at another delay in the languishing Mars Project, Tom briefly and unknowingly makes her feel like a butterfly being pinned to the felt. Absolute fear spreads across Ellen’s face when Tom proclaims that she’s not fooling anyone, but he doesn’t refer to her shared beard situation with Larry. Instead, he advises her to develop a better poker face so she can successfully employ a range of personalities when dealing with politicians, peers and the public, all in the name of the gameplay required to ensure NASA continues to thrive. It turns out that Tom isn’t just a political lackey from the Nixon and Reagan days; He’s a political lackey who’s also a die-hard space nerd and has as much enthusiasm for the Mars Project as Ellen. Gradually seeing each other through new eyes and in subtly different lights, these two characters could be on the cusp of a beautiful (and politically savvy) friendship.
Ellen’s plot is a different version of Ed’s compromises. Where he chose Karen and Kelly regardless of the cost to his career, she has done the opposite and sacrificed an authentic love and sex life in order to fulfill her professional dreams. Talking to Tom gets her mind spinning; If she pulls through this lockdown thing, maybe there’s a chance of a long-term relationship out there after all. Maybe with Pam, the outpost bartender-turned-poet she loved in season one? pam did Just send Ellen a scrapbook of her latest work, complete with a flirty inscription. Possibilities!
Not to end this on a negative note, but things aren’t going well for Gordo and Ed isn’t helping. Gordo keeps thinking he’s hallucinating like he did on his last mission in Jamestown, but that’s not true: the red lights he sees are just LEDs on his VCR, and the ants he sees turn out themselves as ants. Gross, but not necessarily a problem. Even more worrisome is that his space suit with the helmet on triggers his fear so much that he cannot breathe normally. That is a problem. Gordo’s appeal to Ed for advice and support is faltered when Ed attacks him, mercilessly berating and taunting his best friend with an unforgivable malice and disgust. It works though, and once it’s in the air, Gordo’s confidence is back to a cocky bastard’s level. He wins a hilarious dogfight with Ed, but one of Ed’s engines bursts into flames, forcing him to eject across the Gulf of Mexico. The romance of flying, right? Right?
• Needle drop of the sequence: You might think it’s the pre-credits usage of “Working for the Weekend” since Ed decides to command Pathfinder. That’s a reasonable expectation, but I’ll give it to Frank Sinatra’s classic rendition of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” The song serves two functions: as an Ed-centric choice, it’s a reminder that he loves Sinatra (as he told Vasiliev, he prefers Sinatra to Elvis) and is one of several references he’s so excited to return to in space, which he would do well to tone that down a bit by heeding Cole Porter’s lyrics sooner or later: “Use your mentality / wake up to reality.”
• Speaking of music, if Larry’s wide collar and ensemble adorned with silver chains for his evening at the drag show are any indication, disco seems to be thriving in this timeline. Anything that is good news for Donna Summer is a blessing to all of us.
Check the For all mankind Page this Friday for episodes five and six.
https://www.vulture.com/article/for-all-mankind-season-two-episode-four-recap-pathfinder.html ‘For All Mankind’ Season Two Episode Four Summary