Apple TV+’s alternate history drama For All Mankind, is back and nearly a decade has passed since the shattering events on the Jamestown base in the season 2 finale. No time is wasted in setting up the suspense that For All Mankind is known for. With a time jump of nearly a decade, the series opens with a montage of space race, cultural and political moments that provides an update to where the characters are, what they have been doing but creates a suspense that only this shows knows how. As the music lifts in the montage, so does your sense of anticipation. The montage briefly introduces new character, tech billionaire Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi) to show his influence and potential storyline this season. You’ll be surprised how relevant his story seems to resonate to modern times. For our returning characters, there is the sad reminder of Gordo and Tracy Stevens fate but how their eldest son, Danny (Casey W. Johnson), is now a rising star at NASA and how we visited Jamestown, the place where his parents sacrificed themselves for the world. Dani and Ed are waiting to hear which one will be selected to command NASA’s first mission to Mars and Margo has shared a lot of information with her soviet alter, Sergei. Ellen (Jodi Balfour) seems to have abandoned NASA and is seeking the oval office. The most notable is Karen Baldwin (Shantel VanSanten) who has become a forerunner in space tourism, founding the titular Polaris. The highlight reel in the season opener fills in gaps while propelling the story forward and wondering what else has happened and what is coming next.
Conflicts in For All Mankind can be both subtle and obvious but it is never confusing with problems at every corner. Some build and some come straight out of the woodwork the instant the season opens. At NASA, Margo and Molly are at odds over who should lead the Mars mission while NASA is still in competition with Russia and Russia seems to be winning the race for now. Margo and Molly have different leadership styles and different things they value in terms of a leader but while Margo thinks pragmatically, Molly seems to go out of her way to be difficult. Normally, that is what endeared me to Molly in previous seasons but it seems repetitive for her character. With America and Russia still competing despite the events of the season 2 finale, it has you on the edge of your seat knowing how ruthless and reckless this can end up.
Karen takes front and centre as the part owner of Polaris, the first hotel in space. The scale of Polaris with Earth in the background is breath-taking as we zoom out of Karen’s room in the station and see just how massive the hotel is and how isolated with it being in space. If you are claustrophobic then this will make for more suspense. There is no denying Karen’s importance and it is is satisfying to see her growth from the precious two seasons to now into a thriving leader and expert in their field. VanSanten does an expert job of conveying the many emotions Karen feels throughout the episode from pride, longing, grief to the insurmountable pressure she can withstand. For All Mankind thrives in its subtly and slow build to create memorable performances and so does VanSanten.
Most of the episode takes place at the wedding of Gordo and Tracy’s eldest son and space hero, Danny. The wedding is hosted by Karen and given what transpired between them last season…you feel awkward as they hug and celebrate his wedding to new bride Amber. Karen is put in an intense and impossible position in the episode but VanSanten shows Karen’s strength and agency.
Unlike many shows, For All Mankind does not waste time or overcompensate with gore and shock value moments for the sake of being shocking but allows the story to build and the pay off is always rewarded. There is never much time for reprieve with the anticipation that something is about to happen and the episode wastes no time in getting to the central problems. We see things going wrong, we know what is happening but the other character being unaware while their surroundings subtly echo the reality of situation. The massive situational problems remain in the foreground of the story while the characters see it in their background with the result chilling. For the characters, it is the opposite. Their personal problems are their forefront and the situational are in the background which creates an uneasy jarring and anxiety. Everywhere you turn there is powder keg waiting to explode, emotional or physical. The build up to action sequences will leave you gasping and in shock with bold choices from the writing to the characters that covey a gripping and intense story. That is not to say there are no light moments, Dani and Ed’s friendship is a source of light and beautifully portrayed by Krys Marshall and Joel Kinnaman and same can be said for Margo (Wrenn Schmidt) and Aleida (Coral Pena) whose friendship and familial bond is heart-warming to see.
Overall, For All Mankind thrives in creating a sense of suspense and powerful performances and writing by allowing trust in its writers, actors, audiences, and impressive visuals in a slow burn that is reminiscent of Mr Robot and The Leftovers. No second is wasted and every performance is remarkable.
For the MVC, I must give it to Danny Stevens but the assist must go to Karen Baldwin. I don’t want to spoil why but you will see the reasoning for both.