After the emotional and dramatic scenes of episode seven, episode eight does not hold back it’s punches.
First, Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) proves to be the perfect leader, putting aside any problems with Helios and Russia’s team up when there is a crisis. The Sands of Ares has some of the most beautifully shot scenes between Alexei Poletov (Pawel Szajda) and Louisa Mueller (Anne Beyer). It is a stark comparison to the previous seasons where the moon or the vast emptiness of space was the backdrop, now viewers get to enjoy the orange-red glow as the sands of Mars settle around a wandering Alexei Poletov.
The writers of For All Mankind are taking inspiration from the mythical gods. First, we have Danny Stevens (Casey W. Johnson) as the living embodiment of Mars, now we have Ares. The Greek god of war, bloodlust, and courage. While Ares does not fit perfectly with one character, Danielle Poole truly embodies the courage aspect of this god. She displays her selflessness and courage, as does Alexei Poletov. Both face quite different circumstances in this episode, where Danni leads the way to a rescue, Alexei puts his needs aside for the greater good.
Episode eight is a great follow on from the previous episode, but it is also the episode when the past start to resurface, and not all in a wonderful way. Scenes between Danny Stevens and Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman), trapped and buried under the sands of Mars, finally have a confrontation but not one that fans expected. Danny brings some harsh truths to Ed, chastising him and his treatment of Shane all the back in season 1 while confronting his own guilt and way of almost redeeming his mistakes with Shane as a boy. One cannot help but think this is history repeating itself. Danny believes he was inadvertently the cause of Shane’s death and same for the mass casualties on Mars. While Danny is not the character to look up in terms of morals, without Danny Stevens, things would be plain sailing, so he certainly brings chaos to any mission. It is almost a shame, given Danny’s heroic save during the first episode of the season to now, causing nothing but destruction. Danny finally gets to acknowledge the pain and guilt he has carried since childhood and how it has guided his entire life.
As well as Ed and Danny finally having a confrontation, back on Earth, we get a quick glimpse into the newlywed Amber Stevens (Madeline Bertani) as she faces the harsh reality of being an Astro wife. Karen Baldwin (Shantel VanSanten) arrives, offering Amber a hand and guidance as one Astro wife to another. While Karen is there for support, Jimmy (David Chandler) is the one to confront Karen and her affair with Danny. Karen and Jimmy’s conversation is brilliantly written and acted. It is the perfect balance of awkwardness of the conversation but also the acknowledgement from all involved. VanSanten and Chandler create a poignant scene with some raw honesty between the two showing the hurt of decades past from both of them.
Fans of For All Mankind will enjoy this episode for many reasons. From things finally being addressed by characters, there are pieces of the character’s back stories that are scattered throughout the episode. From Dev’s father and his links to NASA to Alexei and his name’s sake. The writers brilliantly build up a world and characters without delving too much into it and trusting the viewer to piece together things from past seasons without spoon feeding. From plots of slow burning with a great payoff, even at the end of this episode, it is one of the strongest build ups of the season.
It should be noted that as well as great writers and show runners, For All Mankind has some brilliant performances. Coral Peña as Aleida Rosales perfectly embodies the slow burn in all the right ways that pairs perfectly with the show. Two other honourable mentions must be Lev Gorn as Grigory Kuznetsov, especially when paired with the incredible Krys Marshall, but also Pawel Szajda as Alexei Poletov. Szajda brilliantly brings warmth and sweetness, especially when sharing scenes with Cynthia Wu as Kelly Baldwin, which will leave fans rooting for the number one space couple!
MVC: Dev Ayesa. While expressing his past connection with NASA, Dev’s mind is like no others in the show. Viewers will understand why Dev is the most valuable character this episode with his explosive ideas.