For All Mankind: Taking A Giant Leap Forwards

Apr 27, 2021

For All Mankind Season 2 poster

Apple TV+'s For All Mankind saw its second season come to a close last week to ecstatic critical acclaim in some quarters but a subdued response elsewhere, seemingly highlighting that this impressively mounted production isn't getting anywhere near the attention it deserves. And it does deserve attention - major attention - because the season finale was not only the best episode of the series so far, it was also the best episode of any TV show in recent times, a meticulously orchestrated culmination of all the various plot threads running through the preceding nine instalments, a nail-biting, emotional display of the medium at its finest. 

Debuting in late 2019 as one of Apple TV+'s flagship shows, the high concept pitch was perfect: what if Russia got a man on the Moon first? For All Mankind explores an alternate history where the Space Race didn't end, with the major battlefield of the Cold War (both ideologically, and at certain points, literally) becoming the lunar surface. In a world where all eyes are focused on the stars, history diverges from our reality in numerous notable ways, although there remain commonalities between the two. Inevitably technology progresses at a different rate as the focus on bleeding edge space tech means the appearance of certain devices that are now in everyday use happens a little earlier, but, as with the best alternative history tales, while there are significant differences there's still enough familiar to our own world to prevent it from feeling alien and unrecognisable (nothing in the construction of this alternate timeline comes across as implausible within its context).

The show originated with Ronald D. Moore, the award-winning writer/producer who cut his teeth on various Star Trek shows in the '90s, went on to launch the acclaimed reboot of Battlestar Galactica, and more recently, spearheaded the adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's novels, Outlander. If you're familiar with Moore's work then you'll know he has the knack of bringing humanity to the fore against a background of sci-fi/fantasy concepts, and that proves to be the case here. As we move forward from 1969 (Season One is mostly set in the early seventies, Season Two picks things up a decade later in the early eighties), while there's immense creativity and intelligence applied to the diverging history, it's the characters that keep things rooted and relatable, their personal problems as significant as the scientific fortitude required to get people to and from the Moon on a regular basis, both these themes blending together when tragedy inevitably strikes.

And it is getting 'people' to the Moon rather than just 'men' as the show cannily moves female equality forward in a more progressive manner than the real world experienced, evidencing that equality in a way that can't be argued and swiftly becomes accepted. This is not to say it presents a more utopic environment across the board, as there are same sex relationships that have to remain closeted and, of course, the brinksmanship between the USA and USSR means that the spectre of actual nuclear conflict is ever present. And if tension between characters wasn't enough, there's plenty more supplied by the sheer precariousness of fledgling space travel, with situations frequently arising that require on-the-fly solutions to avoid catastrophe.

Swedish-American actor Joel Kinnaman leads a fantastic cast with his perfected balance of masculinity and vulnerability as All-American-Hero Ed Baldwin, a man not adverse to taking the big risks. Michael Dorman and Sarah Jones play Gordo and Tracy Stevens, a fiery and combustible couple with a deep connection, both headed to the Moon but perhaps in different directions back home. Wrenn Schmidt as Margo Madison is the workaholic pushing for recognition, Krys Marshall as Danielle Poole is dignity and determination personified, whilst Sonya Walger is Molly Cobb, an original Mercury program trainee who's not always great with authority. And it continues from there, with the adroit casting of not only season regulars and recurring roles but also the actors cast as real-life historical figures (Colm Feore makes a lasting impression as Wernher von Braun early in the first season), plus nifty CGI tinkering of stock footage and voice work to allow the genuine articles (Richard Nixon, John Lennon, Ronald Reagan, etc) to make appearances. On a technical level it's excellent, the budget available working for Apple enabling a convincing recreation of not only the activities on and above the lunar surface but also of the eras in which each season is set.

It's fair to say that, as impressive as the debut season is, the second season takes everything up a notch as the stakes get higher, and the Space Race becomes a sprint. It all leads into that stunning, edge-of-the-seat finale (entitled 'The Grey') where everything feels like it's about to go dramatically wrong, but the confident interweaving of all the plotlines allows hope for the future to remain alive. And it's always about the future. Season Three is happening, and it's not a spoiler to say there will be another time jump, but the real, tangible hope here is that word-of-mouth will begin to generate a sufficient audience to enable Moore to see his vision for the series through to completion. For All Mankind feels like TV's best kept secret at the moment but, based on the last episode, it may be the case that it's about to break through the stratosphere and become required viewing for everyone desirous of prestige quality TV.

And, if For All Mankind does become one of the very best shows on TV over the next few years (the signs are certainly pointing in that direction), then it therefore seems like it would be an extremely wise move to catch up before Season 3 arrives in 2022. 

If you've missed out on this stunning series so far then it's not too late to take the leap.

For All Mankind Seasons 1 & 2 are currently streaming on Apple TV+.


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