After the events of season 1 that started off with the Soviet space program and its cosmonauts beating NASA and the United States to the moon, For All Mankind is back for its second season that further soars beyond the boundaries of its real-life counterparts. Let alone finding water on the moon, bases are established in the heat of this altered space race that never cooled down, putting further strain on the superpowers to be the best among one another. Tensions have never been higher.
Certain historical accuracies remain however, Ronald Regan still becomes president, way earlier, but gets re-elected in 1980 while other significant moments in history are revised to fit this new world. One being John Lennon is never assassinated, imagine? But the Beatles still break up. I wondered what if creators of the series Ronald Moore, Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi kept JFK alive, too.
Opening episode 1 of season 2 is a montage of various altered events like Lennon that fill in the gaps for the years that have passed by, paving the way for the present day this world is now in. Currently in the 1980’s, a decade has come and gone with the advancements of technology making it possible for the Jamestown lunar base to be home for several astronauts at once. All that’s needed is a mailing address. Gone are the days of simply landing on the moon, snapping a few photos, collecting a sample or two, and quickly hauling the tin can back home. The moon has become the next object for humankind to conquer – sharing it however will be easier said than done.
Among a new cast of characters that fill out the ensemble are the returning ones that have been established in season 1 – but all are in different places. Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) is now the Chief of the Astronaut office, taking over Deke’s post, Karen (Shantel VanSanten), Ed’s wife, has purchased the Outpost and turned into a restaurant, with a plant. Gordo (Michael Dorman) and Tracy (Sarah Jones) have been divorced while their eldest son Danny (Casey W. Johnson) is home on leave from Annapolis. Margo (Wrenn Schmidt), now director of NASA has kept to the same routine and schedule when she was in mission control while Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) is given a larger role after a significant moment comes during the mounting tension between the USSR and the United States.
After the death of their son Shane, Ed and Karen adopt a daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu) from Vietnam, who has similar aspirations as Ed. All of this, set against a backdrop of space exploration that expands to the militarization of the moon. Yes, you have read that correctly, the moon is sought to be the next military base of operations for the two countries.
My question is this – where are the other superpowers in all of this? Where does Great Britain and the rest of Europe fit into the bigger picture? As much as the show has expanded beyond real life, the show has stayed relatively contained to its core story. Certainly, other countries like China would want to sink their teeth in the lucrative real estate the moon offers.
Rhetorical questions aside, season 2 further engrosses the viewer into the narrative – never once skipping a beat where season 1 left off. Not as triumphant with every mission success or somber with every failure, the season spends more of its time earth bound and character based with hints at the expansion into the stars beyond the moon. After the events of season 1, where characters leave off, my hesitation with becoming as invested in the characters is slowed due to storylines that are given as fact with no exposition to them. Only to trust the direction of the season in hopes that it will all be explained at some point. When it isn’t, the performances more than make up for the lack of clarity.
Speaking of performances, the ensemble cast is once again stellar from top to bottom. Emotionally driven, the narcissistic personalities are given a softer edge to them – almost forgetting the main mission is to come out ahead as the lead superpower in the world. For All Mankind keeps its intimacy at the forefront especially when family is involved.
The scene that stands out among the rest involves the Baldwin’s after Kelly starts writing her Annapolis application essay titled “Who Am I”. Surprising enough, Ed is open to talking about his late son with Karen shutting down the Band-aid idea that Kelly thinks she is for their marriage. “You are a heart transplant” Karen says. That line alone makes the reaction Ed has in a previous scene more poignant than any NASA achieved success.
If season 1 was about the race to colonize the moon, season 2 is about the people. NASA is at the disposal of the United States government, forced to comply with arming marines if things get a bit hairy up there. For where the series is headed, the verisimilitude stays firmly in line to the natural series of events. I don’t mind the deep fake archival footage, it’s a welcomed 30 second distraction here and there, a fraction of the time is spent around those “faked” speeches and conversations but when the time calls for it, the payoff is worth the buildup. Sending a person into space is tense enough but with the added threat of possible war and violence where no one has ever shot a firearm, the pulse quickens at an alarming rate. The fate of the world is left up to the people hundreds of thousands of miles away.
The second effort of For All Mankind improves upon its first even with a misstep here and there in story, the sum winds up being greater than the individual parts. And where season 2 leaves off, another decade jump is added on the horizon with “Come As You Are” playing in the background and a pair of boots take to the frame being the final shot in exploring a new frontier.
Created By: Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert & Ben Nedivi
Episodes Directed By: Michael Morris, Andrew Stanton, Meera Menon, Dennie Gordon & Sergio Mimica-Gezzan
Music By: Jeff Russo
Cinematography: Ross Berryman & Stephen McNutt
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Michael Dorman, Sarah Jones, Shantel VanSanten, Jodi Balfour, Wrenn Schmidt, Sonya Walger, Krys Marshall, Cynthy Wu, Casey W. Johnson, Coral Peña
Where to Watch: Apple Tv Plus
Release Date: February 19, 2021
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%