Back for its third rotation in orbit after another decade jump into the 1990’s with sights headed toward the red planet, yes Mars, For All Mankind is still firing on all cylinders and using every ounce of brain power to stick the landing. By the end of season 2, in the finale during the final moments, Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” plays in the background as the camera sweeps from earth, past the moon, across the terrain on Mars where a pair of boots take the first steps for a human on the previously uninhabited planet. I was certain with the beginning of season 3, like previously done in season 2, a montage of world events would catch us up showing Kurt Cobain never committing suicide. But I was wrong, maybe its implied the famed front man of the Seattle based grunge band is alive and well.
That would be an alternate timeline I’d love to live in. First John Lennon is never assassinated and now Cobain lives. With the few inspirational lives spared, creators Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert, and Ben Nedivi sure make it their mission to balance life with death and grief. Finding any comfort in a character’s survival season to season is hard to come by – nobody is safe. The shows playground is the vacuum of space, after all. Every one of the seasons has had major characters killed off, and season 3 spares no expense with series favorites.
Though all have experienced death in some form, no one character has been followed by heartbreak, grief, and death like a black cloud more than series lead Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman).Once again, early on in the season, Ed becomes the commander of the 3rd party spacecraft Phoenix owned by Dev (Edi Gathegi), and his company Helios, coming within feet of being the first man on mars only to pull up at the last minute. A tough sequence of events for Ed as flashbacks of Apollo 10 are cut into the scene to only rub more salt in the wound.
The year is 1992 and NASA, the Soviet Union and Helios are in a 3-way race to mars. Keeping up with the alternate timeline, Bill Clinton doesn’t win the Presidential election. Instead, running for the Republican party is Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) who becomes the first woman President of the United States. An achievement that once again puts For All Mankind ahead of our current timeline. Karen Baldwin (Shantel VanSanten) after getting divorced from Ed at the end of season 2 starts a luxury space hotel (shades of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk), Polaris with Sam (Jeff Hephner), where after a tragedy is nearly averted during Danny Stevens (Casey W. Johnson) wedding day, in space, orbiting earth. Karen sells Polaris to Dev, becoming COO of Helios. Margo (Wrenn Schmidt) is still director of NASA who has been unknowingly giving information to the Soviets and Aleida (Coral Peña) has become flight director and suspicious of the two’s space programs being strangely similar.
One of the most underrated aspects has been Aleida’s relationship to Bill (Noah Harpster). After their rough start, the two have come a long way, personally and professionally.
Getting to mars doesn’t take up too much screen time – travel scenes are greatly reduced to place more emphasis on the landing and the drama / anticipation surrounding the race to be first on the red planet. Once there, the 3rd season settles in for the mission to find and harvest water to sustain life and colonize the planet full of people.
Following the thread from the end of season 2, the United States and the Soviets have put their rivalry behind them – coming together in more ways than any of the characters would like to be comfortable with. Opposite Ed Baldwin as the commander for the NASA ship named Sojourner 1 is Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) who has chosen Kelly (Cynthia Wu), Ed and Karen’s adopted daughter as part of the crew.
What can go wrong in the vacuum of space usually does and the failures are felt on a deeper level because of the connections we have to these characters. Every death hits home while every success and triumph is worthy of the celebration. The mission first and foremost is space exploration which is edge of your seat captivating. Where For All Mankind keeps the attention of the viewer resides in the various sub-plots that are organically split off of this timeline. Some that span all three seasons and have worked really well while others are left to confusion and head scratching. I’m still not on board with the Danny and Karen relationship – ending up being a disaster from more poignant threads that are developed.
Usually, all the subplots are wrapped up nicely in the season finale – not this season. There’s one that has a significant impact going forward for the series that is has a part of its sum left open-ended. Season 3 brings in a group of conspiracy theorists after the events of season 2’s finale is thought to be fabricated. Danny’s younger brother Jimmy (David Chandler) gets roped into an uncomfortable situation and from there, the rabbit hole never stops. Writers of this season and the series as a whole have done an excellent job relating this alternate timeline to real life – especially surrounding the political landscape of it all.
For a series of this caliber, the sum has been greater than all its continuously moving parts despite its weaker moments.
The triumph of For All Mankind’s third season doesn’t involve mars whatsoever. It happens to be the inclusivity of the LGBTQ+ community. A thread that began in season 1 is now front and center when a NASA astronaut comes out on a live broadcast from mars and the response taken from President Wilson and her husband Larry (Nate Corddry) shortly thereafter. A version of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is thought of but it’s the bravery of the writing that translates into the characters that speaks volumes louder.
With all episodes now streaming, finding where this season fits into the grander scope of the story, mars plays a bigger role than the moon in understanding humanity and its longevity for survival. The moon was just the beginning, a springboard for season 1 and 2 to launch off of to go beyond where no man has gone before. For All Mankind continues to dazzle with strong performances from the ensemble cast, stunning visual effects with the scope of space exploration and the fascination of it balancing the more intimate moments between characters and the melodrama. With season 4 confirmed and on the way, another jump of time is teased bringing the series and its outstanding ensemble into the 21st century.
Created By: Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert & Ben Nedivi
Episodes Directed By: Sarah Boyd, Wendey Stanzler, Andrew Stanton, Dan Liu & Craig Zisk
Music By: Jeff Russo & Paul Doucette
Cinematography: Stephen McNutt & Ross Berryman
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Shantel VanSanten, Jodi Balfour, Wrenn Schmidt, Krys Marshall, Noah Harpster, Cynthy Wu, Casey W. Johnson, Sonya Walger, Coral Peña, David Chandler, Edi Gathegi
Where to Watch: Apple TV Plus
Release Date: June 10, 2022
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%