Tag: For All Mankind
An interesting take from Alan Sepinwall on what a nice job the writers did in season 2 of For All Mankind of bringing together various storylines come the season’s climax:
“I started jogging again.”
This sentence is uttered by astronaut Gordo Stevens (Michael Dornan) midway through the Season Two finale of For All Mankind, the Apple TV+ series depicting an alternate history where the Soviets landed on the moon first, triggering a never-ending space race. Gordo’s statement will likely not go down in the annals of quotable dramatic television with “I am the One Who Knocks!” or “That’s what the money is for!” It seems an utterly banal statement of fact, not nearly as colorful as those iconic declarations. But in the context of this FAM season, it feels just as potent, and serves the same purpose that all serialized television ideally should: It makes the viewer feel as if, to borrow another famous line, all the pieces matter.
I can’t shake the notion that delivering a season of TV where we can look back and see that most, if not all, of the the pieces fit into an overall story shouldn’t be that remarkable. Isn’t that what a writers’ room is supposed to deliver, unless external pressures1 get in the way or there’s uncertainty about where the story is going or how long it’s going to continue. We’re assured that our showrunners have their story mapped out for seasons to come; I do hope they’re not going to be forced to admit that that plan was ‘Do whatever it takes to keep Apple funding us and find a way to keep Joel Kinnaman in the story. Maybe in season 5 we’ll have his digitised face and voice being used as the front end for the AI that runs the Callisto colony.’ rather than ‘By season 6 humans will be mining the asteroid belt and building a permanent station on Callisto.’
[Apologies that I’m expending so many words on a show that’s trapped on Apple TV+, which is to say somewhere most people aren’t watching. What can I say: I am watching and I’m finding it interesting, so I’m writing about it here. In the medium or long term, will Apple – or Sony, who I believe are making the show for Apple TV+ – end up selling repeat rights to another streaming network? Will we all one day be able to buy, or even rent, For All Mankind on Amazon? I’m sure right now Apple’s answer to that would be "Hell No, come and watch it on Apple TV+", but five or ten years from now will all that content remain buried on the 10th-most-watched-streaming-service?]
Interesting that Sepinwall makes passing reference to Halt and Catch Fire, another favourite in these parts that got better as the focus was shared with the equally talented and ambitious female characters who found ways to make their careers alongside the men who had been the show’s focus at the outset. For All Mankind has from the start been about how in this alternate timeline NASA had been pushed by the White House to bring women astronauts into the space programme,2 and about how they proved to be as capable as the male military/test pilot contingent they served alongside. The thing is, the storytelling of For All Mankind has (so far) focused less on how American society has changed in a society where the space race went on much longer than in our timeline, and much more on how in NASA results seem to trump expectations being based on gender roles. Is that reflected in wider society, and are we going to see evidence of that?
By and large the astronauts the storylines have been following are living in a bubble: all the signs are that the wider society they live in may be enjoying a somewhat faster introduction of technology – electric cars, a global videophone and d-mail3 network – in part because the space race kept on pushing technology forward. However, the general impression is that there’s still plenty or racism out there in wider society, and an assumption that everyone is aiming for a heterosexual marriage (or at least, isn’t flaunting any other lifestyles.) Ellen, our astronaut-turned-NASA-Administrator-and-Reagan-favourite still can’t contemplate a political career AND an out lesbian relationship.
As of season 2’s end, the main story is coming to the end of alt-Reagan’s second term of office in 1985. It’ll be interesting to see where things stand come 1995. My guess would be that we are set going to continue with a story where we focus on a small group of astronauts and NASA staff who are living in a bubble where gender is no barrier to advancement, provided you really are twice as good as the next (white, heterosexual) guy.
- “You can’t change that character’s job to one that would move him out of the group the storyline is focused on: he’s by far the biggest name we’ve got when it comes to promoting the show. Keep his character in the same job and slap on another couple of layers of make-up to keep his character in place through yet another time-jump.” ↩
- Purely for image purposes, given that in this timeline the Soviets put a woman astronaut on the moon before the Americans had so much as put a woman in space. ↩
- That’s Digital Mail, not Electronic Mail. I have to confess, I’m a little relieved that Apple don’t appear to be pressuring the showrunners to insert more Apple technology in this future. Give it a couple of seasons. By the time we get our storyline to 2015, everyone will have gone through the stage where they listened to music on their dPods and will be listening to music via their dPhone and walking around with dPads, and we just won’t mention that their d-devices all have an Apple logo. ↩
So, For All Mankind dropped the season 2 finale and gave us another end-of-season peek at what’s to come in the next season: someone’s going to Mars.
Despite some YouTube commenters being convinced that that’s a Soviet boot treading the Martian surface a decade on from the season 2 finale I think that’s wildly premature. Given how season 2 ended with US-Soviet relations getting so bad yet ending on an optimistic note1 I think that next season’s story of establishing a Mar colony will involve an international collaboration.
Maybe that was a Soviet spacesuit’s boot in the closing shot from Mars, but perhaps if they’d held that shot for another ten seconds the foot of an American (or Indian, or Japanese, or German) suit worn by a crewmate would step into that view? The different space agencies insisted on retaining their own suits because that makes the multinational nature of the project visible in every group shot, but everyone’s travelling in the same ship and using the same comms system. And yes, carrying their own nation’s brand of weaponry, if they must, but they’re all using the same rounds and firing mechanism because the economics of mass manufacturing overrode the need to boost national pride by wielding your very own make of firearm.
One thing I do ask: can we please not have more than one recurring character from season 2 be part of the crew in that Mars expedition? I get that it’s tempting to think that the expedition will be led by one of the astronauts from the first two seasons who will turn out to be the old hand2, commanding a crew including a couple of the younger characters who ended season 2 all set to pursue careers leading them into the space program and are now at the height of their careers.
The thing is, after it turned out that Star Wars ended up with most of the important characters being part of the same family it’d be nice if this story didn’t go that way. If the program professes to be any sort of meritocracy – leave to one side for a moment the bad taste real-world uses of the term leave in the mouth, and that the term itself has its’ roots in a criticism of the concept – there should be little prospect that relatives keep on showing up in the Org Chart down the years.
If we have to see our existing characters in the third season, how about Admiral Ed Baldwin (USN, retired) as the cranky advisor to President Biden3 who keeps on trying to buttonhole NASA Administrator Margo Madison4 with his thoughts on the need to beat the Soviets to the Solar System’s high ground by colonising Callisto. Or how about our seeing Aleida Rosales5 being chief engineer of the first Mars colony?
Bottom line is that they can’t just have season 3 be a repeat of the working-towards-having-a-colony-on-new-world-is-hard story from season 1. Given a choice between that and a let’s-spend-a-decade-overcoming-suspicions-about-soviet-spies story, it’d be funny if that boots-on-the-surface-of-Mars-a-decade-on scene came in season 3, episode 2.
- Because the lesson of the season 2 finale’s plot was that leaving decision-making to the commanders on the spot will turn out better than following the dictates of the governments involved. Very much the line you’d expect from Ron Moore, given his background in Star Trek and the Barrlestar Galactica reboot, I guess. Just as long as the politicians back home have the good sense to spot an opportunity for a climb-down when it’s presented to them on a plate. Who knew that Ronald Reagan’s legacy in this timeline, having got to the White House four years earlier than in ours, would be to seize just such an opportunity? Wouldn’t it be ironic if his term of office was followed by the establishment of the CoDominium? ↩
- Fun thought. Molly Cobb for Mars Colony Commander. Either science has a cure for glaucoma, or, better yet, Molly finds herself wearing an ancestor of the VISOR and she’s constantly ahead of her subordinates because she’s watching all the relevant displays at once. ↩
- He didn’t bugger up his first run at the top job and got there much earlier than in our timeline, before ended up handing over to a youngster called Obama. ↩
- Whose Russian husband is working on the Mars project himself, so there’s no need for Soviet intelligence to try to exploit what they know about her anonymous contribution to the Buran project back in the day and we can nip that subplot in the bud. ↩
- Even better if they can slip in a romance for her with an Irish guy called O’Brien, so that a few generations down the line a young Starfleet noncom by the name of Miles O’Brien turns out to have some Mexican ancestry. Granted Miles O’Brien was born in September 2328 in Ireland, so that implies that one of the descendants of Jimmy O’Brien and Aleida Rosales ended up migrating back from Mars to Earth. But a few steps further into this alternate history who’s to say that couldn’t have happened, especially as a proper interplanetary economy starts up and job applicants from Mars might end up being willing to move to Dublin if the right career opening arose. So long as 24th century Dublin has excellent high-speed transporter links and decent theatres who’s to say that’s not a trade-off someone fleeing the economic impact of Martian First Minister M’Tumbe’s imposition of austerity on the Martian economy would be willing to make, especially if there was some family connection to the Dublin region of the Celtic Confederation? ↩
A full trailer for For All Mankind Season 2 has been published. Looks as if the rest of the world is set to watch the Cold War playing out a quarter of a million miles away.
Given where season 1 left off this was probably always going to be the sort of storyline they gave us in season 2, but I hope that we’ll look back on this in later seasons1 as the difficult transitional season that we had to get through to get to the real story.2
- Yes, this assumes that the show gets several more seasons but let’s be optimistic here. In theory Apple have the money to fund this for as long as the story needs, but how long the producers get for this show on this streaming platform is another question entirely. ↩
- Interesting to see that the IMDB cast information for the episodes – which admittedly, is pretty thin once you get beyond season 2 episode 1 – doesn’t list returning cast members like Joel Kinnaman or Jodi Balfour past that first episode. Nothing against the returning cast members, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see the story transitioning to a different main cast by the end. Against that, some returning actors we see or hear from in the new season’s trailer don’t even appear listed against season 2 episode 1 so it may just be that the IMDB’s list is, to put it mildly, a work in progress. ↩