For All Mankind fires off a damp squib of a cliffhanger [Apple TV+ review]

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For All Mankind review: Things are not going well, either on Earth or in space.
Things are not going well, either on Earth or in space.
Photo: Apple TV+

In this week’s episode, Apple TV+’s alternate-history space show For All Mankind finally gets to the big, violent “what if?” it’s been building to all season. Is it too late to make any of the fireworks they’ve seen saving go off in spectacular enough fashion to save a dreary second season?

The answer … will not shock you.

For All Mankind review: ‘And Here’s to You’

It brings me a little joy that this show resurrected President Ronald Reagan as some awful Force ghost to do with whatever they please. It brings me less joy that they’ve written him like a real person and not a cackling ghoul who was losing a battle to dementia, which he was in the mid-1980s.

Somehow, even after the United States attacked the Soviets’ lunar space and Russia shot down a U.S. commercial jet, they’re getting right back to their cosmonaut handshake mission meant to unite the two countries.

That’s only possible because this show has a slippery grip on world politics and its writers don’t really care about anything they’ve written, since the moon’s more important. The moon is always more important.

Astronaut Gordo Stevens (played by Michael Dorman) is ready finally to head back to the moon and get his wife back, though she’s not there when he gets there, because she’s out on maneuvers. When Tracy (Sarah Jones) returns, they have a pleasant conversation about everything, in which he comes clean about his disastrous first time on the moon and announces his intentions to win her back. She doesn’t discourage him.

Lock, stock and barrel

Karen Baldwin (Shantel VanSanten) and Gordo and Tracy’s young son Danny (Casey W. Johnson) talk about their kiss and she absolutely encourages him to do it again. And in case you’ve forgotten the whole series (no judgment if you have): Karen’s son and Danny played together as kids. Which means she was old enough to change his diapers. She might have done that, in fact — the show doesn’t go back that far.

It’s real weird! She freaks out when he says he’s in love with her, but her arguments that this is just sex and not love understandably fall on deaf ears (and also aren’t like … better). That’s what happens when you have sex with the little boy next door that you used to babysit.

Melodrama on Earth

Meanwhile, hero astronaut Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger)’s got glaucoma and she’s gonna be totally blind soon. Karen and Ed Baldwin’s adopted daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu) traces her birth family down to a Vietnamese restaurant within driving distance. NASA bigwig Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) and her Russian counterpart ramp up their attraction and have a lunatic slapstick flirtation in a module model.

Aleida Rosales (Coral Peña) is rude to Bill Strausser (Noah Harpster), so he quits, but Margo makes her beg him to take his job back. Then, Aleida finally tells him/us the story of how she’s been homeless and eating out of trash cans for most of the 10 years between season one and season two of For All Mankind. She saves both of their jobs in so doing.

Chaos on the moon

On the moon, some Americans shoot some Russians and kill one of them over a misunderstanding. Which, well, of course this happened. They brought guns to the moon. So the question is, with two episodes left in the season: How will the Russians retaliate? Is this the end of the moon project (just kidding)? Is the Russian alive or dead? Will the people on NASA’s Jamestown lunar base be benched forever?

This is the kind of thing the show was designed to explore: How do you handle space crime? But after a whole season of everyone willfully misunderstanding how the law works on Earth, forgive me if I’m not particular excited to see all the bureaucratic red tape they’ll have to deal with in prosecuting someone for moon murder.

I admit, once again, freely, that I am not this show’s target audience. My question as always: Who is?

Today in alternate history

REO Speedwagon still recorded “Roll With the Changes.” And even though John Lennon’s alive, Bon Scott is still dead because AC/DC’s “Back in Black” predictably scores Gordo’s arrival on the moon.

For All Mankind on Apple TV+

New episodes of For All Mankind arrive every Friday.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.