For All Mankind might reignite the Cold War … in space! [Apple TV+ review]

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For All Mankind review of
This show might be tense in another time line.
Photo: Apple TV+

This week on For All Mankind, Russians are blockading the moon and Ed Baldwin’s going up to set ’em straight. Can old-fashioned American ingenuity prevent the reignition of the Cold War?

Be honest, are you even watching Apple TV+’s alt-history space race show?

For All Mankind review: ‘Triage’

In this week’s episode, titled “Triage,” the Russian the Americans capped at the Jamestown lunar base is still alive, which might make the difference between a full-on war between the two nations. The Russians immediately ramp up their presence in space near the U.S. station, making Gordo (played by Michael Dorman) and Tracy (Sarah Jones) extra-nervous. After all, the exes only just got on the same page about their love lives. Now they might get blown off the moon by a Russian missile.

Ed (Joel Kinnaman)’s mission is moved up, and also commandeered by the Department of Defense, because now NASA execs feel like the astronauts have no choice but to arm themselves to the teeth. He isn’t sure how he feels about that, but his wife, Karen (Shantel VanSanten), uses it to teach their adopted daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu) a lesson in being in thrall to the U.S. government. If Kelly gets into the Navy, she’s gonna have to make a lot of empty promises, just like her dad.

Karen’s also at the end of her tether because you know she had sex with a boy whose diapers she used to change. (Relatable stuff, as always, on this show.) She tells Ed about it and he explodes, then leaves for the moon having just argued with his wife. Sure, that won’t come back to haunt him.

Crisis after crisis, on Earth and on the moon

For All Mankind review: Molly is hiding something behind those shades.
Molly is hiding something serious behind those shades.
Photo: Apple TV+

Next to that, it’s pretty silly that For All Mankind follows it up with a scene of Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger) and her husband, Wayne (Lenny Jacobson), arguing about an experimental surgery she wants to get to fix her glaucoma. Larry’s convinced it’s a bad idea (she is going to Mexico for surgery in the ’80s after all). But she won’t be talked out of it. She needs to fly!

Well, sure, but that matters a whole lot less if the Russians nuke Florida or whatever. No sense of perspective in sight, as usual. She and Wayne have an episode-length argument, but Molly does the right thing and agrees to just grow old and die like the rest of us.

I hope my legs don’t break, shooting on the moon

Famous scumbag/Republican political strategist Lee Atwater (Dustin Seavey) shows up to convince Larry (Nate Corddry) to ask Ellen (Jodi Balfour) to run for president. That scares Pam the Bartender (Meghan Leathers) back to her other relationship, so goodbye momentary subplot.

I don’t know how or why Larry knows Lee, but once more the show treats Atwater’s winning the south for the GOP in the ’80s as some kind of exciting development on his resume and not the beginning of the end for global climate change and health care. Not a huge fan of that.

Complicating things on the moon further, the cosmonaut (Roman Mitichyan) that astronaut Helena Webster (Michaela Conlin) shot wants to defect now that he’s in the U.S. space station and implicitly on U.S. soil. The two bulls they send to pick him up don’t love that. They come back later and shoot up the space station.

The physics of this scene, I can’t help but think, are not up to snuff. One of the Jamestown crew gets sucked out onto the surface of the moon before the Russians climb into the space station like pirates.

Today in Alternate History

For All Mankind review: Somebody's a Star Trek fan!
Somebody’s a Star Trek fan!
Photo: Apple TV+

John Lennon is planning a big concert, The Pretenders released “Middle of the Road,” which I think the show already basically established a few episodes back. Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) quotes Star Trek, which isn’t that weird, but it does also imply that obsessive Star Trek fandom is alive and well the way it is in our reality. Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote “I Can’t Make It Alone” — and Gordo finally re-seduces Tracy by playing it.

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.