For All Mankind shoots the moon in season 2 finale [Apple TV+ review]

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For All Mankind review: In the season 2 finale, the fate of the moon rests on the unlikely shoulders of astronaut Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman).
In the season 2 finale, the fate of the moon rests on Gordo's unlikely shoulders.
Photo: Apple TV+

The Russians have taken over the moon! The second season of Apple TV+ space soap For All Mankind ends with bloody faces, broken marriages, uncertain futures, and a whole boatload of moon crime.

If you’re wondering if any of it’s handled well, read on. But you know the score by now, don’t you?

For All Mankind review: ‘The Grey’

In season 2’s final episode, titled “The Grey,” the American spaceship piloted by Ed Baldwin (played by Joel Kinnaman) and the Russian one piloted by Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) are racing each other to the moon. Ed’s having flashbacks to his marriage (but not the whole thing — I guess they didn’t want to pay extra to clear footage of the kid who played Baldwin’s dead son last season) as he hurtles toward the unknown.

The Russians are holding hostages to try and get their injured cosmonaut back. And the Americans are quickly devolving. U.S. astronaut Helena Webster (Michaela Conlin) doesn’t want to give him up because she shot him and feels responsible for him. Also, if she could grant him immunity, it could make up for almost killing him.

A word about the hostage situation: absolutely not. No way. In no lifetime. The Russians may have been aggressive but they would never, ever be this stupid.

Every single piece of political maneuvering they did was behind closed doors, where they could get away with whatever they wanted. They were shrewder than Americans because they knew their own limitations and they were much more imposing as a question mark than as a guy with a gun on the street.

The idea that the Russians in 1983 (or whenever this show is set) would be so braindead as to attack American astronauts on the moon FROM WHENCE THERE IS NO ESCAPE … it’s just ridiculous. For All Mankind c0-creator Ronald D. Moore owes me a personalized apology card and a baklava. For that and the scene where NASA administrator Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) calls Russia from a payphone. I just … can’t …with this show.

Red skies at night

For All Mankind review: Wrenn Schmidt and Jodi Balfour face some tough decisions.
Margo (Wrenn Schmidt, left) and Ellen (Jodi Balfour) face some tough decisions.
Photo: Apple TV+

This episode includes a hilarious scene where they’re trying to dramatize a phone call between President Ronald Reagan and the Russians. For some reason, they just use a still of his face for a few seconds. It’s pretty shoddy work for such an expensive show.

The Russians and the Americans are both stalling for time while they amp up their defenses. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy goes berserk and people start panic-buying toilet paper. I truly can’t help but feel that’s a comment on COVID-19, but what it means … who in the world could say?

We also see a tense firefight and standoff in the moon base as the Americans and Russians trade machine gun fire. (I love speculative fiction.) Tracy Stevens (Sarah Jones), knowing full well that Helena shot a cosmonaut like three hours ago, is still stunned when the Russians kill one of her guys.

“They just … shot him,” she says.

Director Sergio Mimica-Gezzan does a decent enough job staging this but it still feels like a missed opportunity. It’s a gunfight in space — it should be more spectacular and gripping. And yet it feels as dry as everything else in For All Mankind.

Every attempt the writers and directors make to give this show a pulse fails. It’s still just people sitting around on the moon talking about the moon.

Meanwhile on the moon, moon moon moon moon, moon moon moon, moon. Moon moon moon moon moon moon moon moon. Moon moon moon moon moon moon moon moon moon moon moon moon moon moon moon moon. Moon moon moon moon moon moon moon moon. Moon moon moonity, moon moon, moon.

Should have taken warning, it’s just people mourning

For All Mankind review: Astronaut Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) stands strong.
Astronaut Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) stands strong.
Photo: Apple TV+

Did I mention that For All Mankind transforms real-life astronaut Sally Ride into a gun-toting maniac? It’s kind of a footnote, but it’s bizarre. She was a physicist, and this show paints her as a Second Amendment loon. Weird, weird stuff.

Anyway, Margo throws a fit way too late about the weapons on the moon. So it kind of makes me wonder whether anyone at NASA talks to each other, or listens, or has object permanence and learned experience in this alternate history. You know how when people tell jokes about dumbness, they always ironically bring up NASA? On this show, in this timeline, I don’t think they’re doing that.

In maybe my favorite stupid development, the fate of the moon rests on Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman) being able to jog up there without a spacesuit. It’s just absolute, boneheaded Nike commercial logic on a million-dollar TV show. But hey, it’s the season 2 finale, so go big or go home, I guess.

Anyway, he and Tracy coat each other in duct tape to make a run to the nuclear reactor they have to fix. They look exactly like when Hamton Pig and his family have to clean a rest stop bathroom in the Tiny Toons movie How I Spent My Vacation.

The whole sequence is so foolish, I can’t do it justice. The final image of Tracy and Gordo, charred up like a bucket of KFC, covered head to toe in bloody duct tape — what a staggeringly silly thing to do to your heroes. Just embarrass the hell out of them when they do their most heroic things. After being held hostage by this show for 10 episodes this season, I just … don’t even know what to do with this.

Danielle puts her foot down when she’s told to cancel her space handshake after the ordeal she suffered in Russia. And in so doing, she might accidentally save the world. Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) agrees to let her dock. The world comes together. Reagan and the Russians make peace. I hate this show.

Today in alternate history

John Lennon’s “Well Well Well” gets an ironic airing during a moon gunfight. And then — and I cannot stress how absolutely baffling this is — the show ends on Nirvana’s “Come as You Are.” A song written in 1991, by a band that wouldn’t form until 1987.

I think I draw the line at the idea that with all the changes in For All Mankind’s world, Kurt Cobain would have had exactly the same lifestyle as he did in our reality. Too many variables. And they do this to introduce the idea that we’ll be walking on Mars by 1994. I frankly don’t buy that either! Sorry show, try again! This is wrong and I don’t buy it for a second! Other than that, this episode just served up plenty of good, old-fashioned unbelievable nonsense.

See you next season, For All Mankind. For both of our sakes, I hope like hell you come back with something better in season 3. Because I’m all mooned out, my friend.

For All Mankind on Apple TV+

The final episode of season 2 of For All Mankind arrives Friday, April 23.

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.