For All Mankind heads to Mars a little sooner than expected this week — and with a surprise guest in the cockpit.
Danielle and Ed, then Molly and Margo, fall out. Karen and Ed fall into business together. Aleida worries about her family from the moon. And Danny Stevens is still a little psychopath.
It’s business as usual on Apple TV+’s frustrating space-exploration soap. The highs of last week’s TV movie of the week detour are already forgotten.
For All Mankind recap: ‘Game Changer’
Season 3, episode 2: In this week’s episode, titled “Game Changer,” Karen Baldwin (played by Shantel VanSanten) is still reeling from the death of her husband, Sam Cleveland (Jeff Hephner). But she doesn’t have time to grieve. She’s in debt after her company’s stock tanked. Now she’s gonna start selling off parts from Polaris to pay off her creditors.
But she’s got a guardian angel out there, a self-made millionaire named Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi), who runs a company called Helios. Helios wants to go to Mars. Karen realizes he wants to buy what’s left of Polaris and retrofit it to be the charter flight to the red planet. It’s a little balm to her wounded heart.
Danny Stevens (Casey W. Johnson) comes over to say congratulations, but of course winds up saying he still has a thing for her. (Cool stuff, a week after his moon wedding almost got everybody he knows or cares about killed.) She slaps him and sends him on his way but we have not heard the end of this.
Picking Mars pilots
Back at NASA, Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger) is furious because Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) has built in a new test for potential Mars pilots, something Molly didn’t agree to. Her new certification program means that Molly’s ideal candidate, Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman), is no longer first on the block. Margo’s first pick, Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall), is.
So, Molly just outmaneuvers Margo and tells Ed he got the job. Molly breaks the news to Danielle gently but she’s still upset that she’s going to be the second person on Mars.
(Incidentally, I had no idea Molly had gone blind last episode, so good work directors. When she showed up with her seeing-eye dog this episode, I did a spit take. And then she also says, “Come on, let’s go!” to her canine helper, which is kind of funny. Not like the dog had plans or anything.)
Ed is much more excited to hear that he’s going to Mars than Danielle, naturally, even with the broken leg from the Polaris mishap and his separation from party girl Yvonne (Ashley Jones), though they bury the hatchet in the name of science. He calls his adopted daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu), who’s working in the Arctic. Oh we have videophones now. Thanks, Gary Hart!
Ed wants Kelly to go to Mars with him. She reluctantly agrees. Clayton (Edwin Hodge), Danielle’s husband, is also reluctant to hear the news, after having almost been killed on Polaris. Now that he knows exactly how dangerous space is, he’s cooled a little on the idea of his wife going up there again.
Politics and broken promises
Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) is still married to Larry (Nate Cordry), beards both of them. Ellen is running for high office on a Republican ticket against Bill Clinton, which is exactly what every closeted couple should be doing with their spare time and money. They even have a kid.
Larry wants her to start vetting VP candidates, and suggests a hardcore Bible thumper named James Bragg (Randy Oglesby), which scares her. She doesn’t want a guy on the ticket who hates gays.
Ellen’s one of those magical conservatives that TV writers love. She’s pro-science and progressive but still runs with the “party of inclusion.” Bragg also says he’s excited to be on her ticket because he’s sick of white people leading the Republican Party.
Sure, yeah, hey absolutely, man.
Who will make it to Mars first?
Bill Strausser (Noah Harpster) lets it slip to Margo when she comes back from vacation that Molly told Ed and Danielle the Mission Control decisions. Margo’s upset that Molly went behind her back, and even more so that Molly’s unrepentant about her decision. So she fires Molly, then tells Ed he’s not going to Mars. He flips out.
Danielle’s a little happier but Clayton’s not. Ed and Danielle go get a drink and Ed lets slip that he thinks she got the gig because she’s black. Danielle is furious and leaves. (It does kind of make you wonder why this asshole is the star of For All Mankind.)
Ed gets drunker and crashes into Karen’s front gate. Danny is parked outside, stalking Karen, so he sees it happen. There are well-adjusted gentlemen everywhere you look on this show. Anyway, Karen hears Ed’s petty whining and a lightbulb goes off. Why not have Ed pilot Helios’ first rocket to Mars? She asks Dev the next day. The company agrees, then Dev offers Karen a job, too.
Meanwhile, Aleida Rosales (Coral Peña) is on the moon. She calls home to speak to her dad (Arturo Del Puerto) and her son Javi (Tiago Martinez), who is resolutely unimpressed by her trip. Her dad is proud of her but he’s an old man and his memory and faculties are going. By the time she gets home, he could be too far gone.
It’s not about rapport
It’s funny but not unexpected that in the same episode we learn that Ed is a bitter, racist asshole in his old age, we also position him as the free-enterprise astronaut, taking private-sector money to Mars. That puts him in direct competition with black astronaut Danielle, which means Ed and Danielle’s points of view are equally important to the show’s writers.
So now it’s everyone on the show versus Ed Baldwin, because Danny’s going on Danielle’s mission, and nobody hates Ed worse than Danny. Even Dev’s talk about going to Mars as some kind of playing-field-leveling gesture is all the same kind of bullshit Jim Bragg talks about vis-a-vis the Republican party.
For All Mankind has always been a libertarian’s wet dream. Having an Elon Musk figure emerge as the new hero is just sealing the deal. Pretty grim outlook.
This Week in Alternate History
The Smashing Pumpkins still formed and wrote “Today,” a song I have now heard three times on ’90s TV shows in the last six months. Helios looks like a WeWork, so Gary Hart also gave us Silicon Valley sterility two decades earlier.
Watch For All Mankind on Apple TV+
Season three of For All Mankind premieres on Apple TV+ on June 10. New episodes follow every Friday.
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 author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.