Alternative-history space-race drama series For All Mankind returned to Apple TV+ Friday with a season 4 opener that handled two tough jobs pretty well — painfully looking back at past tragedies and peering ahead with trepidation to probable new ones. After all, space is dangerous and so are people.
In an episode called “Glasnost,” set 8 years after the end of season 3, For All Mankind sets its sites on asteroid wealth and a joint mission led by the United States and Russia to get it. And it doesn’t take long for people to start dying up there.
Season 4 For All Mankind opener had its work cut out for it getting back up to speed
If you’re reading this, hopefully you took Apple’s advice and watched its For All Mankind teaser of fake news clips tying season 3 to the new season 4. Episode 1 starts with a lengthy season 3 recap showing its often-gripping but sometimes borderline-unbelievable events, including the bombing of NASA.
At the end of the recap, an Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) voiceover says from Mars, “As hard as it’s been, as much as we grieve the ones we lost, all that will be for nothing if we gave up now. Happy Valley out.”
Turns out that’ pretty much the message of season 4, episode 1, as well. No matter what happened and whatever will, get on with it.
‘M7’ nations cooperate at Happy Valley, Mars
In the new world of season 4, we learn Al Gore beat George W. Bush to become president after Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) and built a space-faring partnership with the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev. He is opening up the superpower to Western ways and ending Communism there much differently from reality’s version. The international Happy Valley settlement on Mars is now huge, as it becomes the base of operations for asteroid mining as it tries to become truly self-sustaining.
XO Baldwin, now heavily made up with gray beard and wrinkles, sits at the controls of a ship. His buddy from last season, Cosmonaut Grigory Kuznetsov (Lev Gorn), performs a space walk to make first human physical contact with an asteroid. He runs his hands over it, kicking up dust and rock. I feared for his life, of course, because this show and others have taught us space effortlessly kills. Turns out I was right, but premature. A good show will make you nervous with subtle foreshadowing.
The most dramatic early shot in the episode pulls back to show the rock’s immensity with Kuznetsov standing on it. It’s a hopeful moment, but you know those don’t last long in the cold, deadly vacuum of space.
From Mars to Moscow, with misery
Next the show visits with Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt), the former NASA director who got in trouble for sharing secrets with Russia and ended up having to live there. A Russian rap soundtrack as she gets out of bed in the apartment we saw at the end last season. Clues show life is not great. The past 8 years have aged her more harshly than Baldwin. We see her wince in pain as she brushes her teeth. When she goes outside she sees a man watching her from a parked black car.
Later, she reads about the cosmonaut landing on the asteroid as she sits on a lonely park bench. It’s sad, but later her story in the episode goes from bleak to worse. As the former head of NASA, she supposed to have pull with the Russian space agency. But when she takes a bus to go there, she is snubbed. The director won’t take her calls. She is considered old and out of date. She’d better not show up unannounced again.
Then she gets a scare when a woman on the next bench at lunchtime starts speaking in Russian about the finches she’s feeding. But she ends up speaking in English about how Margo better not cause any more trouble at Star City. She walks off but leaves behind a card with a phone number for Margo to find. Ominous.
Don’t read this spoiler-heavy part (unless you want to know who dies)
The episode has so much tragedy baked into it from season 3, it almost doesn’t have time to add much new horror. But it certainly adds some. As the mining team sets up a structure on the asteroid with a docking tower that lets Baldwin’s craft attach and provides a means for workers to access the surface, everything looks good. At first. Astronaut and cosmonauts work together on the fast-growing rig.
But as the camera pulls back to reveal the operation, it dwells on something else for just long enough to tell you trouble is coming. Cables holding the rig down are straining.
Then, inevitably, everything goes south in true For All Mankind fashion. Kutznetsov ignores direct orders from the mission commander (above Baldwin) and heads out with another man named Parker to secure the cables. But the whole rig is destabilizing. And when giant arms of it start flying around, Parker is crushed and impaled while Kuznetsov’s jammed leg traps him as his suit is punctured.
Parker’s dead and Kuznetsov realizes he soon will be. Baldwin isn’t having that and preps to go down there himself, but his doomed friend talks him out of it. The Russian’s time is too short and the rig is too dangerous. Baldwin relents and separates the ship from the dock, with an emotional farewell.
Meanwhile, at NASA amid chaos in reaction to events unfolding at the asteroid, NASA engineer Aleida Rosales (Coral Peña) — a crucial team member last season — melts down in a panic attack, flashing back to the bombing. With the flight director calling on her for crucial information, she flees to the bathroom and even stays home from work the next day, ignoring urgent calls from the agency.
Fresh blood headed to red planet
The episode tracks two characters’ paths to Happy Valley, Mars. One is a newcomer to the show, Toby Kebbel in the role of Miles. He’s an oil-rig worker hoping to keep his family together by getting a job with private space company Helios on the moon. The other is show veteran Krys Marshall as Danielle Poole, the first astronaut to set foot on Mars. She left the space program after season 3, remaining haunted by tragic events for years. But NASA wants her back to lead Happy Valley after the disaster described above.
Miles and his wife are split, but he still has hope he can get back together with her and be with his two daughters. She’s skeptical about his moon plan, worried he’ll react badly when things go wrong (foreshadowing? You betcha. Bad things are in store for poor Miles).
His interview goes well enough, as he lies about his college education, but the wait to start a coveted moon gig is 2 years long. However, he can get a Mars job faster. So, though his wife begs him not to go, that’s what he’s going to do.
And so is Poole, though she fights it hard. NASA’s director wants her to step in to relieve the current commander, who will be a fall-guy taking the blame for asteroid catastrophe. She refuses at first, and their somewhat heated discussion dishes a fair amount of exposition, informing on past plot points, explaining M7 background and the like. After all, she only came in to talk out of respect for her friend Kuznetsov. And that when the director hits her with his own Baldwin-esque line. He tells her all they’d done would be in vain “if we don’t get this thing back on track now.”
What’s up with Ed Baldwin’s hand tremor?
And speaking of Baldwin, they had a little chat about him, too.
“Baldwin doesn’t listen to anybody,” Poole says when the director brought him up.
“Yeah, that’s a big part of the problem,” the director agrees. “He’s been XO up there a long time. Set in his ways, you might say.”
So we can expect plenty of drama between Poole and her old colleague Ed.
The talk between Poole and the director ends with no decision made, but as Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In” strikes up with a space craft orbiting earth in view, we see her through a window in a NASA jumpsuit. As the camera pans along the craft, we see Miles, too, strapped in for the ride to his mining job on Mars.
Then we go there ourselves at the very end of the episode. We see Baldwin gazing at family photos and smoking what might be a joint in his Happy Valley quarters. Earlier, around when the asteroid mishap happened, we saw his hand shaking, like a tremor. Is the pot a treatment for a grave illness we’ll soon hear more about? Seems possible. Tune in next week.
Watch For All Mankind on Apple TV+
You can catch up with the first three seasons of the alternative-history series, plus the new season, on Apple TV+. It’s available by subscription for $6.99 with a seven-day free trial. You can also get it via any tier of the Apple One subscription bundle. For a limited time, customers who purchase and activate a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac or iPod touch can enjoy three months of Apple TV+ for free.