For All Mankind bets big on outlandish Russian plot line [Apple TV+ recap]


For All Mankind, season 4, episode 3, Russian space agency★★★☆☆
After enduring torture during a coup attempt, a battered and dazed Margo Madison is offered work at the Russian space agency.
Photo: Apple TV+

TV+ Review Sure enough, last week’s hints of looming unrest blossom this week in a full-scale coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in alt-history drama series For All Mankind, season 4, episode 3, “The Bear Hug.” And who’s in the middle of it all? Why, the former head of NASA, of course — Margo Madison.

In the span of one episode — released Wednesday instead of Friday for the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend — she gets horribly tortured and finds herself in a big new space-agency job. But it ain’t NASA this time. I’d say you can’t make this stuff up, but someone did. Meanwhile, another coup unfolds at private space-exploration company Helios Aerospace.

How do you say For All Mankind in Russian? Margo Madison would know. Season 4’s ‘The Bear Hug’ shows 2 different attempted coups.

The episode opens with a period-accurate CNN report on a new Soviet crisis by anchor Bernard Shaw, who retired in 2001 in real life. In For All Mankind‘s world, a Soviet hardliner named Korzhenko is trying to unseat “corrupt” Gorbachev and restore the Soviet Union to Marxist-Leninist principles.

Turns out Moscow police support the upstart and want to make an example of “those who ask questions,” as a fellow detainee tells Margo (Wrenn Schmidt) in the back of the police van, where they ended up at the close of last week’s episode after Margo ended up on the wrong end of a baton. At police HQ, the detainees are herded out of the van, ordered up against the wall and … frisked.

At Happy Valley on Mars, Ed (Joel Kinnaman), Danielle (Krys Marshall) and their cosmonaut colleague Svetlana Efremova (Irina Morozova) hear from the NASA director that comms with Star City, the Russian space agency, have dropped. Svetlana confirms she has not heard from them either, nor from her father with his regular Saturday message. Yup, something is very wrong in Russia.

Coups in Russia and at Helios

Dev Ayesa storms Helios board meeting.
Ousted Helios head Dev Ayesa, left, returns to dramatically seize control of the company at a board meeting (just like in real life!). The hapless suit on the right gets fired.
Photo: Apple TV+

While the episode focuses more than the past couple have on Margo and her odd plight as a former NASA director exiled to Moscow after an investigation found she shared secrets with the Soviets, it jumps around, as usual. It flips between Moscow, the United States, where Aleida Rosales (Coral Peña) and Kelly Baldwin (Cynthy Wu) are trying to pitch their robotic Mars explorer to private companies, and Mars, where Miles Dale (Toby Kebbell) tries to make ends meet and Ed reveals his hand tremor and marijuana cache to Svetlana.

So it may not be much of a surprise that enigmatic Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi), ousted as head of Helios Aerospace, is back. The episode reintroduces him as a rich guy berating a surfer girl trespassing on his private beach, oddly enough. It’s sort of a “hello, I’ll be in this episode in a more meaningful way as a rich and powerful man later.” And he is.

Aleida and Kelly do a wonderful job of pitching their new robot explorer venture to Northrup Grumman and other companies. But they get rejected everywhere. Aleida cryptically refers to “someone else,” a rich potential investor who just might be Dev. And it is.

When they go to his mansion and pitch him, he blows them off, however — at first. He and Kelly mix it up a bit, with her implying he’s not the visionary explorer he claimed to be, just another rich guy counting his money. He insults her mother, the late Karen Baldwin (Shantel VanSanten), ex-wife of Ed, who left NASA and joined Dev at Helios well before Ed did.

Aleida and Kelly leave Dev in a huff, but it’s not over. As a massively rich person, he takes his private jet and flies to another scene later in the episode, intercepting them at their next stop with apologies and a proposition. Long story short, he wants their help in reclaiming control of Helios. They just have to convince enough board members to go along.

So Alieda goes and visits old friend and colleague Bill Strausser (Noah Harvester), now wheelchair-bound, shaggy and gray. She gets him to go along, but not without a fight where he berates her for leaving NASA and they remind viewers about more of the show’s past.

So later, in a hugely unrealistic scene that nonetheless makes for good TV, this all culminates with Dev and the women storming a Helios board meeting and taking over. Dev fires people left and right as he cites bylaws and otherwise justifies this ludicrous circus act, declaring a new era. This does not happen with dramatic confrontations so much in the real world, but it does on TV.

Side hustle and hints of hot times ahead on Mars

Meanwhile, on the red planet, Miles is trying to make ends meet. A vid-mail from his wife shows her gravely concerned about his low pay. Samantha (Tyner Rushing) enters, overhearing a bit. She says he’s lucky even to get vid-mail. She mentions her quickie divorce right before coming to Mars. “Lets go drown our sorrows, shall we,” she says, and they head to the lair of Ilya, the Russian maintenance guy established as the base’s black-market provider of illicit goods.

Turns out it’s a raucous party down there. Miles sees Ilia making bank and wonders how he can get in on it. He chats up Ilia while ordering more drinks, but Ilia says he works alone. After he came to Mars for Helios, the guy who took over his racket on the Moon got busted for tax evasion. So he’s careful.

It’s Samantha who swoops in and saves the day for Miles. She points out he has an all-access badge because he fixes environmental systems, so he can get places on base Ilia can’t. Ilia suggests a “test run.”

Then we see him start to train up Miles on “the Russian way” — nothing is free — and we see Ilia’s whole illicit-goods operation. Miles is in at that point, and as he delivers goods to astronauts and scientists on the upper floors, his deposits headed home get bigger. And all it took was a couple minutes of TV montage.

And by the way, if you think nothing romantic or sexual is going to happen between Miles and Samantha, you may be oxygen-deprived.

Shaky-hands Ed consorts with cosmonaut

For All Mankind season 4
Graying XO Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) pilots a craft with Soviet colleague Svetlana. How’s that hand tremor, Ed?
Photo: Apple TV+

Sometimes the show gets back to the business of space exploration, but only briefly. Ed and Svetlana pilot a ship in an asteroid-capture training exercise. Baldwin’s tremor keeps him from handling the controller well as he tries to lock on the faux asteroid. He says the controller’s a bit sluggish. Then he gives up and offers the job to copilot Svetlana, like a plum assignment for a trainee. She’s thrilled. She docks perfectly and he praises her, clearly pleased with himself.

Afterward, as they put gear away, he can see she’s in pain from a back injury. He invites her to his garden that night. She wonders why, and he’s coy. “Because I asked,” he says. She smiles. “How can I refuse,” she says. It’s not clear if she gets it’s about marijuana — we’ve seen him smoking his homegrown — or thinks it might be something else.

Later, Svetlana visits as planned. She and Ed share a touching moment as he talks about gardening makes him feel close to his dead ex-wife, Karen. Svetlana talks about her father, out of touch. Then Ed shows her his secret pot-growing operation and gives her some for her back pain. Like any straight-arrow cosmonaut would do, she coughs it out. As they keep talking, he ends up revealing he smokes pot for his tremor, though he doesn’t know what it is. She tenderly takes his hand. Their eyes meet. And … scene. So now we’re all wondering if this get-together may be about more than Maryjane after all.

Moscow, we have a problem

Back in Russia, Margo is brought to a scary cell for interrogation. The officer refers to her as “Margaret Reynolds.” She tries to explain she was only at the newsstand to buy a newspaper, but he’s not interested. He describes her as participating in an illegal political demonstration and interfering with a police officer conducting his duties. But that’s not even the main thing. He overturns her bag and sorts through her things. He finds the card with a phone number that the woman in the park gave her. “Who gives you this?” He asks.

But he already knows it involves the KGB, even if she doesn’t. He tells her how much trouble she could be in for working with the Gorbachev against the motherland. She could face “as little as” 10 years in a work camp and as much as a death penalty.

Then noises in the hall distract them. The cop exits and Margo is left to wonder what’s going on. Shots ring out and it sounds like more than just a prison riot, as heavy mechanized sounds come from above. Is the whole complex under attack?

After scenes elsewhere, the next person who comes into the interrogation room where Margo has been sitting, handcuffed to a desk, is a Russian army colonel. Without a word, he unlocks her handcuffs. He apologizes about her getting mixed up in their politics. He politely asks for her indulgence as he knocks on a door.

The cop who interrogated her is brought in, bloody. The colonel interrogates him in front of Margo. He starts breaking fingers. The colonel reveals that the phone number on the card reaches KGB counterintelligence, the watcher over the watchers. He says they’re the ones in favor of Korzhenko, backing the coup attempt.

Then the colonel shoots the cop in the head, spattering blood all over Margo. But that’s not all. He then hangs her by the hands from a pipe along the ceiling. She screams. He wants to know about the woman who gave her the card, and torture appears to be on the menu.

Commence operation ‘International Incident’

For All Mankind season 4 ep 4 Miles and Lee
Sorry, Miles. Lee isn’t buying your ploy about a methane gas leak.
Photo: Apple TV+

Miles want to help Ilya, his side-hustle boss, so he installs a new converter on the slow and glitchy still they use to make booze. It looks promising at first, but then it fries the still’s thermostat, putting it out of commission. Ilya is enraged and Miles is out of a gig.

Miles’ work colleague figures out there’s another thermostat of that type on the base for a possible quick-fix. But it’s in the Korean section, completely off limits. No one’s going to touch that.

So commence operation international incident. Miles stages a methane leak in the North Korean module and prompts an evacuation so he can go in to “test air quality,” otherwise known as stealing a thermostat out of the fridge.

It’s hard to believe Miles could actually pull this off by himself. But that’s also how you know it’s going to be a disaster in some way.

The Korean astronaut Lee surprises him. He had crept back in and saw Miles put something in his case. Miles immediately confesses all and the Lee, who knows about Ilia and his smuggling. Miles offers to return the thermostat, but now he’s in too deep. Lee wants him to keep it, but he must be of help to Lee.

So after Miles delights Ilia with a working still, he introduces Lee as their new customer. Ilia is cautious but welcoming.

But Lee doesn’t need a Playboy magazine or foot cream. He shows Ilia a photo. He wants Ilia to bring him his wife from North Korea. Ilia stares at Miles like he can’t believe what a curse the American represents.

Welcome aboard, Comrade Madison

For All Mankind season 4 ep 3 Margo gets job
That’s pretty much how I look when someone offers me a job after a day of torture.
Photo: Apple TV+

Back in the hellish Russian interrogation room, the colonel resumes questioning a puffy and beat-down looking Margo. But a high-ranking officer interrupts. Margo is then put in a hood and taken away.

After scenes elsewhere, the show returns to hooded Margo. She is taken from a van in the woods. Could they be about the simply execute her? No, the woman who gave her a phone number on the bench after admonishing her complaining about the space agency is there and puts Margo’s broken glasses back on her face.

With all that’s happened, Margo is overwhelmed. She simply follows the woman, who identifies herself as Irina. They come up to the saluting cosmonaut in front of the Russian space agency, a visual reference dropped numerous times during the series.

Irina tells Margo Korzhenko and Gorbachev have negotiation a new government, and she will lead the space agency. She wants Margo to work for her. Margo, still in a daze — probably stemming from when the actress playing Margo read this nutty script — slowly picks her way up the icy driveway behind Irina, walking toward the distant building. Looks like Margo is headed for Soviet space glory now.

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.

Watch on Apple TV



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