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For All Mankind (Season 3), Episode 2: Review, Recap & Ending Explained

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For All Mankind (Season 3), Episode 2 Recap and Ending Explained: After that explosive setup that was the first episode, expecting For All Mankind Season 3 to slow down was almost inevitable. It maintained the pattern the show had during the first two seasons. However, “Game Changer,” as the title suggests, changes the game in terms of competition. It had been a race between two countries to reach the red planet first. What happens then, when privatization of the space program becomes a reality, and a conglomerate becomes the third competitor in that race? Another competitor entering the fray means avenues open up for astronauts who wouldn’t clear the NASA shortlist for the MARS mission. So who took them up on that offer?


The episode opens with Karen Baldwin being driven to a remote location on the outskirts of the city. As the radio transmission recaps what happened with the Polaris Hotel and how NASA is determined to investigate the safety certificates of said hotel, Baldwin instructs the driver to turn the radio off. Listening to how your investment went down a fiery drain isn’t a pleasing auditory sensation. Baldwin enters a makeshift tent and comes face to face with Dev Ayesa, the new charismatic billionaire head of Helios. Previously only seen in the first episode in newspaper clippings and heard about during snippets of conversation, Ayesa finally enters the fray with an interesting proposition to Baldwin-to buy out the Polaris Hotel for a very generous amount that made even Karen’s eyebrows raise.

I am liking how the writers are developing Karen’s character with far greater agency than in the previous seasons. As she decodes Ayesa’s motivations for buying her hotel, we learn that Ayesa had been testing a methane-based rocket engine, whose rate of combustion wouldn’t be advantageous for moon travel, but would be fine for Mars travel. However, Helios’ plans to make a rocket and get going to Mars would be a 7-year plan at the minimum. So Ayesa, in typical big conglomerate fashion, buys out an already existing spacecraft (The Polaris Hotel), installs his proprietary methane 3 engine, and thus produces a Mars-borne spacecraft in half the time and can join the space race. The fact that Ayesa only offers a mysterious smile as Karen lays her theory out, only remarking at the end, “That’s a fascinating theory,” is clever writing to both afford exposition without compromising the intelligence of any of the characters. Karen, upon realising that she is right, asks the next logical question, “Why?”

What Ayesa reveals is both indicative of the utopia of the American Dream as well as this universe’s propensity to reward anyone who is first. Ayesa’s father, an immigrant, had been a staunch proponent of the American Dream, and Ayesa remembers him being summarily distraught when the red Soviet flag was unfurled on the surface of the moon in 1969. Ayesa’s inference from that event was twofold: coming first was always the intention, and the winning of the race by a third party would ensure that the division of Mars, like the moon, could be averted. Like the concept of “Harambe”, which Ayesa had been taught by his father, the colonisation of planets and moons beyond the purview of Earth should be done to uplift collective humanity. And he is content to hike up the buyout of Polaris by 10% if it means the space race can begin in earnest. As Baldwin shakes hands with Ayesa and prepares for the return journey home, we see her and Ayesa looking over at the horizon as the methane-based NERVA engine is undergoing a test run. The camera pans toward Ayesa, looking at the sight with wonder. Is he wondering about the scientific accomplishment, or at the new opportunity that has just opened up?

Molly Cobb is now the rage-fueled, determined head of the Mars Mission program. Her blindness doesn’t stop her from walking straight to “Generallismo” Margo Madison’s office and pointing out to her secretary the small inconsequential addition in the latest memo—the creation of an astronaut selection committee. Molly confirms that this is Madison’s stealthy method of a power grab. She takes advantage of Margo’s absence from NASA to speed up measures. She appoints Dani Poole as the head of the second Mars mission, explaining to her that her advanced qualifications would be handy in exploring the question of life on Mars and other scientific advancements once Ed Baldwin is successful in accomplishing the first Mars mission and setting everything up for the backup crew. While Dani is angry at being thrown to the wayside in favour of Ed, primarily because she suspects Ed and Molly’s having a prior relationship as friends played into the decision, she accepts her role as head of the backup crew. Ed, on the other hand, is visibly emotional when he is finally informed by Molly about his selection, with the important three-word advice: “Don’t fuck this up.” The underlying commentary here, the selection of Ed Baldwin over Dani Poole, will evolve from subtext to visible text a few scenes down the line, but it also shows the advantage of strong networking, which Ed takes advantage of when he calls Kelly, his adopted daughter, who is currently leading a research expedition to Siberia to research bacteria living in inhospitable conditions. Ed informs her of his still-unannounced promotion and offers her the job of chief research scientist on his crew. It is interesting to see the Apple message pad being used as a communication device, reminding you that while technology has progressed in some aspects, it is still the 90s. Kelly accepts her father’s offer, because why wouldn’t she? While researching microorganisms’ survival in inhospitable conditions is interesting in the land of extreme cold like Antarctica or Siberia, to logically extrapolate that research to the Red Planet is a chance she wouldn’t want to pass up on.

For Dani Poole’s family, the reaction is a mixture of sadness and relief. Sadness because they knew how much she wanted it, but relief because the unforgiving nature of space was a hard realisation Poole’s entire family had to go through at the Polaris Hotel. Like Poole says, “It’s real now, I get it.” Her husband too offers a logical compromise. Dani’s expedition for the second Mars Mission a few years down the line would ensure that she had enough time to spend with her family and see her son graduate from school. Her son, though, is not one to mince words, stating, “They picked the old white guy, shocker.” Subtext slowly simmers into the text.

Speaking of subtext slowly simmering into text, we see presidential candidate Ellen Wilson talking with her husband Larry about the ideal candidate for Vice President on her presidential ticket. Their marriage in the show showcases a successful lavender marriage working against all odds and navigating questionable politics and issues within the governmental system so that the coast is clear for Wilson to become the President of the United States. If that meant selecting a candidate who believed that Mars is in the same orbit as Earth and is filled with canals of water, so be it, because his affiliations with the conservative sects would shore up Ellen’s weaknesses, making her presidential ticket the delectable one for voters to back. A few scenes later, when Ellen finally meets with Governor Bragg, who Larry had mentioned, there were strict conditions broached by her, which the Governor game-fully accepts for a Vice-President-ship because, according to him, “For too long, the Republican party has been represented by men like me.” A strong, almost utopian sentiment. Whether that sentiment will hold once Wilson’s sexual identity comes out to the world (and it will, because the show has been building up to an acceleration of social and technological policies) remains to be seen.

Things finally take a turn when Margo Madison returns to NASA and is informed of Ed Baldwin’s appointment as head of the Mars Mission, a decision which had been expressly against her orders and which completely blindsided her. When Margo goes to confront Molly about it, Molly expresses her concern about the astronaut selection committee, a committee she believes is made up of stooges all loyal to Margo. This she believes is completely indicative of Margo’s controlling behaviour, whereby she has been cutting the legs off all the departments for the last ten years. Margo’s counter of NASA is not the same as during the 60s, and trying to bring every department under a united front falls on deaf ears. As Molly refuses to budge from her decision, Margo too does the unthinkable and yet inevitable and fires her, to Molly’s disbelief.

Margo then continues her cleanup by calling in Ed Baldwin. Disinterested in listening to Ed’s point of view concerning his daughter’s capabilities, Margo informs Ed that he is out, and Dani Poole is the agency’s choice to lead the Mars Expedition. Ed, in disbelief and anger at being “jerked around,” asks why Molly isn’t the one to break the news and is given the news that she doesn’t work at NASA anymore as of this moment, with the selection of the astronauts now being overseen by a selection committee.

Ed’s indignation and anger at NASA finally being overrun by pencil pushers and sycophants instead of astronauts who favored experience shows the organizational edict undergoing a sea change, a concerted effort at being different from “The Boys Club” of the 70s and 80s, and relics of the bygone era like Ed Baldwin would be left on the wayside in favour of multidimensional participants like Dani Poole, irrespective of color and gender. Dani Polle is interrupted from family time (seeing battle bots on TV) by a telephone call from Margo informing her of her selection as the commander of the Mars mission. Happiness is tinged with melancholia as a counterpoint to the sadness and relief experienced by Dani’s family a couple of scenes before. The melancholia bleeds into the next scene as we see Molly and Ed share a last drink as they bemoan the current state of NASA as not being “the agency they had signed up for”. Nostalgia for the “good old days” is the only anchor as the train of progression moves forward without a care in the world for those it leaves behind.

Ed’s drinking and wallowing in sorrow continue as he meets Dani at The Outpost. This scene works as a parallel to a previous scene when Ed met up with Dani to tell her the good news about his selection. Dani had been reserved, dignified, and yet still maintained that competitive streak, as she had wished Ed to be careful and not die there. In contrast with this scene, where we see the tables have turned. While sympathies are with Ed because of the comedy of errors that have occurred, Ed, instead of congratulating Dani for the position she rightly deserves, calls out her selection as being dependent on “other factors”. It is a disappointing route for Ed’s character to take. However, it also tracks with the character we have seen throughout the run of For All Mankind, while also reinforcing the “greatest generation” of “The Right Stuff” to reminisce about days already lost in the ether of memory.

One of the worst subplots in For All Mankind Season 2 was the relationship between Karen Baldwin and Danny Stevens, the son of Gordo and Tracy Stevens. Notwithstanding that Karen knew Danny since he was a little kid and, thus, a sexual relationship is, in a colloquial term, exceedingly icky. It is also one of the worst because it reminds you of the writers’ inability to write a compelling character arc for Karen in the previous season. The advantage of a time jump could have been that the storyline was nipped in the bud, but that was a lost cause. In the first episode, we see Danny playing the cover of “Don’t Be Cruel” for his and Amber’s first dance. Danny had danced with Karen to the tune of the original Elvis classic before that flirtation had led to consummation, and we echoed the same set of expressions we had seen on Karen’s face-he is not over her, and viewers would have to suffer through this plot thread. And suffer we will, because we see Danny meeting with Karen at her office, which she is cleaning out.

Danny had come to pick up his mom’s souvenir from the late Sam Cleveland’s office (Tracy Stevens’ ex), and while their conversation starts and concludes innocuously, Karen broaches the question we had been dreading. Why did Danny play that song? Danny dismissed it by saying that his wife Amber also liked that song, and both Karen and the audience breathed a sigh of relief. But of course, we spoke too soon. Because immediately, we see Danny returning, distraught and confessing that he is not over Karen, that marriage has not dimmed his passion for her. Karen’s staunch refusal to even entertain this notion enrages Danny, who asks whether it is Ed, and what Karen sees in that old codger. But Karen, determinedly and finally slapping him straight, tells Danny that this is over and he should go home to his wife. We learn that Danny had been on a drunken spiral in the last 10 years, had called Karen in the middle of the night, and had even wound up at her house drunk, in the middle of the night. But finally, Karen puts her foot down, stating, with no uncertain terms, “You have to move on.”

For All Mankind Season 3 Episode 2

But Karen’s role as caretaker for Baldwin and Stevens won’t end if the writers have anything to say about that. We see Ed having driven drunkenly to Karen’s mansion (The last 10 years and the expensive buyout have helped her. Not to mention “The Outpost” restaurant having become a national franchise must fetch a pretty penny) and crashed his car at her gate. Karen rushes out and invites Ed into the house. As we see Karen tending to his bleeding hand, we hear Ed reminiscing about him pushing 70, but refusing to be accepted as a geriatric. Karen too reminisces about how Polaris was supposed to be the start of a new chapter, but now it’s gone. The start of a new tomorrow hasn’t been very auspicious for the Baldwins so far. We are led by the revelation that Ed, during his first year at Indianapolis, had entertained the idea of becoming an engineer, but described the process as “pure hell”. He just didn’t do it because he wanted to fly. But he wonders about his legacy as a test pilot, beyond having a couple of medals. Because being a civil engineer meant that he could have at least built a bridge, something that would last. This proclamation dovetails nicely into Karen’s masterstroke and the final inciting incident of the episode.


We see Karen entering Helios Aerospace headquarters, a very futuristic office space ideal for a “visionary” like Dev Ayesa. We see Helios’ office designed in the modern Silicon Valley office structures, with comfortable chairs and non-separate office spaces, and Ayesa states, the lack of a hierarchical structure and more of a collective structure. Karen asks whether they have chosen a commander for the Mars mission, to which Ayesa answers in the negative, revealing that the Helios spacecraft (the retrofitted Polaris) would be mostly automated, and the human souls on the ship would be mostly “caretakers.” But Karen elaborates on why Ayesa and Helios need an experienced leader on the ship, one who can improvise on the fly when something goes wrong out there, and whose very presence could galvanize the entire country, and she presents Ed Baldwin as the prime candidate, citing his reasons as being unhappy with how NASA is currently run and thus looking for his next challenge.

What is interesting is what Ayesa does next, which is to call everyone to the floor of the office and present them with Karen’s offer. While there are a few snickers and jeers at an old white man leading this expedition, the majority of the “collective” agrees that a man of experience like Ed Baldwin would be tremendously beneficial to lead Helios’ first manned mission to Mars, and Ayesa agrees with the collective, much to Karen’s joy. As the episode ends, we see Ayesa announcing via a press conference Helios becoming the third participant in the space race to Mars, revealing their spacecraft termed Phoenix, their commander, Ed Baldwin, much to the shock of the higher-ups at NASA, utter disbelief for Kelly, and joyful glee from Molly, who hears this on the radio and cackles, “Go get ’em, Ed”.


The second episode almost unfolds like the beginning of a heist movie. Key characters are being moved, social issues are being tackled, and the universe is itself moving at a breakneck pace such that all these issues are getting accelerated by a good 15 to 20 years. The privatization of space with an Elon Musk-like figure revealing himself to be the third participant in the space race is an eyebrow-raising wrinkle, which is already going to substantially increase the stakes. With this avenue open, now the race is on with NASA as well as Helios to recruit as many astronauts as possible. The show is not averse to time jumps, so I hope we get to see the race start sooner rather than later. While not as exciting as the first, this is still an interesting table-setter episode with some significant character moments.




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