For the past three seasons, ever since Apple TV+ launched itself as a burgeoning streaming service, “For All Mankind” has been charting its course as the scrappy underdog alternate universe tale where the Soviets landed first on the moon, which forced the Americans to spend more money on the space program, leading to unforeseen changes in history through ripple effects as the space race never ended, and technology expanded. The magic of the show, with all its melodramatic efforts notwithstanding, had been to witness how the show chose to explore science and move from the edges to the deep end of hard science fiction.
And nowhere was it more evident in the previous season, which is both one of its most acclaimed and yet one of its most criticized. It simultaneously took the biggest of the swings (charting humanity’s next frontier, Mars) and also devolved into the muck of melodrama (the Stevens sibling subplots). But the show knew well enough the real meat of the conversation it was trying to engage with the audience—how much farther can humanity proceed, both to the farthest edges of the farthest frontiers as well as through the sociological case of harmony and unison? It is flawed but remarkable, ambitious, and yet fascinating. And while season 4 starts off admittedly more low-key than expected, it is no less ambitious than its predecessors.
For All Mankind (Season 4) Episodes 1 “Glasnost” Recap:
So, Season 4 takes place eight years after the events of the third season, and like every season, this one too has a lead-in filled with newspaper clippings and news footage splicing real-life footage with actors from the show to depict the alternate history with as much verisimilitude as possible. After the depiction of camaraderie amidst NASA, Roscosmos, North Korea’s Space Exploration Agency, and the private company Helios, the major countries of the world have joined hands together in the M-7 Alliance.
Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman), still alive but a little less kicking due to his age as well as his visible hand tremors, is now the XO of Happy Valley and the lead pilot of Ranger I, the ship responsible for bringing in Kronos, a mineral-rich asteroid that would be brought to heel under the Mars orbit and then extracted from its minerals. A Russian cosmonaut and one of the world’s most beloved, Kuznetsov, is now the lead of the ground team on Kronos, responsible for tethering the asteroid with its heavy winch-like machinery to the Ranger I.
Back on Earth, the NASA office is currently keeping in touch with the crew at Happy Valley, including Aleida Rosales, who is currently leading the “Thrust” team. NASA, too, is now being led by Eli Hobson, a heartfelt but very calculating man whose eye is on the bottom line as much as on NASA’s technical advancements, which would produce the flaws of that sector very quickly.
Happy Valley, on the other hand, has become a self-sustaining business venture, and it is enough of a lure for current oil rig worker Miles Hand (Toby Kebbell), now out of a job because of those oil rigs being closed down, to attempt an interview and get a job at the Moon base. However, because the moon base is a much more alluring prospect and thus the waiting period is over two years, Miles agrees to take a job as the deckhand (sort of) at Happy Valley on Mars, where he would be trained for over two years.
But the dark underbelly and why Miles is going to become an important character are revealed through the major, inevitable disaster of this episode as well as the small, incremental revelations in the aftermath. Kuznetsov might be leading the team for professional and scientific missions, but his two partners for the cause are Helios technicians—working-class people who are after “overtime” and hefty bonuses. However, their work is above reproach, and they have Kuznetsov’s respect, even though the abundantly clear class difference is not overtly talked about by the workers with the astronauts.
Thus, the inevitable happens, with the wires and the cables of the tether connecting Kronos to Ranger I starting to fail, and Parker (one of the Helios technicians) volunteers to go back out with Kuzentsov for on-hand repair of the winches. It is a risky maneuver, and Ed gives them a 30-minute window, but that is all for naught. The central tower starts failing, and Kuznetsov and Parker are both stuck between the struts of the tower, with Parker getting impaled by one of the floating metallic ropes of the tower.
As Ed tries to hatch a rescue plan himself to save Kuzentsov, Kuznetsov refuses, urging him to remember his mission to the ship. Both Kuznetsov and Ed’s histories are especially important for the resonance of that tragedy to impact, as Ranger I disconnects and leaves Kronos with the stuck Kuznetsov floating to his death.
Retired Astronaut Danielle Poole learns about the loss of Kuznetsov through the television forecast, which informs about the heartbreaking loss while referring to Parker as “Another Man.” As for the people at NASA, the effect of that disaster urges a traumatic flashback in Aleida of the final episode of the last season, where the explosion rocked the building, and she lost her mentor. This induces a panic attack in Aleida, who leaves her post and doesn’t return to her job for many days, dodging calls and lying to her husband about “working from home.”
But how about the mentor Aleida had supposedly lost? As we know from the ending of the last season, Margo is alive, though, like Ed, not exactly kicking. She has a limp, a tooth that needed to be checked out, and is trying to manage the cold in Russia as the 60-year-old woman under the assumed identity of Margaret Reynolds lives out her boring routine: having a pastry, reading the newspaper, feeding the birds, having a conversation with the owner of the newspaper kiosk, while keenly aware of being watched by the KGB agent from his apartment across her building.
Danielle Poole, meanwhile, learns of Kuznetsov’s death while attending Avery Stevens’ birthday party. Nary has Danny Stevens in sight, while Stevens’s brother is currently in jail (for the better, at least in terms of subplots). The loss of one of the closest friends she had while essentially being in a warzone-like situation on Mars hits her hard, and she finds herself going back to the JSC, now renamed the Molly Cobb Space Center, after the brilliant work of Cobb and her heroism, which had led to her passing.
Invited by Hobson, Dani is faced with the big question: whether she should take the post of Commander at Happy Valley and cut her retirement short. They need a steady hand up there, as well as a strong counter-foil to Old Man Baldwin, who had been up there way too long. Their conversation reveals that Hobson is more conservative than his predecessors, very much slashing the budgets of the space program, which will lead to some of the more minute issues soon to follow.
From a macro standpoint, the fact that, at almost 80, Commander Baldwin is still the XO is a cause for concern. It means that the number of qualified astronauts sent up there must not be enough, and considering that Danielle has been retired for seven years and is still being requested up there, it feels extremely disconcerting. Along with Ed’s avoidant nature of dry land for the past seven years, due to which he had missed meeting with Kelly and his grandson Alex, leaving them under the care of Alex’s grandmother from his Russian side, it feels like a familial feud that has been simmering close to boiling point. At any rate, Danielle Poole can’t resist the call for adventure again, and she takes off on the space shuttle to Happy Valley, which also contains our new protagonist, Miles.
The asteroid disaster had also presented a golden opportunity for Margo, back in Russia, to feel useful again. Before believing herself to be a useful asset, she soon finds herself being ignored by Director Catiche of Roscosmos. When she finally chooses to appear in person, Catiche’s assistant dismisses her, stating that it has almost been ten years and she wouldn’t be of much help as the designs had been updated. We finally see a dejected Margo sitting on her bench, feeding the pigeons, when an ordinary-looking woman sitting beside her strikes up a conversation.
Very much like a scene from a Le Carre novel, the woman urges Margo to have patience and bide her time before leaving her business card, which only has her phone number scrawled on it. Margo hides it in her jacket. The question arises: would biding her time suggests something major is about to happen? Another disaster or a regime change? While Glasnost in this alternate history feels like a more successful venture by Gorbachev, there are still dissidents in the populace.
For All Mankind (Season 4) Episode 2 “Have A Nice Sol” Recap:
This episode begins with the two audience surrogates as they both introduce and immediately let the audience perceive the class differences that had reared their ugly heads even though the planet is different. The astronauts are now the 1%, with the technicians relegated to second-class citizens. Miles Dale’s happiness and excitement couldn’t be contained as the lander containing the car that would take them to Happy Valley quarters started entering the atmosphere. He was trying to take a picture of the red planet. However, as Miles begins to learn about the machinations of Happy Valley, he finds himself disillusioned.
The budget cuts that had been introduced by Hobson to make sure that finances regarding NASA were more stringent ensured that “ancillary” jobs, according to Hobson’s prerogative, were shunted down to oblivion. That included working on the fuel line at Happy Valley, for which Miles had been hired, thus relegating him to a maintenance job at the Happy Valley Station. It also didn’t help that the bunker he had been assigned to belonged to Tom Parker, the “other man” who had lost his life along with Kuznetsov but who had not been credited or given his just dues by the outside world.
A similar rough phase occurred for Kelly Baldwin, who had been working and expanding on the research she had started back in the third season to find life on Mars. However, Eli Hobson pulled back funding for the project. The failure of the asteroid capture program had resulted in a reticence of funding, and thus Hobson chose to scale down on the interstitials. Thus, Kelly’s robotics project is delayed indefinitely. Back at Happy Valley, Miles slowly becomes disillusioned like the workers as the sheen of working on a new planet slowly fades away because the people inhabiting the planet still have the old classism within them.
The workers’ internet connection via the Wi-Fi in Happy Valley would not work so far below level. While the reason for the internet connection had been identified—the relay hadn’t been repaired since the accident, and Helios hadn’t sent any technicians up there—what damns the astronauts and Happy Valley personnel in front of the workers is the sheer lack of empathy they have for these people.
For people like Miles Dale, who had traveled 1400 miles (give or take) to another planet to work for their family as well as save their marriage, it becomes a disheartening process when they witness the astronauts talking with their family via video call seamlessly while they struggle to get messages and videos for the past two weeks. It also doesn’t help that their payment system is structured in such a fashion that the net amount Miles ultimately earns turns out to be less than the job he previously had on Earth. Meanwhile, the food and the coffee resemble sludge, a sharp contrast to the gourmet coffee being served to the residents above ground, as witnessed by Danielle Poole.
But Danielle is nothing if not a smart cookie. Her interactions above ground with the astronauts, as well as passively observing the technicians, made her cognizant of the class differences present among the citizens of Happy Valley. She realizes that Ed Baldwin, too, has a jaded opinion of these technicians, considering them as work for hire who are in it to make the buck instead of the astronauts who are here to serve their nation. But Danielle takes her first steps as commander of the base and orders some of the astronauts to fix the relay, ignoring the valid concerns raised by Ed because repairing the relay mid-space brings about its own set of hazards.
However, Danielle remains persistent in her efforts. Thus, when the relay is finally repaired, the internet connection becomes somewhat more equally distributed both below and above ground. However, one can surmise that this little act of kindness isn’t enough to combat the workforce’s disillusionment. As evidenced by the hidden bar in the workers’ quarter space, seeds of rebellion are already beginning to be fostered.
Back on Earth, Aleida Morales is going through her crucible. After taking a long break and realizing that she is kidding herself because she is ignoring her sleep and repairing television in the dead of night, she goes back to NASA with the intent of getting back to work. Except her trauma rears its ugly head again, and she decides she can’t work at NASA again. The woman who had wanted to work at NASA her entire life chose to walk away and quit. Moreover, Eli Hobson asking about her mental health and advising on counseling didn’t help matters. Drowning out her sorrows at the bar, Aleida meets with Kelly Baldwin, a similarly independent and intelligent woman finding herself lost after being shunted off her life’s work.
For Baldwin, the disillusionment with NASA is slowly starting to settle. For Morales, it is her method of finally reconciling with the loss of Margo and what Margo had done. This leads to the birth of a new friendship between two scientifically inclined, lost souls with a penchant for drinking like fish. As a result, the next morning, Kelly finds herself on the sofa at Aleida’s place. After reassuring her mother-in-law that she is okay, she walks up to the dining room to find Aleida already working on the next chapter of their lives.
She proposed to Keely to seek private funding, and while that will entail Kelly leaving NASA, which had been her second family, Kelly is also adamant about keeping working on her project. And she realizes that Aleida is supportive of her plans to find a new avenue in the private sector. Remember, we haven’t seen Dev Ayesa yet, who has launched his new robotics company, so it might be a possibility that this plot thread is moving forward.
For All Mankind (Season 4) Episode 2 “Have A Nice Sol” Ending Explained:
The final protagonist we shift our focus to is Margo in Moscow. Her morning showed the first break in her routine, where she only saw a ballet performance on her television but had no access to any other television channels. All the streets are empty, the telephone isn’t working, and to her surprise, the KGB agent keeping watch on her is absent from his post as well. Ambulances in the street stress her out, and she is also on edge at seeing the friendly baker unwilling to engage with her in conversation.
She sees a crowd in front of the newspaper store, where they want to shut it down. With only important stores (read, government-mandated) allowed to open, the people express frustration at the authorities, which creates a riot where Margo is caught in the crossfire. It’s an interesting question if the “big event” for which Margo is asked to keep her head down was the fall of the Soviet Union, but it turns out to be an interesting move. Let’s see where this goes.