‘For All Mankind’ Episode 4 review: now we’re getting somewhere

For All Mankind poster

We’re not quite halfway through For All Mankind, Apple TV+’s sci-fi/alternate history drama, but things are definitely getting interesting.

  • Directed by: Alan Coulter
  • Written by: Naren Shankar
  • Episode: “Prime Crew”

[Editor’s NoteThis post will contain spoilers for Episodes 2, 3, and 4.]

Developed for TV by Ronald D. Moore, among others, For All Mankind is a look at how an alternate history global space race might have gone down if the Russians were the first to reach the Moon and not the United States. It has an impressive cast, an impressive budget, and, thankfully, gets even more worthwhile as each episode has gone along — so far.

The story so far

We’re now at episode 4 and I realize that we skipped two and three, so I’m going to give you a brief recap of what you might have missed since Episode 1:

Episode 2 was all about NASA continuing, and, most importantly, completing its mission to get Apollo 12 on the moon. With that accomplished, the U.S. space program still sees itself “in the race”, and therefore things must push forward. Complicating things a bit is the discovery of blueprints that suggest the Russian government is planning on finding a suitable spot on the moon to build a military outpost.

So, of course, U.S. President Nixon decides that they need a space base on the moon, too, and that the U.S. needs to be first. That becomes mission critical at NASA, despite some individuals not particularly liking that plan of action. There is some government intervention, plenty of drama, and all the while we’ve got a secondary plot line that is starting to show the real heart of the show.

To that, in my review for the first episode I noted that there was an immigration story running the course of the episode in parallel to the stories of the astronauts, engineers, and their families. I noted in that review that it felt “random” at the time, but also said that it would probably play a big role in subsequent episodes.

That is indeed the case and honestly? I find it to be the most hopeful part of the show so far.

The second episode ends with the first woman on the moon, sent by Russia, which ultimately forces the U.S. government and NASA to change course drastically and start training female astronauts to land on the moon. That leads us into Episode 3.

With women getting the chance to go up to space, there are some obvious tensions. Luckily the show breezes through a “selection process” to find astronaut candidates, because otherwise it would’ve been a bit laborious had it gone any longer. But it does lead to one of the best scenes of the show so far, with Ed (Joel Kinnaman) and Karen (Shantel VanSanten) Baldwin discussing the ramifications of the female astronaut program over dinner.

Ostensibly, the third episode is about Tracy Stevens (Sarah Jones), the wife of Gordon Stevens (Michael Dorman) who is selected for the astronaut candidate program. Unknown to her, President Nixon has basically given orders to keep her in the program at all costs. And while she kind of figures that out as we go, the episode is really about finding one’s purpose again. Going back to doing what you loved once, and finding the drive to see it through.

It’s also about sexism and how women deserve to be in the same spaces as men. “A woman’s place is in space” becomes a sort of rallying cry by the time the episode wraps up. The one negative that I’d give this episode is the fact that the young immigrant from Mexico, Aleida Rosales (Olivia Trujillo) is not in this episode, and that feels like a monumentally wasted opportunity to show more of Rosales’s discovering hope in the space program and seeing women given that opportunity.

The latest episode

Okay, let’s talk about Episode 4.

Simply put, this show has found its legs. The writing has found a groove and each of the characters have come into their own. This is an alternate-history story, sure, but the elements baked into it all feel believable in the right ways. And while competition is definitely a driving element of this show, the fact that it leads to real change —tearing down the walls of racism and sexism, or at least attempting to— is a good thing.

“Prime Crew” sees those ideas through. The third episode ended with the death of one of the female astronaut candidates (Patricia Doyle), and that’s where we start with this week’s episode. The rest of the candidates work through the grief of losing one of their own, while Tracy Stevens works through her growing guilt that she might not be doing right by her kids as she tries to get to the moon — all the while trying to save the marriage to Gordon.

Ed Baldwin is shellshocked by the accident that led to Patty’s death. The effects are apparent right out of the gate, especially as he beats up a telephone into pieces, but more than anything else we see it with his son. Watching Baldwin try to teach his kid how to ride a bike after, as the instructor leading Patty before her fatal crash, is heartbreaking.

Meanwhile, John Glenn (played by Matt Battaglia) swoops in to try and “right the ship”, basically, and get Deke Slayton to pull the plug on the whole female astronaut plan.

The Russians are already ahead of the United States when it comes to laying the groundwork for a military base on the Moon, and, as such, pressure comes down on those at NASA to figure it out. President Nixon won’t accept a second place finish (again). This is proper sci-fi, grounded in real world events but also looking ahead, reaching for the stars you might say”.

Deke decides to pull one over the government mandates, though, and we see four female astronauts officially pinned. It’s a fantastic scene all around to watch as the next Apollo astronauts are presented in front of the cameras and the whole world.

I’m also just going to say it: the story of Aleida Rosales has become one of my favorite parts of this show. As I said above, the competition is driving change in this universe and that’s all well and good, but the real hope here is with Rosales. I can’t wait to see what happens next with this character (and her family).

Bonus points here: Molly Cobb (played by Sonya Walger) putting Ed in his place as he tries to tell her to “follow his lead” as they prepare to go up in Apollo 15 is good stuff.

For All Mankind‘s first episode might not have been the best thing since sliced bread, but pilot episodes of a series rarely are. That’s why we (hopefully) give them time to evolve and grow into something watchable. By the time “Prime Crew” rolls credits, this sci-fi drama set in an alternate history has given us yet another reason to stick around for another week.

Now we’re getting somewhere, and making our way to the end appears to be like it’s going to be very dramatic — but also a lot of fun.