In the season three finale of For All Mankind, President Ellen Wilson refers to John F. Kennedy’s famous speech urging America to pursue the moon (and other endeavors), “not because they’re easy, but because they’re difficult.” These historic words, spoken sixty years ago, are a neat encapsulation of this precise Apple TV Plus series designed in good faith to admire the wonder of people traveling into space.
Of course, show co-creator Ronald D Moore has form when it comes to highlighting the challenges of life on the last frontier. While he made a name for himself by working amongst Star Trek warp drives, transport beams, and palace spacecraft, his brilliant and bold redesign of Battlestar Galactica (BSG) made arguing over oxygen, water, and food supplies as much a part of the day – everyday life as being one step ahead of those pesky Cylons. NASA’s more optimistic approach to space exploration in For All Mankind may be light years away from the brutal BSG war, but it still cannot be denied that space travel brings with it the added thrill of danger and excitement as heroes float a glorified can in the air.
However, For All Mankind is about more than just living in a hostile environment. If you haven’t yet delved into this particular jewel in the crown of the Apple TV Plus, you’re missing out because a brilliant three-season 30-episode saga awaits – and season four is already highlighted in green. The show presents a fascinating alternative story of the end of the 20th century, in which the Soviet Union defeated the United States to place the first flag on the moon in 1969.
In this version of the events, the relegation of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to second place turns out to be the spark that takes the space race to a new level of competitiveness. Where true American expeditions to the moon ended with Apollo 17 in 1972, in For All Mankindverse, NASA is racing against the Soviet space agency to establish a permanent base on the moon – pushing science and astronauts to the limit.
The show’s first season has unmistakable echoes of the 1980s science fiction movie The Right Stuff, as highly skilled, testosterone-powered test pilots – many of them relying on real astronauts – prove that going where no one has been before can be. a profitable position day. Making giant leaps for humanity isn’t always as much of a motivation as satisfying their rocket-sized ego, but just as they are the faces of the space program, For All Mankind also celebrates the geniuses behind the scenes.
To paraphrase Han Solo from Star Wars, traveling in space is not like dusting crops, and it’s the elite mission control scientists that really keeps NASA in orbit. Indeed, their problem-solving feats often resemble the Apollo 13 or Martians’ TV spin-offs, and their skillful application of complex mathematics is as exciting as the spectacular drama unfolding miles above them.
As season 2 leaps to 1983 – it’s a show that includes significant time leaps on many occasions – For All Mankind inevitably strays from the history books. As space travel comes close to routine, both the US and the USSR have significant lunar presence, a state of affairs that turns Earth’s nearest neighbor into the last frontier in the Cold War.
Despite ambitious timelines over the decades, For All Mankind keeps you engaged by focusing on the same characters at different stages of their lives. Sure, it lends credence to the fact that a few families can be so critical to NASA – the ubiquitous Baldwins are actually For All Mankind’s answer to Skywalkers – but this sophisticated soap opera holds you in suspense. Even as season 3 ventures further into science fiction territory with a mission to Mars, it’s the mundane, human elements of the story – tragedies, romances, down-to-earth collisions with the extraordinary – make the show believable and grounded.
But for all the twists in the story you remember, For All Mankind doesn’t change everything. The soundtrack is filled with recognizable, era-defining melodies, and several historical events play out exactly as they did in our reality – even if there is another person in the White House who can deal with their aftermath. The show’s retro-futuristic technology also feels refreshingly familiar, although this turbocharged space race has greatly accelerated development to the point where video calling is fairly common in the 90s.
Building better worlds
Ultimately, the main goal of the show’s mission is to show us a better version of our world. That doesn’t mean everything in the epic For All Mankind “what if?” there is sun and lollipops – in fact it would be a huge disappointment if the show of the man behind Battlestar Galactica did not have a full palette of shades of gray. But beyond the still seething tensions of the Cold War, dirty political tricks, blackmail, espionage, and corporate quarrels, there is optimism at stake.
Sure, astronauts aren’t saints – a selfish, intimidating Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) would be a nightmare to work – but they celebrate an environment where teamwork and trust are essential. And despite a few stumbles along the way – For All Mankind makes it clear that whatever timeline you live in, you should never trust a politician – this parallel universe is much more progressive than the real 20th century when it comes to representing women, color, and community LGBTQ +.
This program is driven by Doc Brown’s old mantra that “If you put your mind into it, you can achieve anything.” We may not live in the utopian world of flying cars and inexpensive space tourism imagined by optimistic futurists in the 1960s, but For All Mankind is the next best thing. Striving for a better world can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.
All three seasons of For All Mankind are now available for streaming on Apple TV Plus.