The following review is based on Episodes 1-9 of Season 2 of For all mankind.
Like every season For all mankind, Season 3 begins with another time jump, jumping forward another full decade and throwing us back to 1993. As the series deviates further and further from our own timeline into their alternate universe where the Soviets first landed on the Moon, the series also extends deeper. in the space. While the idea of privatized space travel is something rather new to us, in the For all mankind universe of 1993, commercial space stations are already part of the industry.
For all mankind succeeds in particular thanks to these great leaps in time. Starting the story in 1973 provided an opportunity to see where our timelines diverged, but jumping into Season 2 was refreshing to see what our protagonists had accomplished in a decade. This new leap into 1993 delivers yet another look, this time at a changing of the guard between generations. Like astronauts like Molly (Sonya Walger) and Ed (Joel Kinnaman) faced with the end of their career at NASA, we can see that the next generation is already taking hold. Aleida (Pena Coral) is now an established NASA engineer with her own family, Danny (Casey W. Johnson) gets married and becomes an official astronaut, just like his parents, and Kelly (Cynthy Wu) is heading into space.
While Season 2 certainly had its moments, like in the finale where Tracy (Sarah Jones) and Gordo (Michael Dorman) sacrificed themselves to save Jamestown, Season 3’s evolution by bringing in the younger generation fully delivers a thrilling look at the transition period between eras. While not everyone moves on, many characters from the first season have reached or are reaching the peak of their careers. Karine (Shantel VanSanten) runs Polaris, a space station. Ellen (Jodie Balfour) is running for president against Bill Clinton. Margot (Wrenn Schmidt) is now the head of NASA, although she still communicates with Sergei (Piotr Adamczyk) which can only be bad news for her. Danielle (Krys Marshall) was given command of the ship heading to Mars (much to Ed’s chagrin).
As the show gets closer to our current time, we start to see more and more familiar elements, as well as the result of being 20 years later in an alternate universe. A manned mission to Mars is organized not only by NASA and the Soviets, but also by the private company Helios Aerospace. The Helios leader is Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi), a character known as a tech genius. Part insensitive, part inventive, fully ambitious and eager to prove himself. While Dev is clearly allegorical with characters like Elon Muskher presence also marks a more sci-fi slant in the season, much like Karen’s destroyed space hotel, Polaris.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it seems inevitable that we’ll be looking at the “what ifs” of the future. The series is based on his performances. Kinnaman’s Ed is older and a bit more desperate, wanting to do one last big mission before he gets old from being an astronaut. Marshall’s Danielle takes on a stronger leadership role, one that takes her out of the orbit of a supporting and leading character. The dynamic between Danny and Karen has not died down, in fact, for Danny, his crush is still there even after his marriage.
The new space race to Mars offers plenty of room for conflict and the series picks it up and follows it. Not only is NASA competing with the Soviets, but both countries must contend with Helios, a company that is not bogged down by government bureaucracy. And, with Ed in command of the Phoenix ship of Helios, with his own team of astronauts, the journey and the mission are totally engrossing. There aren’t many conflicts on Earth that aren’t intrinsically tied to the race of Mars, and the few that are more alien like Jimmy, Danny’s brother, and his plot storyline. When faced with much bigger issues, the fake news angle and the conspiracy angle are a bit tiring and end up slowing down an otherwise exciting season.
Three seasons in, For all mankind makes a compelling case for its existence in the vast television landscape. A unique story that leans heavily not only on the #ForAll relationships of the characters with each other, but also on the line between history and science fiction that keeps me coming back to the series. The epic scope of space travel and exploration plays perfectly on the intimate relationship between these complicated characters. With a season 4 possibly in the future, this series is still going strong.