For All Mankind brings science fiction to an alternate version of history and the space race. In this series on Apple TV+, the Soviets won the race to the moon. The fallout from that caused much of the action in the space agency, NASA, in the years following.
For All Mankind is similar to the scifi series The Man in the High Castle. Both make significant changes to history while invoking familiar aspects of history to tell a story. Both put women in leading roles. Both create plenty of interpersonal drama to motivate action.
Joel Kinnaman as astronaut Ed Baldwin is the lead character. It’s a large ensemble cast behind him with many intertwined storylines. Karen Baldwin (Shantel VanSanten) as Ed’s wife carried a lot of the drama. The story is set in NASA headquarters in Houston and, of course, in space and on the moon.
I lived through the 60s and all the space launches and I remember that time vividly because I was fascinated by all of it. In grad school, I even took an aerospace workshop that included a trip to Houston and a tour of NASA. Let me point out right away some of the things that are fictions told in this alternate history of space travel.
The US never built a space station on the moon to mine for ice – nor did the Soviets. Russia was not first on the moon with a woman cosmonaut being the first human to step on the moon. The space program wasn’t under Nixon’s presidency. Ted Kennedy was never president. The ERA never passed (yet!). Apollo missions did not number into the 20s. There’s more, but you get the drift that this is fiction.
Early in the 1960s, women were admitted to astronaut training because the Russians had sent a woman to the moon. This didn’t sit particularly well with the men. This tough and courageous group of women were the reason I kept watching.
Gordo Stevens (Michael Norman) was another of the men. Gordo’s wife Tracy (Sarah Jones) became an astronaut herself. Deke Slayton (Chris Bauer) was in charge of everything and decided who would fly in each mission.
Women were in positions of importance within the command center as well, particularly Margo (Wrenn Schmidt). Margo was a protégé of Wernher von Braun (Colm Feore).
Margo became entangled with a young Mexican immigrant named Aleida Rosales (Olivia Trujillo) who was brilliant at math and physics. Aleida was a minor character in season 1, but I look forward to her having more impact in season 2.
Margo was a workaholic with no friends and no social life. She played piano in a local jazz club as her only release.
All the men were married with children. On days when the launches were televised, the families all gathered to watch together. The women were expected to show no fear and keep calm, no matter what blew up, failed to ignite, or took off in the wrong direction.
All the women astronauts were married except Ellen Waverly (Jodi Balfour). Ellen was in love with the bartender at the favorite hangout, Pam (Meghan Leathers). This fact would have cost her career if it had gotten out. Larry Wilson (Nate Corddry), a gay engineer working at NASA, had a similar problem. Ellen and Larry pretended to be a couple.
The astronaut Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) was recruited from among the “computers” we learned about in Hidden Figures. I thought that was a nice touch. All the women characters were well written and engaging. I find myself thinking about them and wondering what the new season will bring.
The scenes in space and on the moon were good. Some of the things that happened in space must be impossible, but they looked good while they were happening. The set that represented the moon was well done. The actors didn’t have much help pretending to move around in lower gravity while on the moon, however.
Meera Menon directed 2 episodes of season 1, the only woman director. There were two women on the writing team in this series created by Ronald D. Moore, Ben Nedivi, and Matt Wolpert.
Season 2 of this dramatic space opera begins soon on Apple TV+. It will be a weekly release of new episodes. I’ll definitely be watching.
Have a look at the preview of season 1 of For All Mankind.
Have you watched season 1? Are you going to watch season 2?