“Dad I love you. I love flying with you. I love flying because of you. But I’ve wanted to be an astronaut at NASA my whole life.”—Kelly Baldwin
Sometimes the things we want are just out of our grasp. The third episode of the new season doesn’t feature the big revelations and plot turns that we’ve seen, but it moves the ball forward as we have seen earlier in the season but it puts the focus on these characters and their personal struggles. One of the best aspects of For All Mankind is the way it builds up its characters, and more intimate episodes like this are how the ball moves forward.
It begins with Margo (Wrenn Schmidt) and her back-and-forth with Sergei (Piotr Adamcyzk). Their partnership began through mutual respect and admiration, but as we see before the opening credits, she wanted it to be more. We pick up with them at a conference in London in 1984. Then again in 1985 and 1988. Finally, in 1991, their hands nearly clasp, but the moment is missed.
As we get to the heart of the episode, we’re back in London in 1992. Margo and Sergei are again together, and this time they go to her room. It appears they’re about to solidify a relationship that goes beyond colleagues, and suddenly Sergei stops. We know from the pilot he is being pressured to use his connection to help Russia. This is a three-way race to Mars, and the Soviet Union is falling behind.
Sergei lays out his problem and the pressure he’s facing. He makes a big ask—that Margo share NASA’s engine design. She refuses. Then comes the knock at her door. It’s Sergei’s countrymen, who attempt to blackmail Margo. She’s unmoved. Then they up the ante, threatening to kill Sergei, even going so far as to nearly strangle him. Margo is left with a choice…
As she returns to NASA, Bill (Noah Harpster) is waiting in her office. She’s subdued, likely due to the events in London. Bill is looking at the photos in her office—images of the past that remind us of who Margo has been. Bill looks up and confesses he’s leaving NASA—and heading to Helios. Margo remains stoic as Bill departs. She looks at the photo, puts it down and sets a card on her desk. Her choice was seemingly made and this will certainly have grave consequences for Margo and NASA.
But Margo isn’t the only one to bid farewell to Bill. We move to seeing him bid farewell to Aleida (Coral Pena). He tells her it was nice to be wanted, and that she’ll be fine without him at NASA. Aleida had her own chance to join Helios, but unlike Bill she was able to resist the offer from Karen (Shantel VanSanten) and remain loyal to Margo.
But Bill and Aleida are hardly the only ones caught in the middle of a battle between the two Mars missions in America.
Kelly Chooses Herself
With Helios planning to go to Mars in 1994, the United States and Soviet Union quickly move up their timelines, too. That means the heat is on everyone to get going. Ed (Joel Kinnaman) tours the retrofit of Polaris, which stirs up painful memories for Karen. Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi) plans to automate all the controls, which disturbs Ed. When he objects and Karen backs his play, Dev stops the work and alters the plan. It’s a show of confidence in the leadership and experience of the mission commander, but who will comprise the crew.
While Karen is making a play for Aleida, Kelly Baldwin (Cynthy Wu) is making a play to get on the NASA mission. She approaches Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) and makes her pitch—despite the fact she already has a place on the Helios mission. Kelly wants to be her own woman, and that means flying—literally—apart from her parents.
Kelly lands the mission, and during dinner with her parents, she drops the news that she’s going to Mars—with NASA. Kelly worries it will upset her father. Instead, after her impassioned speech, Ed rises and gives his daughter a warm embrace. He finds the grace and understanding he couldn’t muster for his friend Danielle Poole the week before.
While Poole is gaining Kelly, her choice of Danny (Casey W. Johnson) as co-pilot turns out to be fraught.
Like Father, Like Son
Danny has had quite a season. He got married and saved countless lives in the pilot. In the second episode, he made a play for Karen, stirring up memories of their affair from years earlier. Turns out the breakup was less than smooth for Danny, who responded with some light stalking, alcoholism and a car wreck that nearly ended his life. He got himself together and got married to Amber (Madeline Bertani). Still, seems like he has a bit of his father in him.
We pick up Danny’s thread with him drinking and picking up a girl in a bar. As he’s about to cross a line, the police show up. Turns out Danny broke into his family home and ends up in cuffs. But when the police discover who he is, they do the old catch and release. Unfortunately, they call Poole.
She picks Danny up but recognizes the signs of someone spinning out. She won’t have it. She grounds Danny, hoping to save his life. But it cuts the wind out of his sails. Devastated, he heads home and is on the verge of confessing it all to Amber, when the phone rings. It’s Ed to the rescue… maybe.
Ed recruits Danny to fly the Helios mission, pitching the Baldwin-Stevens team that brings nostalgia to the early days of Apollo. Poole tries to warn Ed. She doesn’t want to see Danny implode, but Ed can’t hear it. He always had a weak spot for Gordo (Michael Dornan), and he shares that feeling about Danny. So, Danny is in the pilot’s chair for Ed, seemingly avoiding having to make the tough decisions. But will the gambit pay off?
The Race to Mars Commences
As is so often the case with this show, the closing of the third episode makes a monumental leap into 1994. We see Helios launch, with Ed and Danny driving the ship. We see Aleida is flight director for the NASA mission, which is also launching. And we see the Soviet Union launch, implying Margo must have given away United States’ secrets. The race to Mars is, quite literally on.
And, to top it all off, we close the episode with Margo getting a call from The President…Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour). The wild ride continues next week as we make our way to the Red Planet.
Episode MVP: Kelly Baldwin. It’s never easy to stand up for yourself, but Kelly knew what she wanted and took it. Her scene with Ed and Karen was the most emotional of the episode.
Episode Grade: B. It was a solid episode, but I think bigger things are coming.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.