“First is all that matters. First is what changes things.”—Dev Ayesa
When last we left, the year was 1994 and three different missions were launching towards Mars. As we pick up, it’s all about who’s in the lead. As Ricky Bobby once said, “If you’re not first, you’re last.” Those are words these three groups seem to be taking to heart. But as we open, the leader is the Phoenix mission from Helios.
Ed (Joel Kinnaman) is pleased, as is Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi) and the rest of the ground team. He’s also taking calls of congratulations, including from Danielle (Krys Marshall) and the NASA team. It seems that Ed will be the first to Mars, besting his friend and his former colleagues. But it seems NASA, with Kelly Baldwin (Cynthy Wu) leading the charge, have something up their sleeve.
Cue the pirate music and the secret weapon—solar sails. These sails put the NASA team back into first, but a measure of eight days. This rankles Dev but there is nothing that Phoenix can do about it. The Americans had an ace up their sleeve and played it at the right time. But will all be smooth sailing? If you’ve watched For All Mankind, this question answers itself.
The Kids Aren’t All Right
While Ed’s daughter is thriving, the Stevens kids are still struggling. Danny (Casey Johnson) is sitting second seat on the Phoenix mission, but he still harbors plenty of rage. When a crew member is goofing, reciting lines from the film made about his parents, Danny nearly takes him out. But Ed intercedes, exhorting Danny to be the bigger man. Will it work? Danny has real, deep-seeded issues. It seems unlikely they will magically improve, especially in space. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, Danny might be the more well-balanced of the Stevens kids. Jimmy (David Chandler) decides to attend a mass protest of NASA and ends up meeting a few new friends. We saw in the pilot that Jimmy isn’t near over his parents’ death. He’s looking for someone to blame. Finding friends that aren’t fans of NASA—and worse still have some conspiracy theories about the moon—seems like a recipe for disaster.
Wilson in Trouble
Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) is the President, but not all is smooth sailing. She’s facing political opposition—which could be solved if she’s willing to squeeze the profits from NASA. Wilson is resistant, but it’s NASA’s research that is both saving the environment and costing America jobs in the energy sector. To brighten her spirits, Larry (Nate Cordry) suggests a trip back to NASA HQ to celebrate the Mars mission. It puts her in position when the unthinkable happens.
That Race to Mars
Back to the main plot, the race to Mars. While NASA and Helios have been battling back-and-forth, the Russians have been stewing. Coming in last isn’t an option, and in their desperation they decide to fire up the engines, caution be damned, to get there first. The problem is that the engines can’t handle it. The Russian ship is in distress, leaving it to the other teams to perform a rescue. The problem is whoever makes the rescue will be forced to give up Mars and head home.
Trailing in the race, Ed decides to do the right thing and readies Phoenix to make the rescue. But Dev disagrees and, from the ground, seizes control of Phoenix, keeping it on course to Mars. He forces NASA’s hand, and Wilson responds by ordering the NASA mission back to save the Russians. It’s the right thing to do but it means that Helios will get Mars, just as Dev wanted all along.
Ed feels terrible, but Danielle takes it in stride like a good soldier. One of her crewmen—Rolan (Alexander Sokovikov) isn’t as pleased. He defected from Russia a decade earlier and fears the response from his former countrymen. Turns out that’s not the only issue. From the ground, Margo (Wrenn Schmidt) and Aleida (Coral Pena) realize the Russian ship is near failure. But a delay of more than five minutes means the message can’t get there in time.
In the middle of the rescue, the Russian ship breaks down. It collides with the NASA ship and its clear things aren’t all right. Sadly, in For All Mankind fashion, that’s where they leave us…
Episode MVP: Danielle Poole. It’s been a tough season for Poole, but she has handled it like a pro. She had her mission running smooth, won the race and was the bigger woman, leading the rescue mission.
Episode Grade: B. This one is solid but definitely left me wanting more.
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.