“Sometimes you have to settle for what’s possible.”—Ellen Wilson
The dream of traveling among the stars has been a part of our culture for decades and whatever gains we’ve made have come at a cost. While For All Mankind is a fictional take on the space race, it’s grounded in reality. The space race of the series has always come with a cost—sometimes an extremely high cost—for all those involved.
At the outset of season three, Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger) noted that, “space remains an unrelenting bitch.” At the time, she used that as a justification for why Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) was a better choice to command a Mars mission than Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall). As it turned out, both ended up commanding a mission. And Molly was both right and wrong. Space is an unrelenting bitch, but it is Poole that has, time and again, proven the commander more capable of success.
As we left the last hour, Danny (Casey W. Johnson) had spun completely out of control. His lapses finally caught up, leading to a drill accident on Mars’ surface that injured Ed, among others. The aftermath was a landslide that, as the episode closed, seemed to threaten the lives of all on the ground.
When we join this week’s episode, things are grim. And yet, Alexei (Pawel Szajda) has survived. He pulls himself from the dirt on Mars, but soon finds a crewmate wasn’t so lucky. He finds one other survivor, but no sign of Ed and Danny, or the base they had entered prior to the landslide. At the NASA base in Happy Valley, the news hits hard. Kelly (Cynthy Wu) is rightly distraught. Cool, calm and collected, Commander Poole processes the information, gets her team in line, loads up their rovers and prepares to join the rescue.
With the American ship damaged and the Russian ship destroyed, the fate of all the Mars explorers is tied together. But is there time for a rescue?
Ellen on the Brink
The other cliffhanger in last week’s episode involved President Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour). With Larry (Nate Corddry) on the brink of being exposed, Ellen began to think about Pam (Meagan Leathers). By the end of the episode, Ellen had blown off a trip to go see her former love. Their reunion was tense and emotional.
Pam challenged Ellen and her hope for the future. She noted, with sorrow, that she’d hoped Ellen would use her platform to fight for those like herself who’d too long been forced to live a lie or denied opportunities. But it didn’t happen. Ellen, herself, has wrestled with this and confronted with a cold truth from “the love of my life,” it seems to rattle her further.
Ellen has long wrestled with her ambition and her joy. To this point, ambition has carried the day. But once you’ve achieved your dreams, you might find it wasn’t all you’d hoped. That seems to be the case for Ellen and it feels like she’s on the brink of a big moment of self-reflection and discovery. While the incident on Mars cuts her trip short, she’s not the same.
A Tense Wait
Karen Baldwin (Shantel VanSanten) knows what it’s like to wait for news about those you love, feeling powerless millions of miles away. With Ed and Danny missing, she goes to Amber (Madeline Bertani), who is distraught caring for a young child and dealing with a frightened and bitter Jimmy (David Chandler). This latest crisis involving his brother has stirred up brutal memories for Jimmy, who still doesn’t believe he’s being told the truth.
Karen finds a way to comfort Amber, knowing what it’s like to be in her shoes. It’s tougher with Jimmy. Eventually, it comes clear that Jimmy knows of Karen’s affair with Danny years earlier. It leads to a tense but beautifully honest moment as they wait for news from Mars.
Danny and Ed are alive. They’re trapped below a mountain of Martian soil, forced to face the bubbling tension between them. Ed is injured and struggling, while Danny is going through major withdrawals, and racked by built. Their bitter exchanges soon turn to painfully honest confessions. Danny has been struggling for a long time—longer than I’d even realized. His pain runs deep, as does Ed’s pain. Neither has been right since Shane died back in Season One. Here, seemingly on the brink of death, both come together in a deeply emotional and beautiful exchange. In that, Danny is nearly on the brink of sharing his deepest secret—his affair with Karen—when the situation changes.
At the second Helios base on Mars, the NASA team arrives. Kelly is overjoyed to see Alexei, and the two head out to search for Ed and Danny. They find the buried structure, but it’s a question of time as they seek to get them free.
Back on Earth, the combined powers of Dev (Edi Gathegi) and Margo (Wrenn Schmidt) hatch a daring plan to use the lava tube below, place a charge and hope to drain the Martian soil down, freeing the buried base and astronauts. Rolan (Alexander Sokovikov) and Will (Robert Bailey, Jr.) are able to set aside their differences to work together to drill the hole and plant the explosives.
The plan works. After seeing Danny’s confession cut short, Ed wakes up back in the Helios base. His wound has been repaired, and while weak he is alive. So, too, is Danny. But Poole delivers the painful news of those that were lost—including Alexei, whose initial survival masked a traumatic brain injury. Ed awakes to find Kelly broke and weeping, clinging to Alexei’s body. Soon, she collapses into her father’s arms.
Indeed, the cost of getting to Mars has been incredibly high. And it will likely climb higher as the remaining Russian team, Commander Kuznetsov (Lev Gorn) and Dr. Dimitri Mayakovsky (Goran Ivanovski) discuss the fact Kelly is pregnant, presenting the survivors on Mars, who are still without a way to reach their ship home, facing their greatest threat yet. It’s going to be a tense ride to the finish.
Episode MVP: Karen Baldwin. It was a tough choice, but I’m going with Karen. Her compassion, calm and brutal honesty reached Jimmy for the first time in a long time, while bringing compassion to Amber. She remains one of the strongest characters on the series.
Episode Grade: A-. The raw emotion was palpable. Tears were shed and I fear more 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.