REVIEW: For All Mankind – Season Two (2021)

“For All Mankind,” now streaming on Apple TV+ — Photo: Apple TV+.

Series Created by Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert, and Ben Nedivi — Available Now on Apple TV+.

In Additional Bite-Sized Reviews, Feb. ’21, Pt. II, I wrote about my experience of finally binge-watching the entire first season of Apple TV+’s For All Mankind, which was originally released back in 2019. The alternate-reality angle of the show was what had originally made me interested in the show, and, ultimately, the execution was what kept me hooked throughout the solid but somewhat bumpy first season. To reiterate, the show is, essentially, ‘what if the Soviet Union had reached the Moon first and, as a result, the United States continued and accelerated the space race.’

There was a subplot that didn’t work for me all that well and, in general, the show was perhaps a little bit too slowly paced in its first season, but if you stuck with the show you were given a lot of really neat science-fiction, space, and alternate history tidbits to make you fall in love with the show. And fall in love, I did. However, I did note that it may have been harder for me to be hooked by the show if I had watched it week-to-week, which I would have to do with the second season. Thankfully, I thought that the second season embraced the alternate history angle of the show even more, which made the second season so much more involving than the first season had been. Although one subplot involving Michael Dorman’s Gordo Stevens did move a little bit too slow for my liking, I thought that the payoff for that subplot was breathtaking and more than worth it.

With the second season there is a significant time jump, which means that the show now takes place in the early-to-mid 1980s, and, although not all of the characters look like they have aged sufficiently, the writers of the show, for the most part, did a good job of shifting the characters into new roles. The second season is all about the intensification of the Cold War, and it always feels inevitable that battle lines will be drawn on new ground. But it is so refreshing for this plot to mostly revolve around space exploration and expansive bases on the Moon. It feels more like science-fiction than it ever has, and the show doesn’t seem ashamed of accepting science-fiction concepts, which makes me very excited for future seasons. Since this is an alternate-history show, we absolutely never know if things will turn out well for our main characters, or, indeed, the world of the show, and that makes it genuinely thrilling.

Indeed, the second season finale — The Grey — is one of the most tense, breathtaking, and moving episodes of television that I have seen in quite some time. It balances several plotlines that all feel pivotal, connected, and dramatic, and, when the show reaches its crescendo, the second season finale more than sticks the landing. Like I wrote on Twitter, it’ll definitely go down as one of the best episodes of any show this year.

But, alas, not everything about the second season worked, and, really, the one significant problem that I had with the show was that the major subplot involving Shantel VanSanten’s Karen Baldwin, who starts flirting with Casey W. Johnson’s character, didn’t just ‘not work for me,’ I actually think it felt dishonest to her character. It’s clear that the writers wanted to show what grief had done to the Baldwin-marriage this season, but this Karen-subplot just felt wrong to me from start to finish and even somewhat contrived. Thankfully, in the second season, I warmed up to the Aleida-subplot, which had previously not worked for me.

I think it’s fair to say that Apple TV+ is still playing catch-up with major streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+, and in that race they need must-watch content for a wide-variety of audience groups. While they may both still be too niche to appeal to mass audiences, with Ted Lasso and For All Mankind Apple TV+ is starting to stock up on good-to-great television shows. So, if you have an Apple TV+ subscription, then now absolutely is the time to start watching For All Mankind, because this season proved that the show-runners are willing and able to go exactly where you’d want this type of show to go. This season was, honestly, the ‘giant leap’ forward that genre fans such as myself hoped for, and if the show can continue to deliver pay-offs that are as satisfying as the second season finale was, then the sky is the limit for this show.

A-

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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