Series Created by Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert, and Ben Nedivi — Available Now on Apple TV+.
For All Mankind is my favorite Apple TV+ show, which is saying something considering how much I absolutely love Ted Lasso. Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert, and Ben Nedivi’s historical fiction series started as ‘what if the Soviet Union had reached the Moon first and, as a result, the United States continued and accelerated the space race,’ and the second season explored this alternate history science-fiction by having the Cold War take place in outer space, essentially. If the first season was a ‘small step,’ and the second season a ‘giant leap,’ then this third season cements that the previous season wasn’t just a fluke. For All Mankind is still one of the best ongoing shows on any streaming service.
By just saying something along the lines of ‘alternate history sci-fi,’ my complete interest is awakened. As a history buff and a sci-fi fan, For All Mankind was built on an idea that was immediately relevant to my interests. As the show started, it was mostly a space drama concerned with an alternate history. Historical fiction, as they say. But as the show has evolved decades in-show have passed and now it feels very much like sci-fi.
At the end of season two, someone landing on Mars was teased, and so, naturally, this season is mostly concerned with a completely new space race, that is the race to Mars. In season three, the Cold War continues in space, while new technological advancements are made on Earth. This season takes place in the 1990s. The Baldwins — Karen (played by Shantel VanSanten) and Ed (played by Joel Kinnaman) — have split up. Karen is now in charge of a hotel in space, whereas Ed, along with Danielle (played by Krys Marshall), is hoping to be chosen for the historic NASA expedition to the red planet.
Meanwhile, Ellen (played by Jodi Balfour) has now become a Senator and she hopes to challenge Bill Clinton for the presidency, as she becomes the Republican nominee. However, it isn’t just NASA and the Soviet Union that are trying to make meaningful advances into space, now even North Korea is trying to launch rockets into space, and, to add to that, a private company — Helios Aerospace led by Dev Ayesa (played by Edi Gathegi) — has ambitions for space travel. As the race for the red planet intensifies, Margo (played by Wrenn Schmidt) — the head of NASA who is secretly helping her Soviet counterpart with their space program — overrules Molly’s decision on who should lead the NASA expedition, which gives Helios the opportunity to poach an experienced astronaut from within NASA.
In season two, my biggest complaint about one of my favorite shows of that year was the subplot concerning Karen Baldwin and Danny Stevens’ (played by Casey W. Johnson) fling. It felt beneath the show, to me, and I have to say that I disliked pretty much everything about that deeply wrong affair. I had hoped that the season three-time jump would mean that we could forget about that misstep. Not so. This season the Stevens sons take part in subplots that I thought were genuinely frustrating to watch at times. I don’t blame the actors, as they do a good job of selling the scenes, but the Danny subplot continues to be drawn out and feel forced. There are elements of it that work, but it was built on unsteady ground. Jimmy Stevens’ subplot feels somewhat realistic as it concerns the anti-space travel sentiments on Earth and anti-NASA conspiracy theories, but I just thought it was genuinely disappointing that they wanted us to believe that Jimmy (played by David Chandler) would want to question and damage his parents’ memory the way that he does this season. I mention this already because I want to get it out of the way because, frankly, everything else here really worked for me (even though I must admit that the make-up used to age up the main cast can only do so much).
I love the concept of a renewed space race to the red planet, as the show is genuinely thrilling when it takes the Cold War to space. It has so many suspenseful scenes far away from Earth, there are several unexpected space ‘action scenes,’ and again there are genuine surprises. The surprises aren’t unpredictable by any means, but they are delightful. The action scenes in space are really well done and at times quite shocking, and they continue to do a great job of balancing the suspense on Earth with the actions in space. With season two, I noted how its season finale was super suspenseful and tense and one of the best episodes of that year. Although I don’t think a single episode stands out like that in the third season, it is consistently strong from minute one. Also, I really liked that there were a couple of plot developments this season that had a tinge of comedy to them.
I also really must compliment the show on the choice to show how when America in-show has fallen out of love with space travel, private companies, as well as other countries, start to look to the stars. It feels really realistic to me, and I welcome the subplot focused on Helios, as it pushes the show in a new direction, which includes a lovely futuristic spaceship and a control room that kind of looks Star Trek-ie. Furthermore, I think this season takes us to some interesting discussions back on Earth, where Ellen has to figure out what her public stance will be on the fact that a NASA astronaut on his way to Mars decides to come out as homosexual. The show continues to put its main cast in interesting predicaments, and I like how this season was planned out. I also think the show sets up the fourth season in an interesting way. There are some huge changes on the way. So the next season can’t get here soon enough.
Once again, For All Mankind didn’t disappoint. It continues to be one of the best streaming shows out there and is arguably the best show on Apple TV+. It deserves so much more attention than it is getting. Admittedly, it must be said that it has carried over my issue with season two to season three, but, at the same time, it is still an epic, suspenseful, and ambitious show about space travel and the people – at home and in space – who can make it happen. If you like science fiction, space, or alternate history stories, then this is still a must-see show.
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.