For All Mankind kicks off its third season with a reminder that’s it one of the best sci-fi shows on TV.
by Jeremy Fogelman
As we start Season 3 of For All Mankind with the premiere episode of “Polaris”, the show once again shows us a jam-packed little montage of the ten years since the end of Season 2. Of particular note are Gary Hart actually winning the election in 1984, maybe because it was too early for the sex scandal that made him drop out. We also see things like a lunar peace treaty, a booming Soviet economy, breakthroughs in nuclear fusion technology, a Beatles reunion tour, the US planning a mission to Mars in 1996, a now Senator Karen running against Clinton for President, and blink and you’ll miss it, North Korea switching from nuke research to space research.
That little detail will make all the difference in this episode. We join many of our old friends on the new space tourism station Polaris, run by Karen and her now husband Sam (Tracy’s ex, the really rich dude). The big event we’re there to see is new astronaut Danny Stevens (son of Gordo and Tracy, of course) getting married so everyone’s coming.
Ed comes with his new wife Yvonne, and Danielle with her new husband and stepson -- one of those relationships doesn’t survive the episode, of course. Back on Earth, Margo is still running NASA and trying Mars rocket tests with Aleida as the engineer, but she’s also casually going to dinner at Aleida’s home with her family. And more problematically, still an unrealizing asset for Sergei and the KGB.
Molly (now visually impaired with a guide dog) argues with Margo about who should lead the Mars mission between Ed and Danielle. Margo argues that Ed is on the older side and is more impulsive, while Danielle is the more cautious, scientifically capable. While Molly argues that’s precisely the reason he’s a better fit to get a ship there, while Danielle is better suited to running things once they’re already there.
It’s an interesting debate, but the big drama of the episode happens in two parts: One is Karen realizing that Danny is dancing in his “first wedding dance” to their song from ten years ago, and the other is that the station is hit by a piece of North Korean debris. Suddenly one of the rockets can’t be turned off and is going full speed, which means that the station will keep increasing in speed (while spinning) until the gravitational forces are so high that the station will simply rip itself apart.
The captain of the station tells us it’s 4Gs (or so) so we have a limit to consider and a ticking time bomb. The episode doesn’t skimp on the deaths though, losing two astronauts almost immediately and Sam later when the elevator crashes due to the elevated gravity. But son of heroes Danny does his own heroic deed and manages to save everyone -- and doesn’t die either, miracle of miracles (I though that would’ve been cheap if they did that).
We also get some interesting connections back to the Ed/Danielle debate, as Danielle is one of the guests first to notice something to wrong, seeing the wedding cake beginning to sink and feeling off, while Ed argues with his wife and injures his leg or knee. And that means he can’t be the self-sacrificing hero type this time, despite his best efforts. A good way to show the capabilities and differences between the two of them.
Although it is a “ticking clock” episode it’s a pretty compelling one, showing us glimpses of all our pals ten years gone by, and it’s a very tense, action-packed episode to get through. A great opener to season three, I think, and a good omen for the extreme 90s season of For All Mankind.
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