Friday, July 1, 2022

For All Mankind S03E04: Happy Valley

© Apple TV+

For All Mankind shows us the first consequences of greed in space.
by Jeremy Fogelman

The latest episode of For All Mankind is called “Happy Valley”, named after the planned landing site on Mars, which is officially called Melas Chasma, one of the largest canyons on Mars and supposedly an ideal spot to land on. We mainly follow our crews in space as they head off towards Mars -- it starts with the three teams relatively close, although Helios is clearly in the lead with NASA in third and last place. We also see the seeds of the conflict to come as Dev offers the “first to Mars” bonus to be shared among everyone, but this hides the intense desire within him.

This gets shaken up when NASA amusingly plays a pirate chantey over the radio and executes “Operation Jolly Roger”, which isn’t piracy or sabotage, but simply the unfurling of a massive solar sail. It is a slightly hypothetical (but also one tried in the real world) method to use solar radiation to provide constant acceleration for a ship or satellite in space. So suddenly Sojourner 1 dips into the lead (with a gorgeous shot of the sail unfurled in space) and since there’s only so much fuel, there’s no way either the USSR’s Mars-94 or Helios’ Phoenix could possibly catch up. Or so it seems at first.

Dev immediately flails to provide possible solutions towards their likely loss, only getting shut down by Bill as being “incredibly dangerous” by the lifelong civil servant and scientist. The CEO throws stuff on the ground in anger and growls out that “First is the only thing that matters” -- a very ugly portent of things to come.

We actually also see a little into Ellen’s storyline, which is that she’s finding it difficult to make any effective changes in the government -- and likely, her own progressive ideals fighting against the status quo ones that keep her in the closet. On Earth, finding Helium-3 on the Moon (a commonly held position) allowing fusion energy to exist (which is a hypothetical idea in the real world) but by doing so, the “Eagle News Network” complains about the loss of oil and gas energy jobs.

And the younger Stevens brother Jimmy bonds with a protester girl named Sunny about being anti-NASA and discuss conspiracy theories about the “truth” of the Moon missions -- you know that can’t possibly go well. Another domino to fall later. We get a bunch of charming scenes of the crew of each ship showing off some personalities, like the nerds on Helios quoting Aliens and more embarrassingly, the fictional in-universe Love in the Sky which sets Danny off. It’s something that would’ve gone much worse if Ed hadn’t stepped in, but we also see more conflict when they are briefly at odds over Ed not following Dev’s orders. So Danny is a powder keg.

You know, the usual.

© Apple TV+

Also the usual is the Speaker of the House threatening to shut down the government if budget compromises are made, like using parts of NASA profits -- in annoyance, she heads off to JSC for a classic photo op which will clearly coincide with the most dramatic events so far (although we don’t know too much). This comes to pass when Ellen gets a call from the Russian ambassador that the Mars-94 is about to do something very dangerous, coming at the same time as Kelly gets a warning from one of the Russian crew that comes too late.

The Russians push their ship too fast and too hard, with Margo noting that their nuclear engines can’t handle the strain -- she gets a brief “you sure?” look, which means we can definitely say she leaked info to the Russians after all. And suddenly the engines on the Mars-94 sputter out and they have gone into full meltdown -- but that theme of greed comes back again and again.

Ed volunteers to take charge of the rescue mission, noting that they have more room and resources -- and of course, a great excuse to still come home heroes instead of second place finishers. But back at Helios, Dev clearly manipulates his people to agree not to rescue the Russians and leave it to NASA -- you can see that Karen and Bill are entirely not okay with it. Even so this still isn’t the shoe fully dropping.

Because Ed decides to screw the orders he finds ridiculous and tries to help anyway -- but Helios has sent a remote command to force them to stay on course toward Mars. It’s the last act of greed and ambition by Dev, one that may have directly led to multiple people dying for the sake of being first.

When NASA starts their rescue efforts, the old greed idea comes back as one crewmember takes footage of the Mars-94 in case they use the leftover Helium-3 fuel to get to Mars after all. But things go wrong and our people are too late to do anything about it -- Aleida notices the problem, but as they are over 5 minutes of radio speed away, it’ll be far too late to do anything about that.

And our unlucky camera operator gets horribly crushed by the upcoming Mars-94 shuttle, with at least one of the cosmonauts clearly also dead. And so we end with a terrifying cliffhanger in a nailbiter of an episode that kept its horrible, human theme throughout. The next episode is called “Seven Minutes Of Terror” after a real instance of space terror, so you know it’s going to be one not to miss. A really great continuation of this season so far, really setting things up to get even more dramatic.

Watch on Apple TV

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