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For All Mankind ends a hyper-tense season with a literal bang.
by Jeremy Fogelman
The latest episode of For All Mankind is called “Stranger in a Strange Land”, and there are a few connections to that concept, primarily our new North Korean friend. We see the NK ship crash land on Mars in February of 1995, a year before the rest of the gang shows up. The sole survivor of the two astronauts is Lee Jung-Gil, and we get a chance to know him over the course of an absolutely stellar opening sequence.
Watching him repeat the same phrase over communications that’s never returned, staring at a photo of his wife, and then finally, so desperate for human connection, he literally draws a smiley face in the dirt. We see him almost but manages to stop himself from killing himself, only to start crying at the horror of it all -- truly an affecting performance. Of course, that’s when he sees the rover arrive.
While the doctor warns that Kelly must deliver her baby in 24 hours or less, Dani and Kuznetsov try to figure out how to communicate or subdue the North Korean -- who is on different comms and still brandishing a gun in their direction. Dani sees that smiley face and tries to mime the situation, while the Russian commander takes the opportunity to attack and disarm the North Korean -- pretty funny juxtaposition of choices, of course.
Back at base camp, Ed reveals he actually knows some Korean from his time in the Korean War (dude is old), so you’d think that would be thought of as a critical person to stay with Lee. Although they’ve been able to recover the MSAM, they simply don’t have enough fuel to get everyone back to the station -- unless they all literally stay behind except for Kelly and wait a year and a half to be rescued.
Initially Kelly is opposed to the crazy plan of “literally rocketing in space towards the station”, but realizes she needs to do it to save her baby. Ed plans to pilot, using the help of Molly Cobb giving her expert opinion in a video message -- it’s a funny cut back to NASA when Molly walks in the room to applause.
Of course, Danny asks to fly instead, admitting it was his fault, but Ed tells him it’s not how to absolve himself. So it’s off on the mission, and it’s a delightfully tense series of minutes watching Ed pilot into space, Kelly heading untethered to the station, and Ed spiraling towards the ground. Unfortunately this insane situation is only half of the storyline.
Back on Earth, Ellen gets threatened with impeachment by her VP, and she retorts that perhaps the Republican party “needs a little destroying”. There’s also a fun little moment where she speaks to Gorbachev who gives her the old Russian saying of “I ran from the wolf but into the bear”, very Russian. Otherwise the rest of her storyline ends with a lingering scene with Pam, where neither of them has any idea what to do next. As for the rest of her Presidency and her husbo Larry or their kid -- I suppose we’ll have to wait until the next season to find out.
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Elsewhere, Karen realizes she wants to be the Helios CEO after a talk with Molly, but then gets into an argument with Dev about it. She then successfully defangs him when he tries to use his cult leader tactics to rally his troops by mentioning pay cuts. Dev certainly feels defeated but... then there’s the rest of the episode.
Margo gets told by the Russian space director that they’ve discovered she’s under investigation, and thus we get a classic little ironic conversation with her and Sergei about seeing each other soon. After that, the tease of Margo dying was just that, a tease, and I knew after her big speech that she’d be fleeing. And we do get the nice moment of giving Aleida the room. I was only a little unsure when she did the “we’ll talk later” to Aleida which usually foretells people dying soon.
Unfortunately the stupid conspiracy hippies and their storyline come back, trying to manipulate Jimmy into helping them in what he finally realizes is way too far (with the help of a pleasant conversation from Karen). Karen foolishly investigates on her own -- I was asking the screen why she didn’t bother even asking a cop for help at a potential threat, but I know the real reason is that they wanted her to be killed in a sad, preventable way.
I can’t say I was happy about that death, but at least Molly’s was a real one -- a sacrifice that made sense and felt at least a little earned. I was more annoyed at the bait and switch behind Karen -- just two deaths this episode, and two old-timers from the first season with the two ladies. Kind of annoying.
Of course Ed does miraculously survive and has to hear the bad news about losing people while he’s away from Earth -- again. As the episode closes, we hear Aleida give narration and understand that life ends and begins -- with the shot of Kelly with her baby watching Mars from space. Foolish Danny is left by his lonesome in the NK shuttle where he can’t hurt anyone, and it’s almost enough to really feel badly for him.
Aledia talks about the Mayflower, about people feeling to escape their past, others to follow their dreams -- cut to a knowing shot of Danny watching a picture of Amber and their baby, just where Lee kept his photo. “Memories of those they left behind, they were able to overcome” -- we see Dani with her own pic of family and Lee finally watching a video from home with his wife, crying tears now of joy.
The final moments are Sergei in an American suburb, reading how the new space center is named for the late Molly Cobb, and then we get our classic end-of-season flashforward, this time to 2003 as “Everything in its Right Place” by Radiohead plays. And yes, there’s Margo, gray hair and all, watching the snow over Moscow. And for the rest of the gang, we simply have no idea.
Although the bomb thing presented a pretty terrifying situation, it almost felt like it wasn’t an interesting ending for the hippie storyline, which at first felt like modern shades of conspiracy theorists. It seemed more a tool to add more drama to the end, but I never got a good sense of those idiots other than their conspiracy nonsense.
Still, all of the Mars stuff worked well, daring rescues and exciting character beats -- and like I said, a truly great opening sequence about Lee. It’s the kind of thing easy to describe but hard to pull off. As a season I think the show really excelled, we had some great new characters to hate and love, the Helios and Russian folk, and fun science horrors to deal with. With a fourth season planned, the show gets ever closer to the initial idea and the actual present day -- it’s such a strong show, that I can ignore the little nitpicks and issues because it’s a cast of characters that’s somehow so large and yet so well handled.
I’ll be excited to see what new horizons they pursue next.
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