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For All Mankind - All In - Review

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Previously on "For All Mankind": Spurned by NASA, Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) teams up with his ex-wife Karen (Shantel VanSanten) and Helios for an ambitious 1994 mission to Mars. The move shocks everyone at NASA, including Johnson Space Center Director Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) and the captain of the planned 1996 mission, Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall). Of course, the government employees have little time to consider their options as they also compete in the race with another team from the USSR. Meanwhile, the second generation of space explorers are beginning to follow in their parents' footsteps to the launch pad. However, not only is Ed's daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu) clearly uneasy about joining her father in space, but Gordo and Tracy's son Danny Stevens (Casey W. Johnson) appears destined to struggle with just as many personal issues as his late father. Elsewhere, Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) gears up for a run at the White House.

One of the most saddening parts of "For All Mankind" is watching the characters we know and love grow old on the screen before us. For the space explorers like Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger, who is now noticeably absent from the opening credits), it's the inevitable loss of their wings. However, for the ground crew and bureaucracy behind the operation, the passage of time is no less disheartening. Take for example, Margo, a woman who commits very little activity outside of her time at the office, and who has dedicated her life to a cause that will, if everything goes according to plan, outlive her and everyone she knows. It is for this reason, that it's so tragically frustrating to see Margo suddenly embark on a path of heartbreak and embarrassment. After years of quiet, researched-based rendezvouses, Margo finally decides to take her relationship with Sergei Nikulov (Piotr Adamczyk) to the next level. Sadly, just as she becomes comfortable with this notion, the KGB reveal themselves.

Considering this show already features a rather annoying dysfunctional relationship (Danny and Karen), it would have been fairly easy to initially dismiss this storyline outright. However, with Margo now directly under the proverbial thumb of the KGB, I'm genuinely curious about where this story is going. In past decades, Margo has taken a fairly black-and-white approach to moral compromises of any nature. For example, when she learned that her mentor Wernher von Braun (Colm Feore) developed rockets for Nazi Germany with the knowing assistance of slave labor, she quickly dismissed him. Now, decades later, Margo finds herself in a very different situation, but one that also requires a dramatic balancing of scientific progress and moral trueness. It's a compelling move for a character that has otherwise remained static in many ways throughout the first two seasons.

Of course, Margo is hardly the only character introduced to an important fork in the road in this episode. This is also true of the show's youngest generation. At this point in time, Aleida Rosales (Coral Peña) has worked at NASA for about a decade, where her extreme levels of dedication to the program have led others to view her as Margo's heir apparent. When presented with an extremely lucrative offer to join Helios, she quickly rejects it. This scene works well on a number of levels. For one, it's certainly nice to see Aleida maintain her loyalty when presented with such an undeniably attractive alternative, and this response really shouldn't come as an enormous surprise to any longtime viewers. However, Karen's position as a talent poacher is actually the more interesting of the two. Helios certainly appears more capable than the budget-stripped halls of NASA, but certain details like their antagonist hiring strageies and Helios CEO Dev Ayesa's (Edi Gathegi) too-easy submission to Ed's demands paint the company in a markedly nefarious light. The future of space travel almost certainly lies with the efficiency of a private entity, but I'm simply not sure Helios is the one best suited for such a lofty presence in the history books.

Elsewhere, rather like the Skywalker family in "Star Wars," the next era of space travel is quickly being populated by people with the surnames of "Baldwin" and "Stevens." Although Kelly's rebellious ascendency to space traveler makes perfect sense, Danny's inclusion in this role feels extraordinarily repetitive. Just like his father before him, Danny struggles to stay on the path of the straight and narrow, overindulging in alcohol and cheating on his wife. However, despite his many public and private failings, he is continually rewarded. In the past, Ed was always around to bail Gordo out. In this episode, Danielle does her best to correct the behavior by temporarily benching Danny. However, after only the slightest bit of struggle, Ed steps in to save the day. After it's all said and done, Danny learns nothing, except that Ed will always be around to save him. Given Danny's current course, it seems inevitable that even more stumbles await. Let's just hope that writers have something more clever than a beat-by-beat repeat of Gordo's arc in mind.

Lastly, it's worthwhile to note the generosity of the two-year time jump at the very end of the episode. This move allow us to skip the entirety of Ellen's campaign in favor of her second year in the presidency, and it also grants the last few minutes of this episode an enormously exciting conclusion. Next week, we'll get to see the execution of a literal space race with three competitors rushing across the Solar System to the finish line. The real-life space race wasn't nearly as dramatic (or to Mars), but this is, after all, the sort of thrilling content that television does best.

Rating: 8.3/10 — An exhilarating conclusion isn't quite enough to earn this episode a score higher than the previous two episodes. The repetitive nature of Danny's current trajectory hurts the series more than it helps it, but there's also still plenty to like here.

Best Quote: "Now, let's kick their asses." - President Ellen Wilson

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