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For All Mankind - Seven Minutes of Terror - Review


Previously on "For All Mankind": It doesn't take an actual rocket scientist to know that when things screw up in space, the inherent dangers of the environment magnify the ensuing disaster tenfold. After attempting to rescue the troubled cosmonaut team at the end of Season 3, Episode 4 ("Happy Valley"), Commander Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall), Kelly Baldwin (Cynthy Wu), and the rest of the Mars-bound NASA team find themselves struggling with the aftermath of one such colossal mishap.
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Large parts of Episode 5 ("Seven Minutes of Terror") are the exact reason we all rushed to watch this show when Apple TV+ first announced it. All of the space drama is exciting, dramatic, and just plain awesome! No other show on streaming can match the joy of watching a dangerous mission on this series turn out successful. That being said, there are other parts of this episode that simply irk me. Let's hit the positives first:

The last few minutes of this episode make last week's cliffhanger seem like child's play. From the very beginning of this season, the idea of a true and genuine space race has intrigued me. Not only do these competitors rush to develop their space programs in parallel, they all three also take off at nearly the exact same time. After numerous complications along the way, it's all led to this moment, and it ends in about the most satisfying way possible.

The climax of this moment is brilliant not only because it's space and it's friggin' cool, but also because the journey is significant for both major players involved in the contest. For Danielle, winning the race to Mars makes all of her sacrifices worthwhile. All of the naysayers (including Ed) are now proven wrong, and it's a giant leap forward for her character. However, the same is also true for Ed, a man previously so driven by ambition that he needlessly hurt those closest to him (including Karen, Kelly, and Danielle). Presented with the opportunity to take a risk, Ed willingly steps back from the edge of history and opts for the safer route, a difficult decision, but one with which he is clearly already at peace. It's taken him decades to get over the experience of Apollo 10, but after essentially making the same choice on Mars, he seems to have turned a corner in a major way. Put simply, it's great storytelling when you can combine such important character development with such a cool moment.

There are also a number of great storylines unfolding on the ground in this episode. Having reluctantly fed the Russians classified information on NASA's nuclear propulsion system, NASA Administrator Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) finally has an opportunity to turn the tables on the evils of the KGB, at least for a while. As humiliating an experience as she endures in Episode 3 ("All In"), it's sure enjoyable to see Margo reclaim some sense of pride by eking out a small win in forcing the KGB to reunite her with Soviet engineer Sergei Nikulov (Piotr Adamczyk). Sadly, his return brings with it even more pain, and his sickly state leads me to believe that this particular heartache is only just beginning. Equally compelling is the growing distrust between Margo and Aleida Rosales (Coral Peña). Margo appears to have temporarily dissuaded her protege from digging into the NASA spy problem, but we all know that's not going to last forever. If Margo was still a youngster in the space program, she certainly wouldn't take no for an answer, and I have no doubt Aleida will follow those same steps. At some point, Margo may need to decide that trusting Aleida with a dangerous secret is better than keeping it from her. By that point, the only question that will remain unanswered is: What will Aleida do if/when she finds out?

And now, for the airing of grievances:

Forced to bury their dead in the open skies of space, the newly formed American-Russian team make for rather odd bedfellows (more on the literal version of that metaphor next week). Even stranger, however, are the members of the other space crew also barreling toward the red planet. Of course, this refers to the three most prominent members of the Helios team: Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman), Danny Stevens (Casey W. Johnson), and Nick Corrado (Daniel David Stewart), three men all with a wide variety of massive personal problems. Given his two-for-two divorces and tendency toward anger, we all certainly know that Ed has his fair share of issues, but he is also a tremendously effective leader. Similarly, Danny also very clearly presents a unique set of difficulties, but at least he appears to be a capable astronaut.

However, none of the above positive attributes can be said for Nick, who I believe to be one of the worst written minor characters to ever appear in a quality TV series. Whenever a writer needs something stupid and/or convenient to happen, they simply call on Nick, and he delivers. You need Ed to suddenly regain control of the ship? Nick can do that for you. You need someone to make Danny mad? Nick has it covered. You need Danny to stalk Karen (Shantel VanSanten) from space? Nick will give up that passcode without so much as a second thought. Unfortunately, the laziness of the Nick character seems to be only one symptom of the overarching problem faced by the series at the moment.

All of the fantastic space drama in this episode (and there is a lot of it!) is sadly weighted down by story threads that just sort of hang out in space like the recently deceased astronauts. Karen abruptly resigns her position at Helios and suddenly doesn't have anything to do, so she goes to visit with a pothead for an hour. Danny hasn't fed his obsession with Karen for a while, so he's going to spy on her calls to Ed and then vaguely taunt his mentor by bringing up his failed marriage. Sadly, these parts of the story just don't seem to have much direction. At this point, writers have been plotting out Danny and Karen for nearly a full season, and a quick search on Twitter reveals how many people think the storyline is equal parts silly and tiresome. Surely, there must be a good reason for it… Right? Please, tell me I'm right.

Rating: 8.9/10 - After all of that complaining, I'm still going to call this episode the best of the season so far. Yes, the Danny storyline is bizarre, lazy, and obnoxious, but finally reaching Mars simply delivers in every way possible, and it's friggin' cool.

Other notes:

-According to space.com, the name of this episode ("Seven Minutes of Terror") comes from a phrase that is often used to the describe the real-life entry, descent, and landing phase of Mars rover missions.

-Where on Earth was Molly Cobb in this episode? I recognize that Sonya Walger hasn't been listed in the opening credits since Episode 2 ("Game Changer"), but visiting with Wayne Cobb (Lenny Jacobson) really just made me miss her more.

Best Quotes:

"Mr. Kuznetsov, I am the commander of this vessel. From this moment on, your unrequested opinions are not welcome." - Danielle Poole
"I remember no such deal." - Grigory Kuznetsov (Lev Gorn)
"If you don't step your commie ass back from that hatch, I'm gonna come over there and smack you down." - Danielle Poole

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