The Cold War Heats Up In Our For All Mankind Season 2 Review - Comic Years
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The Cold War Heats Up In Our For All Mankind Season 2 Review

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BY April 28, 2021

Ronald D. Moore is one of my favorite television directors and showrunners, with diverse shows across his long career ranging from (the first) Battlestar Galactica reboot to Outlander. But his latest series For All Mankind has not quite gotten the buzz that it deserves. Perhaps this is due to the series airing on AppleTV+ – a streaming service that few people have. But if you need a reason to check out the offerings on the streaming network, For All Mankind is definitely worth a watch. (Also check out the wonderful Ted Lasso while you’re there. Unrelated to Ronald D. Moore, I just really love that show.)

Season 2 of For All Mankind wrapped up this weekend, and the finale was incredible. But first we have to talk about how the show got to this tense and tragic episode. Let’s take a look at what happened in season 2 of For All Mankind. Spoilers below for both seasons of the show.

An Alternate History of The Space Race In For All Mankind

For All Mankind Season 2 Image via AppleTV+

The premise of For All Mankind is fairly straightforward at its core. What would have happened if the Russians beat the United States to landing on the moon? This very thing happened in the first season of the show, and set up an alternate history that has interesting ripple effects. Some of the famous historical events we’re all familiar with still happened – JFK’s assassination and Beatlemania. However, other histories changed with things happening like women going to space early on, Bobby Kennedy becoming president, and John Lennon surviving his assassination attempt.

All of this makes for an alternate universe show that feels similar to our own world, but with some very different results. And perhaps the most major of these ripple effects is the Cold War. In For All Mankind season 2, the Cold War heats up drastically and the moon – as well as the space around it – becomes another battleground for tensions between the U.S. and the Soviets.

A Sprawling Ensemble Cast Of Characters

First we must look at the sprawling cast of characters in For All Mankind. There are a number of astronauts the show follows over the course of many years (there was a significant time jump between seasons 1 and 2 and there will be another in season 3).

For All Mankind Season 2 Image via AppleTV+

There is Molly Cobb played by Sonya Walger (LOST) based on a real historical figure – who becomes the first American woman to step foot on the moon. In season 2 of For All Mankind, Molly attempts a daring rescue of another astronaut during a solar storm. Exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, Molly tries to hide this secret from her colleagues at NASA. Soon she discovers that she has developed glaucoma as a result of her exposure, and is going blind. A terrifying prospect for a fighter pilot, and astronaut.

Ed Baldwin Remains A Focal Character In Season 2 of For All Mankind

For All Mankind Season 2 Image via AppleTV+

There is also war hero Ed Baldwin, played by Joel Kinnaman (Altered Carbon) who has been to the moon and back many times by the second season. The first season of the show focused heavily on the character of Ed and his wife Karen (Shantel VanSanten), after they tragically lose their young son while Ed is stranded alone on the moon. Season 2 follows up with them after they have saved their marriage, and adopted an orphan of the Vietnam War to raise as their child.

But Ed is tired of sitting at a desk all day, acting as one of the heads of NASA. Instead he decides it is time to get back into space, and assigns himself as pilot for the Pathfinder mission. Ed also encourages his friends who were once stationed on the moon with him – Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) and Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman) to return to space as well. This will have tragic results in the end of the season.

Women Are Running The Show At NASA In Season 2 of For All Mankind

For All Mankind Season 2 Image via AppleTV+

Another former astronaut who finds her career ascending to new heights in season 2 of For All Mankind is Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour). Ellen is a queer woman who has struggled with her identity for two seasons. She made the decision to marry another closeted individual in Larry (Nate Corddry) in season 1 to protect their professional careers. Ellen’s journey in season 2 is both deeply personal, and deeply political. She reunites with her estranged lover Pam (Meghan Leathers) and declares that she is tired of hiding who she really is. But then tensions ramp up with Russia, and Ellen suddenly finds herself director of NASA – answering to the president directly. And it doesn’t seem likely that Ronald Reagan would have been too keen on having a gay woman running NASA in the 1980’s.

For All Mankind Season 2 Image via AppleTV+

One of my favorite characters is Danielle Poole, who started this season having lost her husband and she is eager to return to space. Danielle is an important character, since she was one of the first women in space and the very first African-Americaniwoman to step foot on the moon. But Danielle is sick of being a token character, constantly sidelined for missions. Indeed, I was a bit upset at how much her character got sidelined in season 2 of For All Mankind. But in the end, Danielle makes a move that ends up being tremendously important. All because she was tired of being told what to do, hands tied, unable to act.

Tracy and Gordo Stevens Return To The Moon

For All Mankind Season 2 Image via AppleTV+

But perhaps two of the most important characters in season 2 of For All Mankind are Gordo and Tracy Stevens (Sarah Jones). The formerly married couple were the darlings of NASA in the first season. But as time passed between seasons, the couple separated and Tracy has become a celebrity. She appears on late-night talk shows, and impulsively marries a rich businessman. On the other hand, Gordo has become an alcoholic who is still battling his own demons.

In the first season, Gordo suffered a breakdown while on the moon and started seeing things. He has kept this a secret for years, with only his friends Ed and Danielle aware of the full extent of his mania. But then Ed assigns Gordo to a new mission, to return to the moon so many years after he left. Gordo takes it as a personal mission to win back his ex-wife, since Tracy is also on the moon at the same time.

The Season 2 Finale Ramps Up Tensions Between The U.S. and Russia

For All Mankind Season 2 Image via AppleTV+

In the season 2 finale of For All Mankind, tensions have ramped up between the U.S. and Russia considerably. First the United States sent Marines to the moon to protect a mining site that had been established years earlier. Of course with those Marines came guns, and the first man to be killed on the moon with a bullet. In retaliation, the Soviets attacked the Jamestown base on the moon, killing several astronauts and invading the base. The finale comes down to a stand-off both in space, and back on Earth.

Tracy & Gordo Stevens Save The Moon

For All Mankind Tracy & Gordo Tracy & Gordo in better times | Image via AppleTV+

This leads to Tracy and Gordo trapped together in the galley on Jamestown. The very same room that was the original base for Jamestown where Gordo, Ed, and Danielle spent months together during their season 1 missions. They figure out a way to contact NASA to let them know whats going on, only to discover that an errant bullet has sparked the beginnings of nuclear meltdown.

Faced with the prospect of everyone on the moon dying – Russian and American alike – Tracy and Gordo enact a risky plan. They wrap themselves in duct tape to create modified spacesuits, and literally run out onto the surface of the moon to fix the problem from the outside. This leads to a dramatic and highly emotional moment where the couple actually do make it back inside the base. But they soon succumb to exposure and their wounds, and die in each other’s arms. A tragic, but heroic death for two of the most famous astronauts of the age.

NASA Helps Prevent Nuclear War

For All Mankind Season 2 Image via AppleTV+

Meanwhile, Ed Baldwin finds himself waiting in his space shuttle for a Soviet ship to emerge from the dark side of the moon so they can blast it into oblivion. He is talked down by a real-life astronaut who is fictionalized in the show – Sally Ride. They have a tense exchange with guns pointed at one another (despite the highly pressurized spacecraft they both inhabit) because Sally refuses to help start WWIII. In the end, Ed listens to Sally and chooses the less violent path, allowing the Russian cosmonauts to live.

Danielle Poole is also hovering in space above Earth waiting for the go-ahead on her mission. This mission was supposed to be a ‘handshake in space’ with a Russian ship docking with the U.S. spacecraft in a joint peaceful endeavor. As tensions mount and everyone’s trigger finger gets itchy, Danielle and her fellow cosmonauts break protocol and complete their mission successfully. The images of the American and Russian astronauts shaking hands in space inspires Reagan to reopen negotiations with the Russian president, and successfully averts a nuclear war.

Side Characters Will Certainly Get Bigger Roles Next Season

Season 2 of For All Mankind covered a lot of bases. And the sprawling cast at times led to unnecessary storylines. It was nice to see Aleida Rosales (Coral Peña) back on the show as an adult. She finally joins NASA as an engineer. But perhaps too much time was spent on her having to make nice with another engineer who was constantly demeaning her. Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) got to have a bit of a flirtation with her Russian counterpart (something that will inevitably come back to haunt her in the future). But otherwise, Margo’s hands were significantly tied this season due to the military seizing control of so many missions.

For All Mankind Margo Image via AppleTV+

A surprisingly effective storyline centered on Ed and Karen’s adopted daughter Kelly. The new character spends much of the season trying to figure out her place in the world. She helps her parents confront their grief over the loss of their son Shane. And she also does a bit of detective work to locate her own birth father. Actress Cynthy Wu really makes the role her own, and shines as a young woman torn between two worlds.

For All Mankind Karen and Kelly Image via AppleTV+

Perhaps the most unnecessary storyline involved Karen Baldwin – a character for whom I have tremendous empathy. One of the few non-astronauts in the show, Karen has always struggled with her husband being away for long stretches of time. But the show decided to give Karen a weird storyline involving an affair with her best friend Tracy’s adult son. This all inevitably leads to a confrontation between Karen and Ed before he embarks on his Pathfinder mission. I do wish they had just let Karen have her own arc without it primarily acting as fuel for Ed’s anger issues (again).

Season 2 of For All Mankind Was One Of The Best Seasons of TV In 2021 So Far

However, despite a few missteps and messy plotlines it is undeniable that season 2 of For All Mankind was one of the best seasons of television I watched this year. The acting is powerful. The special effects and mixture of archival footage and CGI is done very well. The exploration of the alternate history is fascinating. And it also reminds us how long humanity has been reaching for the stars, along with all of the reasons why.

Season 3 of For All Mankind will jump to the 1990’s – as revealed by the final shots of the season 2 finale. And it looks like we are finally headed to Mars. What will the red planet have in store for our characters? We’ll have to wait for another season of For All Mankind to find out.

Have you been watching For All Mankind on AppleTV? What did you think of the second season? Share your thoughts and join the conversation with Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter today.

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Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.

Alternate HistoryAppleTV+For All MankindRonald D. MooreScience FictionTelevision Series

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