I like For All Mankind, Apple TV+’s SciFi show from Battlestar Galactica (reboot) creator Ronald D. Moore. On a micro level, it’s flawless, even while the macro level is imperfect. Regardless, it’s a fascinating show that I’m enjoying immensely.
Please note that I include minor spoilers in this review.
As of this writing, Apple has released four episodes of For All Mankind, a show that explores the idea of what might have happened if the Russians—or, more specifically, the Soviet Union—had made it to the Moon before the U.S. It’s an alt-history thing—which I tend to love—hinging on a moment in time I’ve not seen explored before, the Space Race.
It starts in 1969 with NASA getting ready to land Apollo astronauts on the moon when suddenly Russia beams its own moon landing to the Earth, completely unexpectedly. Drama ensues, Werner Von Braun is outed as a former Nazi by a Nixon crony, and OMG WHAT DO WE DO NOW?!?
The point of the show is not to poke at NASA or the fact that the U.S. did decisively win the Space Race, shutting the Soviet Union’s moon-landing efforts down for good. Like all good alt-history stories, the idea is to explore what might have happened…if.
There is so much this show just nails. The Corvettes, the clothes, the home decor, the homes, the place of women—and the burgeoning fight to change that place—kids calling their fathers “sir,” utilizing archival footage to tell a story that didn’t happen, and the smoking. So much smoking. I hate the smoking, but like I said, they nail it.
And Ted Kennedy canceling his party in Chappaquiddick? Holy impending showdown with Nixon in 1972, Batman!
As much as I like this show, I wish it had started in 1991, rather than 1969. I’d really like to see Ron Moore’s vision of how the Space Race not ending would have reverberated through few decades. That would be more interesting than Werner Von Braun outing as a Nazi because Nixon wanted him gone, even though that was definitely interesting, too.
Instead, the show dives right into the immediate aftermath of this fictional Soviet landing. A shaken NASA, shaken astronauts, shaken engineers, and then how the whole things whip them into a fighting frenzy of get-it-done.
Despite my claim that it’s imperfect, I love seeing this periscope into the past and into a past-that-never-was. I love watching the pencils and the slide-rules, and the (real) women who were pioneers at the time being thrust forward into prominence. I love seeing the technology being invented, and the struggles to put NASA and the U.S. back in front of their communist rivals.
It’s a great show. It’s ambitious, epic, and real, all at the same time. The story is interesting, the telling is solid, and they nail the details. I’m a fan of Ron Moore’s work, and I’m delighted with For All Mankind.
Odds and Ends
The casting is great. Joel Kinnaman as the fictional astronaut Ed Baldwin has been an delightful surprise. After watching him in Hannah (Netflix) and Altered Carbon (Netflix), I was trepidatious about him playing a U.S. astronaut. I was worried he would be too much of the Swedish meathead I’ve seen him be in those other projects.
But, I was worried for naught. He’s terrific, and if I didn’t know he wasn’t an American, I’d never thought about it in this show. He brings a touching vulnerability to scenes with his wife (Shantel VanSanten as Karen Baldwin, who is also terrific), and he brings an intensity to scenes like reaching out to the surviving husband of a trainee who died.
I like this show. If you’re interested in alt-history, the Space Race, early space tech, or NASA, definitely check this show out.