Apple TV+ For All Mankind: Flawless, Imperfect, and Fascinating

2 minute read
| Editorial

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.

For All Mankind

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.

Flawless

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!

Imperfect

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.

Fascinating

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.

Watch It

I like this show. If you’re interested in alt-history, the Space Race, early space tech, or NASA, definitely check this show out.

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wab95
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wab95

Spoiler alert? Wait…are you saying that people already landed on the moon? Bryan: ‘For All Mankind’ is indeed worth the watch, and should my household start paying for Apple TV+ when our free subscription expires, it would be for this reason. As you are no doubt aware, there is a great deal of reality behind this alt-reality show. For starters, the smart money on who would win the ‘race to the moon’ was on the Soviets in 1968 (just look at who’s slightly ahead in Time Mag’s cover prior to Apollo 8 http://content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19681206,00.html ), and indeed had Zond 5 and… Read more »

Roger Wilson
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Roger Wilson

“…and indeed had Zond 5 and Zond 6 not failed, were poised have a cosmonaut circumnavigate the moon prior Apollo 8 in December 1968…” Kind of a major “if only”. But they failed, as did a bunch of our rockets, as did Apollo 1, etc. Was USSR “poised” to accomplish a successful Earth-Moon-Earth transit, I don’t know, they were rumored to have long distance navigational issues, but they were first in line for sure. Regardless, I always look forward to your long-form posts. And re: the show itself, the smoking is a little overdone, especially among the astronauts depicted, who,… Read more »

wab95
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wab95

Roger Wilson: You are correct that this was a major ‘if only’, however I highly recommend Robert Kurson’s book, which goes into considerable detail that was not widely known to the public about just how close the Soviets came to beating the US to the moon. The CIA was well aware of how far advanced they were in their planning, and in part based upon that intel, NASA engaged in one of the gutsiest moves in modern history to fast track the Apollo missions and repurpose Apollo 8, using the Atlas platform that had not and would not be human-tested… Read more »

lkrupp215
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lkrupp215

The author is entitled to his opinion but I’m pretty sure he didn’t live through the actual event like those of us who were teenagers in 1969 did. It makes a big difference in perception when you lived through the time. Alt-history doesn’t sit too well with me in this case. There was more drama in watching Walter Cronkite grab onto his desk live when the Saturn V took off during one of its first test launches, violently shaking the bunker he was in five miles away from the launchpad. The realization of the raw, naked power involved in that… Read more »

Roger Wilson
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Roger Wilson

I’ve been to a shuttle launch, and if it was anywhere near what is was back then…holy crap, it shakes you to your soul. Great experience.