For All Mankind takes another giant leap for mankind with its third season coming to Apple TV + on June 10. The series’ newest season jumps forward another decade into the 1990s as the space race extends past the moon to the red planet, Mars. With the new season taking place after the real world collapse of the Soviet Union, there are plenty of questions about this new period in an alternate history. Before we get there, however, let’s take a second look at what happened in the last season.
Welcome to the 80s
The beginning of Season 2 takes place in 1983, 8 years after the final events of Season 1. The continued Space Race begins to have more consequences outside the realms of science and technology as time passes and space becomes a larger part of the Cold War. By the opening of the premiere, “Every Little Thing,” the military has a physical presence at NASA, and space not only has a role in exploration but also holds militaristic value as well.
In this season, the Cold War brings conflict into space directly, beginning with the sending of Marines (and guns) to space. While a claimed cautionary measure, tensions between the USSR and the West intensifies when Korea Air Lines Flight 007 is shot down by a Soviet interceptor (an actual event that is adapted by the show). Before this, the Soviet forces on the moon had taken a mining site from the US, thanks to a bug in the Jamestown base that was likely planted back when Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) was alone with the cosmonaut in 1974.
The marines take the site back without incident, but shortly after, they notice two cosmonauts on the surface. With high tensions and a communication barrier between the two groups on the moon, both of the Soviets are shot when it appears to the marines they’re going for something in a box, which ended up being their translation card. One of the cosmonauts is only injured, but the other is lit on fire inside his suit with the bullet sparks his oxygen on fire. The body of the dead cosmonaut is taken back to Jamestown, along with the injured Soviet. A doctor works on him, but to their surprise, when he wakes up he asks for asylum, putting Jamestown in a very precarious position.
The Baldwin Family
Ed Baldwin starts the season as the Chief of the Astronaut Office, not having returned to space since after the end of Season 1. He still feels guilty about the death of his son when he was not home. He and Karen (Shantel VanSantenadopted daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu), a survivor of the Operation BabyLift crash in 1975, who is about to graduate high school. At the beginning of the season, she struggles to tell her parents that she wants to follow in Ed’s footsteps and go to the Naval Academy.
When she does, Ed becomes furious out of fear of losing another child, but eventually, they have a heart-to-heart that brings them to an understanding. This closure allows Ed to feel ready to go back to space, so he puts himself on the Pathfinder mission, a next-generation shuttle that used a NERVA engine, a program that was actually scrapped by President Nixon in 1973. Also, on his team are Sally Ride (Ellen Roe) and Gary Piscotty (Michael Benz).
With Ed going back into space and having to accept that space is her daughter’s dream as well, Karen feels more isolated than ever. Having always kept her emotions at bay, she continues to bottle things up and makes a few chaotic decisions – she sells her bar and also sleeps with Danny Stevens (Casey Johnson), Tracy and Gordo Stevens’ (Sarah Jones and Michael Dorman) son, who is just barely an adult. At least she tells Ed what’s going on this time, leaving Danny’s identity out of it – even if it’s right before he leaves Earth again. Meanwhile, Kelly works on her college essay which inspires her to look into her birth parents, finding out her birth father is still alive, although she does not take the leap to meet him yet.
Tracy & Gordo Stevens
In the time between Season 1 and Season 2, Tracy and Gordo have divorced. Tracy is doing a lot better than her ex-husband, turning into a celebrity of sorts. She does photoshoots and goes on late-night TV, where she reveals that she’s newly married. The announcement is a sting for Gordo, who’s let himself go and drinks heavily, not just because of the divorce but because of his PTSD from his time on the moon to which he hasn’t returned since 1974. Ed figures the best way to bring him out of his stump is to send him back to the moon.
While Gordo is in training, Tracy returns to Jamestown and befriends the marines stationed there, oftentimes operating the LSAM vehicle for their outings. However, Tracy struggles with the transition from celebrity life back to life on the moon, so she takes up drinking and sneaks cigarettes in an old airlock. Gordo eventually arrives at Jamestown, with the intention of winning his ex-wife back, and the two have a heart-to-heart where he finally tells her what really happened in Jamestown, causing Tracy to reevaluate how she views him.
By 1983, Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) advances to the Director of the Johnson Space Center, having a hand in the NASA operations seen on screen. Otherwise, she has two subplots that keep her busy throughout the season. Her first is with Aleida (Coral Peña), now an adult. Aleida’s boyfriend reaches out to Margo after she loses her job, threatening her immigration status. Margo offers her a job, trying to reconcile after the events of Season 1. In this season, Margo helps Aleida work through her difficulty working with others – the reason she previously could not hold down a job. During the process, Aleida uses information Margo told her in confidence against her boss and has to appeal to him personally to return to NASA when he quits.
Margo also faces several challenges throughout the season working on the Apollo-Soyuz project, a mission that actually took place in 1975. The mission’s goal was to dock Apollo with Soyuz for a photo op with the astronauts and cosmonauts. Working directly with the Soviets proves to be challenging due to the mistrust between the two space organizations, but over the course of the season, she forms a friendship with Sergei Nikulov (Piotr Adamczyk), a Soviet engineer. In the season finale, they plan to see each other at a conference, but it revealed that Sergei is doing so at the behest of Soviet intelligence.
At the beginning of Season 2, Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) is the commander at Jamestown. Upon returning to Earth, she takes a new job as Deputy NASA Administrator at JSC, working with Margo and NASA Administrator Thomas Paine (Dan Donohue). When she returns home, still married to Larry (Nathan Corddry), she finds that Pam (Meghan Leathers), her old girlfriend, sent her a copy of her poetry book, prompting the two to rekindle their romance. However, after Paine was killed in the Korea Air Lines Flight 007 incident, Ellen is appointed the acting Director of NASA.
Later, the President offers Ellen the job permanently, but Ellen is torn due to her love for Pam and her career, still remembering the advice Deke Slayton (Chris Bauer) gave her about keeping her sexuality private. Pam overhears Larry talking about her political aptitude and decides to end their relationship, not wanting to get in the way of Ellen’s future.
Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger) starts the season off stuck on the surface of the moon when a solar flare hits. She takes shelter in a lava tube before seeing that Wubbo Ockels (Bjørn Alexander) crashed his rover on the surface. She risks relative safety to rescue him, taking a severe amount of radiation to do so. When she arrives back on Earth, Ed gives her his old job as the Chief of the Astronaut office. Unfortunately, the radiation already affects her vision which she later finds out is glaucoma that will eventually progress to blindness.
At first, keeping the diagnosis to herself, she struggles to accept the fact that she won’t be returning to space. It does not take long for her husband, Wayne (Lenny Jacobson), to deduce her vision is affected, forcing her to come clean. Their marriage was tested further when Molly tries to escape to Mexico for experimental treatment, pushing Wayne to give her an ultimatum. He intends to make good on it, but she finally comes to her senses as she begins to face a future that looks different from the one she imagined.
Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) also has not returned to the moon since 1974. Her husband struggled after the war, which Danielle prioritized until his recent death by suicide. When she has a catch-up with Ed and Gordo, she asks to go back to the moon. Danielle later meets with her husband’s sister whose harsh words inspire her to ask for a command position. Ed uses his last action as Chief to push her command through on the Apollo-Soyuz mission, which works well since the decade-old spacecraft is what Danielle is familiar with. She spends the season working on this mission, finding common ground with the cosmonauts she works with.
When she travels to the USSR for the mission, she’s quarantined upon arrival, a stark difference from the way the US greeted the cosmonauts. Eventually, she meets with an engineer, likely Sergei Korolev, “father” of the USSR space program, although he never divulges his name. Despite the tension between the two nations being higher than ever, the mission goes forward and Danielle returns to orbit in the Apollo.
Conflict in Space
Tensions come to a head at the end of Episode 9, “Triage,” when cosmonauts lead an armed assault on Jamestown to retrieve the cosmonaut attempting to defect. Tracy and Gordo are separated from the rest of the base at this time and use an old system to contact JSC via Aleida. Discovering that during the firefight a nuclear reactor (that the military withheld knowledge of from NASA) is damaged with her help, Tracy and Gordo must go outside without real suits to prevent a meltdown, exchanging sentiments of love before running into assured death. They are successful in preventing catastrophe, but the two succumb to their injuries while holding each other.
At the same time, Danielle is in the Apollo but is not allowed to dock with Soyuz. She disobeys orders to abandon the mission and instead calls the cosmonauts and convinces them to dock. She succeeds only because of the commonality she finds with the cosmonauts. When they dock, it’s seen as a gesture of friendship and hope, which defuses tensions on Earth and forces the cosmonauts to leave Jamestown without the asylum-seeker.
Also, at the same time, the Pathfinder approaches the moon, protecting the Sea Dragon carrying supplies that may or may not include more weaponry. The Buran, the USSR’s shuttle, waits behind the moon to shoot down Sea Dragon when it gets close enough. Houston tells Ed to protect the Sea Dragon at all costs before communication is lost due to Pathfinder’s location. Ed, still angry and confused because of his wife’s infidelity, is ready to do so, until Sally Ride threatens him with a gun and tries to get him to see the bigger picture, including the threat of nuclear war on Earth. He makes a last-minute decision to instead destroy the Sea Dragon, thankfully not negating the positive steps forward made thanks to Danielle and the Apollo-Soyuz.
For All Mankind Season 3 premieres on June 10th on Apple TV +.
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