A Space Odyssey That Could Have Been

Now it’s 2021 and we have so many things to look forward to: travel, not having personal space encompass six feet in every direction, and a new season of For All Mankind (Apple TV+). The alt-history drama imagines what could have happened if the Soviets had reached the moon first. The show rolled out when the streamer premiered, but was overshadowed by the star-driven drama The Morning Show.

Space Race

All things go sideways when the Soviets take a successful, surprise moonshot just weeks before Apollo 11. Then the Russians put a woman on the moon. All this puts pressure on the US and NASA to up their game, having lost the space race every step of the way since Sputnik.

America vows to find water on the moon and be the first to establish a permanently manned base all while establishing their own astronaut program for women. The show hooks you in with the what-could-have-been story. The show exploits the fact that anything can go wrong at any time danger of the space program.

Especially in the later episodes, long, intense (bordering on tedious) scenes will have you white knuckling every moment. And the imagined story of Cold War intrigue moving to space is good. Politics and ideology trump the perceived peaceful mission of exploration. But this alone doesn’t elevate For All Mankind out of low orbit.

It’s Lonely Out In Space

So what really makes the show blast off is the relationships. There are the relationships between the astronauts, and a tense dynamic between the guys and their female counterparts. The wives (and husband) develop bonds and rivalries. The crew in mission control deals with each other as well as outside meddlers from the government. The show does a good job not only letting each universe of people bond, but also showing their interconnectedness. I really bonded with many of the characters, and felt for them in their triumphs in the ever present shadow of catastrophic failure.

And while the Soviets serve as an omnipresent catalyst to push forward at all costs they’re really just a totem. The true enemy is loneliness.

Aside from one person being stranded at the moon base, most characters are rarely ever physically alone. But they all face overwhelming mental isolation. When one of the wives suffers an unexpected and devastating loss, the other wives come to her side at the hospital and the home. But they can’t share the anguish. There are three living at the moon base, but when one starts to lose it, he’s inside his own head by himself. His pain is as real as the frustration of his space mates inability to help him.

Future Shock

As we look ahead, season two will jump forward ten years, giving us wiser veterans and plenty of new faces. It’ll be set with Reagan in the White House, and the trailer suggests the moon has been militarized.

I’m hoping for plenty of yuppies and spacesuits featuring serious shoulder pads. The new season debuts February 19th on Apple TV+.

The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation

I’m having a Blue Moon. It’s sweet with a kick (much like myself), and I believe would taste delicious in zero G.


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