For All Mankind season 2 review: Apple’s space show keeps evolving

Eminence dramas have actually mostly followed 2 parallel courses throughout the previous twenty years. On one track are reveals grounded in realism however offered a little lofty escapism thanks to their subject, which concentrate on the individual and extreme expert lives of medical professionals, attorneys, and political operatives. The other track has actually drawn in audiences with big-budget phenomenon, pressing sci-fi, dream, and scary into the mainstream with stories driven by bloody action and significant twists.

Those archetypes are converging in For All Humanity, which started its 10-episode 2nd season on Apple TELEVISION Plus on February 19. While the program might entice in audiences with its alt-history sci-fi property — a world in which the area race in between the United States and Soviet Union never ever ended — its tone and styles make it closer to The West Wing than The Male in the High Castle.

Season 1 of For All Humanity started its story in 1969, with the Soviet Union beating the Americans to the Moon. Then it leapt 3 years into a future where both superpowers had actually developed lunar bases and mining operations. In season 2, the program avoids almost a years and lands in a variation of 1983 where Ronald Reagan is president, and Cold War stress threaten to become armed dispute in area.

Like the time leaps utilized in Netflix’s The Crown, the shift lets showrunner Ronald D. Moore (Outlander and Battlestar Galactica) put the characters in brand-new historic contexts while demonstrating how their lives and relationships have actually developed with time. The alt-history mainly provides the authors the flexibility to utilize genuine individuals and events as they choose, while likewise having the prospective to comprise whatever they desire in regards to sped up technological development or sociopolitical patterns. It’s worth enjoying the opening montage of season 2’s best several times simply for a blast through whatever that’s various in the program’s world.

Sarah Jones in an astronaut flight suit talks on a giant mobile phone in front of a lighted makeup mirror in For All Mankind season 2

Picture: Apple TELEVISION Plus

However addressing what-if concerns about the Camp David Accords stopping working or John Lennon enduring isn’t actually the point of the program. Rather, For All Humanity is an assessment of extraordinary individuals and how and why they pursue splendor. They might be astronauts and NASA engineers, however the story beats would be simply as in the house in a drama about political leaders or film stars.

On the surface area, For All Humanity’s closest relative may appear to be Netflix’s short-term sci-fi drama Away. However while that Hilary Swank automobile likewise concentrated on the factors each member of the team of the very first manned objective to Mars went to area, and the toll it handled them and their liked ones, Away was driven by episodic crises more similar to timeless category programs.

While For All Mankind features daring space rescues in both seasons, the action is always decidedly secondary to the impact those events have on the characters and the space program at large. When astronaut Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman of Altered Carbon) ejects from a fighter jet before it crashes in season 2, there’s no real doubt in the audience’s mind that he’ll survive. The real tension comes from seeing the effect the accident has on his wife, Karen (Shantel VanSanten of The Boys), who sits by the phone chain smoking and terrified while their daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu of American Vandal) looks on helplessly.

Pretty much all of the performances in For All Mankind are top-notch, and the actors have a chemistry that provides credibility to the intimacy forged between their characters, who have lived and worked together under extraordinary circumstances for more than a decade. The show hasn’t really bothered with aging makeup beyond period-appropriate hairstyles and giving a beer belly to Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman), who has been grounded since having a panic attack on the moon in season 1. But the passage of time still powerfully weighs on every character.

One thing that For All Mankind does share with Away is that the characters are neither idealized or demonized. Ed is probably the closest thing the show has to a true hero, but he’s got deep flaws and blind spots, whether he’s ignoring Gordo’s concerns about returning to the Moon, or lashing out at Kelly for wanting to follow in his footsteps and join the Navy because he’s afraid to see her in danger. Gordo’s a sad-sack with a drinking problem, but he’s a loving father. The scenes where his teenage sons try to understand and help their father deal with his anxiety are made even more moving thanks to a camera style similar to one used on Friday Night Lights, where the action is filmed from a distance that makes the viewer feel like an interloper in an intimate moment.

The big personal dramas are brightened by slice-of-life comedy that helps ground the often-larger-than-life characters, like Ed complaining about Karen swapping his Kraft parmesan cheese out for the real stuff, or Ed and fellow astronaut Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger of Lost) having a serious chat about Molly’s latest mission while their spouses are sneaking a joint in the golf cart. The strong foundational character development done in season 1 is paying off powerfully in season 2, with every member of the ensemble getting arcs that magnify their strengths and failings.

Krys Marshall stands in a barren white concrete space in For All Mankind season 2

Photo: Apple TV Plus

For All Mankind likewise follows the prestige-drama formula of tackling big societal issues through its diverse cast. Astronaut Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) is in a sham marriage following her disastrous attempt to come out to her commander in season 1, but she wonders if the changing times might allow her to finally show her true self. Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall of Supergirl) was the very first Black woman on the moon, but she confronts NASA on its tokenism by demanding to command her own objective. The plots could easily come off as preachy or saccharine, but they feel genuine, as the characters attempt to push an organization based on imagining the future of humanity to examine the preconceptions that it remains bound by.

While the science fiction aspects of For All Mankind often play second fiddle to the character dramas, they’re still well executed. The show looks gorgeous, with its spectacular lunar landscapes and imagined moonbase. There, a series of hot astronauts feel a sense of isolation and claustrophobia that has become all too familiar after a year of COVID-19 lockdowns. “You get used to it,” is the mantra used to console new astronauts when they face the terrible food, noisy equipment, and ant infestation that’s a pretty amusing callback to season 1’s botched ant-farm experiment.

But while they may involve solar flares knocking out spy satellites and conflicts over lunar lithium deposits, the threats in the show are all grounded in Cold War politics rather than aliens or asteroids. The threat of nuclear war is always present, but that just makes the show feel like a period drama. Rather than push to keep viewers watching with cliffhangers and plot twists, Moore and his writers place the focus on the emotional stakes just as much as the geopolitical ones. It’s strange for a show that spends so much time in area to feel so grounded, but like its astronaut stars, For All Humanity could prove to be a trailblazer of a new frontier for prestige drama.

For All Humanity season 2 is now streaming on Apple TELEVISION Plus. New episodes are launched on Fridays.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.