Structures are shaky throughout For All Mankind. President Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) is under attack; her sexual orientation and that of First Gentleman Larry (Nate Corddry) could destroy her administration. Margo (Wrenn Schmidt) breaks down saying goodbye to Sergei (Piotr Adamczyk), her great, unconsummated love, and her authority as Director of NASA could topple as Aleida (Coral Peña) slowly comes to suspect Margo has passed secrets to the Soviets. Also cracking up is Danny (Casey W. Johnson), the mentally unstable son of heroes Gordo and Tracy Stevens; he’s hooked on oxycodone and amphetamines and making mistakes at work. Lastly, there’s the Martian landscape, untouched by life (we assume) for millions or billions of years, now being interfered with by humans with water drills. When Mars starts to crumble, you better run.
First, the Wilson administration is being bombarded by Democrats in what feels like a flip of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair of the late ’90s. During a closed-door House Subcommittee Hearing on NASA Contracts, Congressman Willie Baron (Patrick Labyorteaux) lobs a red-flag question at Larry: Is he having an affair with a White House aide? Later, Larry tells Jeremy Zielke (John Forest), the aforementioned aide, to tell the school chum he mentioned the affair to, Elliott Lewis (Michael McMillian), that he lied, that he was drunk and on drugs—whatever it takes. Jeremy looks hurt because Larry is indeed cutting him loose. Larry lied under oath and when Ellen hears, she’s furious. Of course, with last week’s coming-out bombshell from Will Tyler (Robert Bailey Jr), Ellen has already been shaken to her core. By the end of the episode, she covertly takes a plane to visit her old lover, Pam Horton (Meghan Leathers). The visit is secret, but Ellen is exposing herself to ruin.
As the President reunites with an old flame, Margo says goodbye to her dear friend and almost-lover, Sergei, in a heart-wrenching farewell. Sergei is not relocating with his Roscosmos colleagues to Helios, who have struck a side deal to extract water from Mars. Instead, Sergei’s returning to Moscow—perhaps back to prison and torture by the KGB. Now that Margo is of no use to the Soviets, he is of no use to them. Margo is convinced she can still help him defect. After he leaves, smiling sadly, she breaks down and cries. This is probably the mostly openly emotional we’ve seen Margo, at least since her drawn-out battle of wills with her mentor, Wernher von Braun, in season one. The rest of this week’s Margo/NASA story line consists of Aleida’s slow but determined hunting of who has been passing secrets. She meets with her ex-husband Victor (Jorge Diaz) for help narrowing down who might have had access and motive. He suggests the culprit may not be someone who worked under Aleida, but someone who employed her. The penny drops when Aleida, walking through NASA’s lobby looking disconsolate, sees Margo’s official portrait and has an a-ha moment.
The last major earth storyline involves Jimmy (David Chandler), who’s still hanging around a bunch of NASA conspiracy theorists. Danny and Sunny Hall (Taylor Dearden) visit NASA pretending to be boyfriend and girlfriend, with Jimmy showing her the place he practically grew up in. They sneak into the Astronaut Meeting Room, come close to stealing a badge, when kindly Alex Rossi (Scott Michael Campbell) shows up. Rossi was, of course, commander of Jamestown Base, which the Soviets briefly occupied. Warm and fatherly, Rossi shows Jimmy a memorial board with photos of Tracy and letters she received from fans and kids who were inspired by her. The tender moment turns sour when Jimmy shows Sunny that he stole Rossi’s badge. Poor Rossi, caught in another security breach. Using the badge, Sunny and ex-Moon Marine Charles (Zac Titus)—a third-rate Manson—steal the Gordo and Tracy monument in front of NASA and present it to Jimmy.
Enough with Earth, back to the Red Planet. Unlike last episode’s focus on Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) and internal drama rocking the NASA crew at Happy Valley Base, we barely see them—except for a glum group shot of the four crew members (the Soviets are with Ed and Helios) eating a meal and not talking. Kelly (Cynthy Wu) shows up in a couple of scenes, mainly to chat with her clandestine Soviet lover, Poletov (Paweł Szajda), and later to get furious at Ed for having decided the Mars water contained no bio-signatures. Ed argues that they’ve done all the routine tests that NASA prescribed. And that biologist Kelly’s methodology is not fully accepted. “Well, you always wanted to be the first at something, Dad,” Kelly fumes before hanging up. “Maybe you’ll be the first man to kill life on another planet.”
Meanwhile, Danny is screwing up so badly that it can’t be ignored anymore. Gordo and Tracy Stevens’s other disappointing son is popping oxycodone and amphetamine and descending into paranoid delusions. (You know because he isn’t shaving.) Danny is late to a meeting with Ed and Kuznetsov, a debrief about the drilling operation. Danny gets distracted by the red WARM light on the coffee maker. Ed and Kuznetsov seem to have a good rapport as co-commanders.
Back in the Helios MSAM (Mars Surface Access Module), Danny looks pale and confused as he packs supplies. Slightly grating Nick Corrado (Daniel David Stewart) is making a fuss over his mechanical toy dog PJ, which barks and scoots around the floor. The insistent mechanical barking finally causes Danny to snap and stomp the gadget to death. Corrado, near tears, cradles the broken pieces and asks, “What is wrong with you?”
Later, Ed confronts Danny on the MSAM. Getting up in his face, he takes Danny off the flight to the ridge. Louisa Mueller (Anne Beyer) will take right seat. “Can’t focus your eyes, can’t stand still,” Ed growls. “You think I haven’t seen a pilot on ‘go pills’ before? You’re a fucking mess. And now you’re stomping on dogs.” Ed says he’s done cutting Danny slack. “I made that mistake with your dad back in the day and I’m not going to do it again.” Danny says he’s not his dad. “You got that right,” Ed spits back. Danny remains insolent, giving his “sir” a sarcastic edge. Ed warns him. Danny steps up as it to attack Ed. Ed dares Danny to hit him and when Danny backs off, Ed sneers. “Just what I thought. Pathetic.” All in all, shoddy conduct on both their parts. In the background, Corrado, Mueller and Castillo (Ilza Ponto) are holding their breaths and silently wondering if Kuznetsov should be in charge.
Given how unstable Danny has become, it seems crazy that Ed would allow him anywhere near the safety controls for water drilling, but perhaps the Phoenix is low on trained crew. At any rate, in the nail-biting final sequence of the episode, Corrado and Danny are at Helios Base monitoring the housing pressure of the drill. Danny is in the bathroom, popping pills as usual, and taking more than his usual dose. Ed radios to Corrado to “boost CO2 compressor speed to keep tank pressure within the window.” Clearly it’s a delicate operation. Corrado goes offline to run some numbers, leaving Danny to monitor pressure—which HEY CORRADO AIN’T A GOOD IDEA. Back at the ridge, the drill reaches penetration depth. The drill starts bucking. Danny, in an opioid haze, can’t decide what to do and shuts off the comms.
Corrado finally turns around and realizes a disaster is in progress. He reestablishes contact with the drill site to learn there’s been an explosion. Ed and Isabel are injured by puncture wounds from equipment fragments. Ed, Kuznetsov, Poletov, Mueller, and Castillo take Popeye back to Helios Base. Ed has a puncture wound through his suit, on the right side of his chest. Isabel has a suit puncture, too. Kuznetsov is trying to seal the holes in their suits with gaffer tape. Grim-faced Mueller is at the helm.
When they land at Helios Base, Danny takes care of Ed and helps him across the ground to Hab 2. Kuznetsov runs off to prep sick bay with Mayakovsky (the Soviet medic). As Danny and Ed stagger toward the habs, they realize the ground is shaking. The drill explosion caused a seismic event, a Marsquake. The walls of the valley start to crumble and fall and massive cracks spread across the ground. Everyone runs. Danny and Ed veer off into the MSAM and close the door, but it looks like Poletov is overtaken by a tidal wave of Martian dirt, dust, and rocks. We don’t know if Corrado, Mueller, and Castillo made it. It’s another cataclysmic cliffhanger—and it won’t be the last.
- Headline of the newspaper (Houston Sun, “Houston’s Paper For The People”) read by one of the anti-NASA conspiracists: “PARCHED: Wilson Misses Out on the Water Gold Rush. Helios and Soviets partner in joint venture on Mars.”
- During the Helios Base meeting about the BAD (Big-Ass Drill), Danny is mesmerized by a red light on the coffee machine. The blinky red image is a callback to Gordo’s spotting a red pulse on the lunar horizon at the end of season one, episode six, and seeing it again on Earth at the end of season two, episode three.
- Banana Twins, the sponge cake with cream that Sunny gobbles up, has been a Little Debbie snack since 1965.
- When did Rossi drop or lay down his badge? Jimmy doesn’t strike me as a master pickpocket. How and when exactly did he steal it?
- Margo makes a derisive comment to Aleida about carrying on like it’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. That’s a reference to a 1974 John le Carré spy novel that was turned into a popular 1979 BBC series, broadcast in America on PBS.
- Sorry, but I don’t buy Sunny and Charles using a badge that clearly doesn’t belong to either of them to steal a statue from NASA’s front step, which would be guarded 24 hours day. What lifting machinery did they use? How did they explain why they were putting it in their crappy pickup truck? For cleaning?
- Karl Rove was a right-wing political operative, responsible for scaring conservative voters in 2004 with the specter of gay marriage and thus helping Bush win a second term.