Everyone wants to get the fuck off Mars. There are no cool Martians, the mountains kill you, it’s endless sand, and, man, seeing red every day gets old fast. The only new life on Mars is growing inside Kelly Baldwin (Cynthy Wu), although the nail-biting end of “Coming Home” threw that in doubt. Also, there’s an unexpected guest: A desperate looking North Korean spaceman shows up in a bonkers WTF ending, waving a pistol at Danielle (Krys Marshall) and Kuznetsov (Lev Gorn). Pretty sure he wants off the Red Planet, too.
For viewers weary of the attenuated, soap-opera plot lines dominating the past few weeks, “Coming Home” was a relief, a FAM episode that was primarily task-based. Proficient characters are doing things only they can do to achieve a collective goal. “Coming Home” co-writers David Weddle and Bradley Thompson and director Craig Zisk crafted a tight arc from hope to horror—in 47 minutes, another relief. Over the season, most episodes could’ve lost ten minutes, easy.
The combined crews from Helios, NASA, and Roscosmos are working to get the MSAM (Popeye) operational so they can blast off from Mars and dock with the Phoenix in orbit around the planet. Margo (Wrenn Schmidt), Lenara Catiche (Vera Cherny), and Bill Strausser (Noah Harpster) coordinate from Earth. At Happy Valley Base, Mayakovsky (Goran Ivanovski) is monitoring Kelly’s baby, conceived with the late cosmonaut Poletov. And Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) and husband Larry (Nate Corddry) are hustling to contain the political danger of being outed as gay while Ellen is leader of the free world.
Even Danny (Casey W. Johnson) seems to be off the pain meds. Five months after the disastrous landslide that killed Corrado, Castillo, and Poletov, the season heel is pitching in to get Popeye fueled up and packed with nine bodies. Good riddance to the Red Planet.
The sentiment is shared in the U.S. Congress and on Helios’ board: Mars was a disaster; let’s get them home and forget it happened. A time-lapse video narrated by Danny (messaging Amber on Earth) shows astronauts digging the MSAM out of its sandy grave. To achieve liftoff, they need to generate enough methane fuel. Danny and Mueller (Anne Beyer) toil away in Popeye, discussing the slowness of the process. It’s like fueling a jetliner with a soda can, Danny notes.
Inside the Habs at Happy Valley, the blended crew seems to be getting along and keeping spirits up. Kelly is very pregnant and fussbudget Mayakovsky gives her a routine examination as proud grandfather-to-be Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) looks on. If all goes well, she’ll deliver aboard the Phoenix. A baby on the way. A plan to escape. Humans working together for the greater good. It’s all going to fall apart, right? That’s the standard rule for penultimate episodes.
Earth media is abuzz over Kelly’s pregnancy; the first Martian will be an Earthling. Apparently, hand-knitted baby booties are flooding in from around the world. The Speaker of the House (Stewart Skelton), however, will darn no baby booties. In a meeting with President Wilson and her staff in the Oval Office, the Dick Gephardt-looking pol strongly encourages Ellen to sign a bill that gives Congress oversight of NASA. The Mars mission has been such a fiasco, he reasons, she should be glad to lose the political albatross. Ellen firmly refuses.
When the Speaker asks to have the room alone with the President, he brings up Larry’s possible perjury before Congress, denying having an affair with a male White House staffer. The Speaker then alludes to the Oval Office recording system, which he notes has been in place since JFK. If he can subpoena tapes from around the time of Larry’s testimony, and finds evidence that Ellen and Larry obstructed justice, she could face impeachment. “You can’t be serious,” Ellen sputters. “Congress hasn’t impeached a president in more than 120 years.” Such innocent times.
In another case of lawbreaking, Aleida (Coral Peña) shows Bill Strausser the conspiracy board in her garage, which fingers Margo Madison as a Soviet asset. A mass of print outs, index cards and sticky notes, it has everything but the zig-zagging red yarn. Aleida explains that she discovered the Soviet engine design copied NASA’s; someone has been passing tech secrets. “This is like the lair of a Batman villain,” Bill says, half-admiringly. He agrees to stay and listen to how Margo could possibly be the spy. For another beer.
At Helios Aerospace, Dev (Edi Gathegi) presents his board of directors with a vision for the next 10 years on Mars. They are about to begin production on a new interplanetary ship, Calypso, ready to launch in 1999, which will run on nuclear plasma propulsion. Dev wants to expand operations and colonies on Mars. A spaceport, greenhouses to grow food, dormitories. When a board member points out that the recent Mars mission was a shitshow—three people dead—Dev counters with one of those inspiring speeches (as in the first episode). First settlements are hard, and people die, but we survive and thrive. Just as they did in the first Jamestown—not on the Moon, but America. “We found water,” Dev says with missionary zeal. “Enough to sustain a colony. Of thousands!”
Dubious board member “Dicky” Hillard (Blair Hickey) persists: Helios’ stock price is in free fall, and there may be legal liability due to the fatal landslide (which was druggy Danny’s fault, although no one knows). Dicky announces that the board has agreed to abandon future Mars missions and pivot back to mining Helium-3 on the Moon. Dev asks for more time. Karen (Shantel VanSanten), who has been silent, looks concerned. In a later scene, Dicky tells Karen that the board is going to remove Dev as CEO and offer her the job. Karen’s corporate star continues to rise. We’ll see if NASA accepts her offer of selling them the Phoenix.
Next, Bill and Aleida are working their way through a six pack while studying her conspiracy wall. Bill is convinced. “Basically she’s a fucking spy,” he says of Margo. Bill urges Aleida to go to the FBI, but she’s hesitant, especially because of what they did to her father, deporting him on a baseless suspicion of spying on NASA. Later, Bill ambushes Aleida at a bar with FBI agent Victoria Rodriguez (Michelle C. Bonilla). Aleida, her anti-authoritarian instincts kicking in, refuses to play ball. “You’re fucking dead to me,” she tells Bill before leaving the bar. Nevertheless, Bill squealed to the Feds, and they’re going to start investigating Margo.
In Popeye, Danny, Mueller, and Tyler (Robert Bailey Jr) are checking out the rendezvous radar equipment. It’s fried. Without this element, they can’t dock with Phoenix. Kuznetsov reveals that previous Soviet probes that landed on Mars had this element. At NASA, in teleconference with Roscosmos head Lenara Catiche and Bill at Helios, Margo deduces that the Soviets sold the technology to other countries that also sent probes to Mars: Turkey, North Korean, India. Soon, Bill identifies the nearest landing spot of a probe, launched by North Korea. It’s a nine-hour rover drive from Happy Valley. Dani and Kuznetsov are the only ones who can be spared to take a rover and retrieve the equipment.
Back in the garage, a terrified Aleida tears down the papers on her conspiracy wall, weeping. Her father, Octavio (Arturo Del Puerto) enters, to see what the matter is. Crumpled on the floor, sobbing, she can’t say. The father, suffering from dementia, briefly mistakes Aleida for her mother, then comes back to his senses. Nice to see Coral Peña getting to play a wider range of emotions than grim determination and fiery indignation.
At Happy Valley, the Helios analysis of what went wrong with the water drilling operation is d-mailed from Earth. Ed digests its contents in front of the rest of the crew. Danny looks panicked, as if he’s about to be blamed (rightfully) for his catastrophic dereliction of duty. Instead, the report pins the blame on dead Corrado. Ever the child needing boundaries, Danny seems enraged that he’s not being punished, throws a fit and huffs out of the room. Ed and the others basically shrug their shoulders.
Larry has called a last-minute press conference to come out to the world—the only way to protect Ellen—but Ellen preempts him, entering and giving her own speech. She apologizes for lying to the nation and comes out as gay. The media goes crazy. Larry is agog. Watching from home, Ellen’s ex-lover Pam Horton (Meghan Leathers) gets misty-eyed. So does Will Tyler, on Mars, stunned when he learns the President will give him the Presidential Medal of Freedom when he returns. Previously standoffish Rolan Baranov (Alexander Sokovikov) says how proud he is of Will’s bravery and embraces him. Everyone’s happy and ready, like this recapper, for a drink. You know, this would be the perfect time for something to go horribly wrong.
So it does. Ed finds Kelly unconscious in the plant nursery. He screams for Mayakovsky who runs in and finds Kelly’s heart beating too fast. They get her on the sick bay table. She’s diagnosed with preeclampsia (a plot device also used on Downton Abbey season three, episode four).
Mueller radios Dani and Kuznetsov that Kelly’s condition is getting worse and they need to get back right away. The two are arriving at the site of the North Korean probe. As they get out and approach, Kuznetsov sees a boot print in the sand. Before you can say “cliffhanger,” a North Korean astronaut steps forward and points a pistol. Kuznetsov says something in Russian to the effect of “Sonofabitch!” And Dani says, “Don’t shoot!” They raise their arms, leaving us with several dozen questions, such as: When did North Korea land on Mars? How was this launch not detected? How did this guy survive? Aren’t we overdue for one of those nifty time jumps, perhaps to the 2000s?
- How much radiation can a fetus take? Per the CDC: “Although radiation doses to a fetus tend to be lower than the dose to the mother, due to protection from the uterus and surrounding tissues...exposure at doses greater than 0.5 gray (Gy) can be severe...health consequences can include growth restriction, malformations, impaired brain function, and cancer.”
- When the Speaker of the House warns of “homeless encampments spreading across our major cities,” Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fans may recall the 1995 two-parter “Past Tense.” Set in 2024, it featured, yes, homeless encampments as a sign of America’s social deterioration.
- As Larry and Ellen listen to the incriminating tape and brainstorm how to avoid obstruction of justice charges, I half-seriously expected Larry to leap up and ask, “Wait. Is this being recorded?!”
- In case you’re stocking up for next week’s season-finale party: Aleida and Bill were chugging Lone Star Beer (also featured on True Detective and Friday Night Lights).
- The reverential placement of Nixon’s portrait between those of Lincoln and Washington is the most surreal sight all season.
- Bonus Oval Office detail: Ellen has a football signed by Gene Cernan (1934–2017) that reads “Hell of a Catch.” In our timeline, Cernan was the last man to set foot on the Moon (Apollo 17). In FAMU, did Cernan become a football star?