Class warfare…in spaaaace! That’s what For All Mankind serves up in the second episode of season 4, with a side of post-traumatic stress disorder and Soviet police state hijinks.
The main thrust of the episode involves Miles Dale (Toby Kebbell), the mining rig operator shipped off to Mars with several other blue collar workers at the end of the premiere. Miles expects to be out on the surface of Mars but ends up getting assigned to air conditioning repair duty. While the scientists on the Mars base live in private suites and eat the finest food it’s possible to grow on the Red Planet, Miles and the grunt crew bunk 10 to a room and subsist of calcified meatloaf. While the upstairs folk can send messages freely back and forth to their families, the downstairs guttersnipes have their bandwidth throttled, the result of of a technical glitch no one with the power to solve seems interested in solving.
So there’s a clear divide between the landed gentry and “the help” as one of Miles’ new friends calls them. This will obviously be a conflict we will see played out over the length of the season, but here at the beginning, it reads as a little forced. To start, exactly many people are manning this station? It can’t be many. I have a hard time believing that, given the close quarters and small population, that people can maintain the distance required for them to start getting territorial.
Also, I’m unclear on exactly how management of the facility is set up. From what I can tell, the Mars base seems to be a joint operation between the United States, the Soviet Union, North Korea, and the private space company Helios. (North Korea is the only other country with a space program sophisticated enough to send someone to Mars? This truly is an alternate reality.) Which of these partners is maintaining the have-and-have-nots dynamic, exactly?
It’s probably Helios. The plight of Miles and his coworkers seems a lot like that of workers living in company towns back in the 1930s; they’re shipped off somewhere new and strange and charged for their own equipment to the point where they’re actually making less on Mars than they would have had they stayed back on Earth. The situation is so bad that the under-dwellers have carved out a little speakeasy in the bowls of the base, where they can at least drink away some of their frustrations. “You got a nightclub here?” Danielle asks Ed when she first arrives on Mars. Ends up they do, but neither of them know it…yet.
All of this upstairs-downstairs stuff is a bit broad, but I’m sure the simmer will turn to a boil eventually, and I’ll be entertained. I liked the moment when Miles, who has been shipped millions of miles from home on the promise of making money that has not materialized, complains to Ed about the situation, and Ed — by-the-bootstraps boomer that he is — acts like Miles is being ungrateful. ‘Why don’t you appreciate how amazing it is to be on Mars?’ the world-famous astronaut asks the working man who’s trying to pay off his mortgage and support his family. ‘Take some personal responsibility.’
It’s nice that the show is willing to paint Ed Baldwin, the closest thing For All Mankind has to a traditional hero, as such an out-of-touch jackass. Obviously this tension will have to break sometime. Right now, I’m on Miles’ side.
Meanwhile, on Earth…
Back home, we check in with Kelly and Aleida, who are both at loose ends. In the wake of the disaster on the asteroid from the premiere, NASA is being scrutinized, which means that the organization has to stop funding any research deemed non-essential. That includes Kelly’s research. At the same time, Aleida can’t get over what happened on the asteroid, and is even having flashbacks to the season 2 finale when the NASA offices were bombed.
These two lost souls meet at the Outpost, which is a Tex-Mex place now. They get drunk, decide to TP the house of new NASA director Eli Hobson, forget about that (probably), and wake up with a new life plan: they’re both leaving NASA to go into business together; their plan is to convince a private company to give them millions of dollars to continue Kelly’s research. I don’t see this ending any better than the impending class war on Mars.
Finally, in the Soviet Union, Margo gets caught up in a riot in the town square, brought about by some kind of seismic political event no one knows the full extent of because the Soviet government has ordered a media blackout. All we know is that there’s unrest, the Soviet police are cracking down, and Margo Madison has been arrested.
None of these plots come to full fruition in this episode. That’s the thing about For All Mankind: it’s never been the sort of show to rush. It will build its story brick by brick, and eventually we’ll turn on the TV to find there’s a road, or a bridge, or a house or whatever they’re making. But not yet.
For all Bullet Point-Kind
- To be fair, Danielle Poole does try to do something for the support staff by making it easier for them to send and receive messages to and from their families, but I don’t know if it’ll be enough, especially with folk like Ed walking around thinking that treating people with basic respect constitutes giving them special privileges.
- There’s no mention of Jimmy or Danny Stevens this episode. It sounds like the show has dropped their storylines, which feels a little awkward given how clearly Danny was set up for further development at the end of season 3. But what are you gonna do?
- It’s fun seeing super-smart science types like Kelly and Aleida behave like drunken dummies as their careers spin out of control. Kelly waking up in a pool of drool on Aleida’s couch was pretty funny.
- Part of why Aleida can’t get over the NASA bombing from years ago is that she thinks Margo died in the blast. She has no idea her former boss has defected to the Soviet Union. (I don’t know who knows, come to think of it.) I’m sure we all want to see that conversation.