For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
In a time where it’s become fashionable to not only binge-watch dystopian sci-fi series but even argue over which bleak vision is the closest to the reality we currently live in, For All Mankind has consistently offered an optimistic vision, even if the show is currently set in the late 20th century of an alternate universe. Things somehow shifted in this universe around June 1969, when the Soviets successfully launched a manned mission to the moon ahead of the Americans – mirroring an almost successful attempt in real life.
This sets off a chain of events that leads to the US building the first lunar base by the 1970s and the hurried passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in all 50 states – as there’s a large demand for men and women in STEM careers, and a whole lot of the technology we take for granted today ends up arriving on the scene earlier than expected – with laptops and hybrid cars available by the 1980s.
By the 1990s, the US is preparing for a manned mission to Mars while former astronaut Ellen Wilson is now a US Senator from Texas and running for president – the first former astronaut to pursue a career in politics, a nod to former astronaut and senator John Glenn who would return to space as a civilian in that same decade. Space travel has also become increasingly privatized, and now there’s a luxurious hotel with gravity containment – the Hotel Polaris- where guests can stay aboard a space station and indulge in food much better than typical astronaut fare – with alcohol also permitted.
Things get complicated during a wedding reception aboard Polaris for the son of the late Gordo and Tracy, debris from a North Korean rocket breaks Polaris’ orbital thrusters, causing the space station to rotate faster and gravity to build up to dangerous levels. Pandemonium breaks out as the guests scramble to the elevators, being led by Sam – who is killed instantly when he tries to manually release the doors. Each season of the show has been marked with tragic episodes such as this one. Season One had a LEM simulator crash that killed Patty Doyle while Season Two concluded with Gordo and Tracy giving their lives to prevent a nuclear meltdown on the moon. While each of these events takes a significant toll on the characters, they also become an opportunity to try harder next time, to lead by example by somehow overcoming the next obstacle thrown at them – a pattern that largely defined Gordo’s life.
The incident at Hotel Polaris could have been much worse than it turned out – with Ed only suffering a limb fracture and much of the wedding party surviving the disaster after an astronaut manages to make a last-minute repair that restabilizes gravity inside the hotel. Each step of the way, we wonder if this will be the moment that forces inevitable backlash from the public regarding the dangers of space travel, and it’s a reminder that this is exactly the headspace the series’ characters are in at any given moment and why they always have to present the best possible public version of themselves.