First look TV review: For All Mankind Season 2
Written by Arthur
8/10 Rating 8/10
This space race drama takes a bold leap forward with a confident, stylish second voyage.
“Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing is gonna be alright.” That’s the sound of For All Mankind returning to Apple TV+, and the space race drama begins its sophomore voyage with a joyous note of hope, as we see the astronauts on the Jamestown lunar base greeting the sun with a singalong to Bob Marley. That strikingly positive tone announces our arrival 14 years in the future, as Season 2 takes us forward from the end of Season 1 to 1983.
It’s a giant leap for the alt-history series, but it’s a sign of how ambitious Ron D Moore and co-creators Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert are, keen not just to explore the space race between the USA and USSR after Russia beats America to planting a flag on the moon, but to chronicle the aftermath and long-term consequences of that lunar landmark. We rejoin Jamestown as it’s significantly expanded, with the USA even having its own Skylab orbiting the Earth.
Down on the ground below, it’s all change for our lead ensemble, with Ed (the always-superb Joel Kinnaman) most notably in a different place to Season 1. Now the head of the astronaut arm of NASA, he’s comfortably behind a desk, leaving behind some of his dreams to instead focus on spending time with his family. As they playfully bicker over the kind of cheese used in the family lasagne, there’s a genuine sense of peace found by him and his wife Karen (Shantel Van Santen) and daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu). Margo (Wrenn Schmidt), meanwhile, has continued her ascent to become the first female head of the space agency.
But there’s a storm on the horizon. Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman) is treading water, while Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) is tired of her, Ed and Gordo’s routine of meeting up to reminisce about what they once were. Her selfless act to help Gordo in Season 1, and their agreement not to be honest about what happened, has left him riding a wave of acclaim and attention, and Dorman does a wonderful job of delivering after-dinner speeches with a mix of pride and regret – a cocktail destined to spiral downwards, especially as he sees Tracy Stevens (a radiant Sarah Jones) carrying on with her life in her own growing media spotlight. In the Baldwin household, meanwhile, tensions are brewing as Kelly begins to make decisions about her future. And, waiting in the wings to become NASA’s future, Aleida (Coral Peña) has her citizenship status on her plate.
For All Mankind’s strength, built up over a patiently composed first season, is its diverse and deeply nuanced ensemble, and Season 2 uses that maiden outing as a springboard to bring new complexities to all manner of situations. The cast are uniformly impeccable, with Jodi Balfour’s base commander Ellen and Sonya Walger’s delightful veteran Molly bracing themselves for risks on the moon. And yet, while there’s ample time for meditative conversations and thoughtful reflection, the show also knows when to switch up the pace to introduce some spectacle and peril, and the cast convincingly change with it like the seasoned astronauts they are.
But while there’s a sense that the show has reached its stride, from the impressive visuals to the seamless period details – a simple colour-changing wristband can spark a huge wave of tension – Season 2 makes it clear that the space race is far from over. With the Russians still posing a threat, political tensions promise to tip what is, on an idealistic level, an endeavour of teamwork and progress into weaponised confrontation. Don’t worry about a thing, For All Mankind tells us, with the burning optimism of a new sunrise – but even the biggest leaps forward can’t escape humankind’s ability to throw hope away and pick up conflict instead. Strap yourself in: Season 2 of this confident, stylish saga promises to be a gripping, bumpy ride.