‘For All Mankind’ Season 2 Review: Cold War Friendships

For All Mankind

For All Mankind Season 2, created by Ronald D Moore, reveals that man’s journey to the moon both turns the Cold War piping hot and brings people with disparate points of view together. The second season takes place a decade later, in the 1980s. 

Ed Baldwin is now the chief of the Astronaut office; his wife Karen owns The Outpost bar, and they have an adopted seventeen-year-old daughter, Vietnamese American Kelly. Ellen Wilson is about to return home from a long stint as the commander of the Jamestown Base on the moon to become a NASA administrator. Tracey Stevens is a super-star astronaut who wears fancy dresses on talk shows while her ex-husband Gordo drinks away his depression. Molly Cobb is secretly flooded with radiation on the moon after an hour outside during a solar storm rescuing Dutch astronaut Wubbo Johannes Ockels. After being benched for a decade, Danielle Poole is itching to go back to space. All the astronauts struggle to find their place in this new decade.

The sexual affair between Karen Baldwin and Danny Stevens makes zero sense. Karen and Ed’s marriage has been struggling since their eleven-year-old son Shane died in 1974. The fact that Ed was not home when Shane died nearly led to their divorce. They stayed together to raise their Kelly. Kelly is a senior in high school applying to the Naval Academy at Annapolis because she wants to be like her father. Ed has been staying home all these years because of his guilt over being on the moon during Shane’s car accident. Kelly and Karen permit him to return to the moon after seeing how eaten up he has been staying home all these years. Karen can’t deal with her husband risking his life for the Pathfinder Mission. She sells the Outpost Bar to Sam, so all of her tethers to her everyday life are cut away.

So, it does make sense that Karen has an affair, but with a stranger, not Danny. First off, Danny was best friends with her son Shane. Karen raised both boys since Danny’s parents Tracey and Gordo, are active astronauts. In the 1970s, Tracey could no longer stay home with her son after school because she started training. So, Karen and Danny have more of a mother-son relationship than a friendship. Secondly, Karen hasn’t shown any romantic attraction to the twenty-so-year-old young Naval Academy cadet for most of the season. Danny works as a part-time waiter at the Outpost, and he is only a couple of years older than her daughter Kelly, and he must remind her of Shane. If Ronald D. Moore wanted one big push to implode the Baldwin’s marriage, then she should have had an affair with a customer at the bar or just broke down over Ed returning to space. Danny’s crush on Karen makes sense, but not her feelings for him. Danny and Kelly having sex even one time is genuinely bizarre.

This season of For All Mankind dove deeper into the Cold War, the Apollo-Soyuz mission is a perfect vehicle for that exploration. The Apollo-Soyuz mission is based on an actual historical 1975 event that marked the end of the space race when the two modules docked together, and the Soviets and Americans shook hands. In the fictional and actual world, the mission is designed to promote peace between the Soviet Union and the United States. Throughout the second season, Danielle desperately tries to make the mission happen. As a Black woman, Danielle feels both the responsibility and desire to command a mission since she sacrificed her career to help Gordo hide his mental breakdown.

The Apollo-Soyuz is primarily a ceremonial mission but is her only opportunity for command. Danielle bonds with the cosmonauts over beer, burgers, cheers for lost comrades, pride over their space programs, and Laika, the Soviet dog who died sacrificing for the people she loved. Even though these cosmonauts and astronauts are supposed to be enemies, their common humanity wins out. Danielle puts up with being locked up in Star City, USSR. The Soviet Union officials kept the astronauts as hostages after a Soviet jet shot down a South Korean commercial airplane full of American passengers, including the head of NASA, Thomas Paine. The Soviets keep the astronaut’s prisoners to stop the Americans from retaliating. Calm heads win out. A secret agent lets her out after discussing how the mission could change the world. Apollo and Soyuz are stuck rotating Earth’s orbit when the modules finally launch because, supposedly, the Soviets have some mechanical error. The two crews speak together through the radios.

Meanwhile, the reasons for the delay become apparent, the American armed spacecraft Pathfinder and Soviet spacecraft Buran fly to the dark side of the moon, ready to launch missiles at each other if the other acts aggressively. The United States preps for a nuclear strike. Margo orders Danielle to land back on Earth, but she refuses. Instead, Apollo and Soyuz, against orders, conduct their mission of peace. They all shake each other’s hands after connecting the modules on national television. All of them are smiling in real celebration. Regan warms at the sights of the cosmonauts and astronauts shaking each other’s hands and calls for peace. Nuclear war is avoided. Moments of real friendship through collaboration can lead to understanding.

I would recommend For All Mankind Season 2 for lovers of alternative history and space program fans. The more extensive introduction of the Soviet Union this season explores the fundamental tensions of the cold war and the explosive “warm” space race that we narrowly avoided.