For All Mankind returns for third season set in alternate 1990s
The Apple TV+ original For All Mankind has returned for its third season, this time jumping forward the the 90s with landing on Mars the goal. And so far we’ve seen little storyline with the LGBTQ characters.
Without giving away too many spoilers (from season three), let’s review the alternative timeline so far. For All Mankind hinges on one Soviet scientist, Sergei Korolev, who survived surgery and was able to keep the USSR in the space race, and reaching the moon first. The real history was not so kind for the Soviets, their space programme was a failure and they never managed to achieve the great heights as they did with Sputnik.
Many of the characters throughout the series as fictional and loosely based on real-life people, although many of the politicians from the original time line (OTL) appear in grainy news coverage. This allowed the writers to introduce a few LGBTQ characters, astronaut Ellen Waverly/Wilson (Jodi Balfour) and Larry Wilson (Nathan Corddry), who marry to avoid suspicions by the FBI.
Season one had the Americans as the underdogs, chasing the Soviets to the moon, with the aim to set up a base as soon as possible. Because of the tighter space race for Apollo 11, Senator Ted Kennedy doesn’t have the car accident that kills Mary Jo Kopechne. This secures his chances for the presidency, and he manages to defeat Nixon in the 72 election (the one made famous by Watergate). Kennedy only manages one term when Reagan uses the Supreme Court to include partially marked ballots in Ohio, giving the California Governor a tiny victory and the presidency four years early.
Apollo missions continued into the 70s and beyond the last flight in our timeline, Apollo 17, and allows the establishment of the Jamestown base in 1973. With the base staffed, Apollo 23 is meant to relieve the crew but an explosion on the launchpad kills many on the ground (but not the flight crew). That same year the Equal Rights Amendment is successfully ratified (something still not achieved today).
1976 also sees the first Mars lander, Hermes, send back images from the red planet surface. The following year Sea Dragon is launched from the Pacific Ocean, carrying over 1 million pounds of supplies. The Sea Dragon concept was explored in our timeline, but the technic to assemble and launch rockets submerged in the ocean was never used. The season two teaser at the end of season one was of a Sea Dragon launch in 1983. The scene ends up appearing later in the second season, almost thrown in at the last moment, as the timeline picks up earlier that year (ten years after season one ended).
In that ten year span, Jamestown has grown larger with full mining operations now taking place on the month. We also saw the militarization of space and the moon with the Air Force flying their own space shuttle and sending guns and soldiers to the moon base. Predictably this does not end well, and leads to a tense attack by the Soviets, and deepening Cold War conflict on Earth. Thankfully Apollo-Soyuz commander Danielle Poole is able to ease tensions with a hand shake.
Season two ended there in 83 and viewers were given another teaser for the next season, this time to the music of Nirvana, in 1995 a human is walking on Mars.
Updating the timeline
So with the premiere of season three, we’ve been given more timeline adjustments to help establish the new era, nine years later. While it’s not clear from the start, the new season starts in 1992, three-years before the Mars surface teaser. And so far after episode one, there are many things left to learn, including who will be president. One thing that’s clear, the USSR is not only still around, its influence has grown to a greater amount of the developing world, including Mexico.
In 1984, Gary Hart wins the presidency for the Democrats. A scandal in our time forced him out of the running, and there was no Bush senior as VP to take over then or in 88.
1985 saw Prime Minister Thatcher was successfully assassinated by the IRA in the new timeline. We don’t yet know the full impact, but a better Britain might have emerged, possibly with New Labour gaining power sooner. Most importantly, this meant Thatcher didn’t push through the oppressive Section 28 measure that prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities. This was a significant step back for LGBTQ rights in Britain. More unbelievable, England is able to beat Argentina in the 1986 World Cup final.
Mikhail Gorbachev becomes the USSR premier and begins welcoming Western investment into the new ‘vibrant Soviet economy’. As with our timeline, Gorbachev was a reformer who helped modernize the Soviet Union. He seems to also have avoided both Chernobyl and the Soviets losing in Afghanistan. All this has allowed a strong USSR to prevail. Interestingly China sets up its own lunar base in 87, a major move for the nation that would have still been eclipsed by the shadow of the USSR. North Korea has also abandoned its missile programme to focus on the space race, leading to a signifiant news event that sets up the conflict for the season three opener.
New characters arrive with the third season, including Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi), who along with Richard Hilliard, discovered nuclear fusion (we’re still working on this today). Gathegi was made a series regular and there’s a lot of back story to his character. Dev is the one scientist in the pair who turns into an entrepreneur, setting up the Helios Aerospace to mine the moon for the helium-3 necessary for nuclear fusion.
The second episode premiering next Friday appears to focus on Dev, with his face featured in the episode thumbnail. The description hints that his company might get more screen time, ‘a commercial spaceflight company makes an announcement’.
And here’s a thought. What if the person walking on Mars is not from NASA or the USSR, and is in fact from a private company?
Who goes to Mars?
Begin Episode one spoiler: Margo makes a phone call to her friend and now handler Sergei in which they discuss Mars mission timelines. An earlier comment in mission control mentioned a goal to reach the red planet in 1996, but NASA is still struggling with engine tests. The USSR has announced who will command their Mars mission, while this decision hasn’t been made for NASA. The choice is between Poole and Baldwin (but he might be out of the running after the incident on this episode). But we know from the second season end teaser that someone is walking on Mars in 1995, a full year before either country expects to get there. End episode one spoiler.
It’s easy to miss, but there is confirmation in the first episode that Dev and Helios will be that commercial spaceflight company. In fact we know from interviews with series creator Ronald D. Moore and show runners, that they want to move the focus away from the US vs. USSR space race. Enter decades early private companies echoing Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and yes, SpaceX. Dev is not a stand-in for Elon Musk, with writers saying he’s a blend of other people, including Steve Jobs (who we haven’t heard from yet… but we spotted a Newton PDA in this episode, a product he didn’t work on or like).
One episode one scene had Margo and Molly debating who would eventually command the Mars mission, with two front-runner candidates from the previous season. The episode may help reduce the candidate pool, but at this point it’s not clear if the true race will only the US and USSR.
Clean energy becomes a theme in the opening scenes. We were told electric cars began appearing in the early 80s and news clips show the US moving away from fossil fuels. In fact neither Saudi Arabia or other OPEC nations are no longer rich or welding major influence. The Gulf war doesn’t happen since Bush isn’t in the White House and the Kuwaiti oil isn’t needed. In 1989 Scientist James Hansen testified that due to the decline in fossil fuel use, global warming has slowed.
Series regulars are still around but beginning to reach retirement age including Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) who has remarried, Karen Baldwin (Shantel VanSanten) who’s working with Sam Cleveland (Jeff Hephner) the second husband to astronaut Tracy Stevens, the Stevens boys (Danny & Jimmy), Danielle Poole and her new husband and stepson, flight director Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt), Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger) who is still alive and working at NASA, and Ellen Wilson, now a US senator from Texas who’s running in the primaries to be the republican presidential candidate.
We also know from the additional news clips available on Apple TV+ that Al Gore was Hart’s VP in the late 80s, and he was criticizing presidential candidate Bill Clinton. And Clinton is going to face off fellow Democrat Jerry Brown (famous repeat California Governor). It will be interesting to see Ellen face either Clinton or Brown, however given Clinton is better known in US history, it’s likely Ellen will face and beat Bill to claim the 92 election. And so we may have a lesbian in the White House.
We don’t yet know how Larry fits into the picture, but in season two he was carrying on a relationship with another man. And Ellen had briefly reconnected with bartender/poet Pam. While this science-fiction (& fantasy) drama has mostly focused on space, there remain a lot of characters left on earth.
While For All Mankind feels like a sci-fi drama, it’s really a character-driven journey, hence we have more scenes on Earth with characters not necessarily going to space. Ellen is on her own journey that will unfold very soon. Season two set up the beginning on a generational arc for many characters. We have Aleida Rosales (Coral Peña) working at NASA, Danny Stevens (Casey W. Johnson) is now a hero and expected to go into space like his parents, and there is also Kelly Baldwin (Cynthy Wu), seen briefly on video and another potential candidate for the Mars mission.
In fact, in recent interviews Moore made it clear that the For All Mankind story will span generations, that the theme is bigger than just one generation. This was set up in the last season, but season three will see the torch passed to Danny and Kelly, likely along with other young people.
For All Mankind was renewed for a fourth season, and the writers have a loose plan for seven-seasons. Apple appears to be invested in TV+ and the show, so we have hope the show continues. We will likely soon see characters (and actors) bow out, possibly with this season. Ed Baldwin, who is in his 50s for season three, is likely to be retired in the next season (if another ten year jump is used). Karen Baldwin has a lot of potential ahead, if the company she founded with Cleveland can get over the current crisis. Possibly this will involve Dev.
Should future seasons jump a decade at a time, we’ll pass our current era with season six and see a radically different future for the seventh season. Well we’re currently seeing a radically different past in the third season.
Also worth mentioning from the opening sequence, the AIDS crisis is mentioned in the news montage, but we don’t yet know how Reagan mishandled the crisis, or if Hart stepped up and corrected the past. Was a cure found in the 80s? We know Molly survives for season three, hinting at implored medical science.
The headline on screen reads, “AIDS epidemic: cases continue to rise” in an undated clip from the mid-80s. The clip may have been archival or recreated, though likely cases began to rise earlier in the 80s during Reagan’s first term (and second in this timeline).
We know technology has moved on greatly in 1992. Large flat screen TVs are seen widely in the first episode. At the time there were black and white (or green or orange) small LCD panels used in laptops (the first Mac in a Book existed, the precursor to our MacBooks), but we’re seeing full-colour flat panels attached to computers. For some technology the lead is only five to ten years, but when it comes to nuclear fusion, space stations, flights to Mars, were not quite there.
Viewable with an Apple TV+ subscription, the video timeline news clips provided between seasons offers a lot of background and insight. In the recent batch, the 1985 clip features Tim Berners-Lee advocating for the internet to be made available to the public. Berners-Lee didn’t invent the web until 1989, so it’s a curious clip years ahead of its time. But when Berners-Lee created the first browser (and web server + http technology), the internet wasn’t yet publicly available beyond universities and research institutions (such at CERN, where he worked). The opening of the internet came in 1993, under Bill Clinton. Would a President Wilson open the internet in 93, or was it made public well before and we haven’t seen references yet this season? What would it mean for society if the internet wasn’t opened and the web invented to help spread information (and create facebook to destroy the remains of democracy).