Friday, April 30, 2021

Reviewing Season Two of For All Mankind

I’ve just finished watching Season Two of For All Mankind on Apple TV+.  It comes from the fertile mind of Ronald D. Moore. Last year, in season one, Moore and his writers asked the question, “What if the Soviet Union landed on the moon first?”

The second season starts by asking, “What next?” When season two starts it’s the early 1980s, and Ronald Regan is already into his second term as president, having been elected in 1976. Both the United States and the Soviet Union have large south polar lunar bases at Shackleton Crater and the Cold War is at a boil. The two adversaries are staring at each other across the crater.   The continuing tensions over the ice deposits in the bottom of the crater make the Americans decide it's time to send in the Marines.

Things go badly from there.

The world Moore and his writers have crafted is a mixture of the familiar and the tantalizingly off-center. John Lennon is still alive, but the Middle East peace deal brokered by Jimmy Carter never happened because Carter never became president.  Because of the accelerated pace of the space program, technologies such as electric cars and cell phones appear decades earlier than in our timeline, with NASA becoming self-funding off the patents. However, some things remain the same as in our timeline, when the KAL 007 shootdown occurs on schedule in September 1983 with major repercussions.  It’s an entirely believable reality.

Our protagonists have moved on. After the death of their son in the first season, Ed and his wife Karen Baldwin have adopted a Vietnamese girl, Kelly as their daughter.  Gordo Stephens and his wife Tracey have not only broken up but have moved into different orbits. Other characters, such as Ellen, who is left on the moon to give the first season’s valedictory address, also move forward.

In that sense, Season Two takes things onward and upward, culminating in a lunar standoff reminiscent of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with the Soviets blockading the Americans. How this is successfully resolved is a demonstration of excellent storytelling. 

Moore and his writers handle character growth mostly well, except the business involving Karen that seems to move on a predictable trajectory.  Meanwhile Kelly, after some serious reflecting, is definitely being set up for a larger role in Season Three. Ellen, who by the end of Season Two is the head of NASA, also seems to be set up for a greater role next season – that is, if her private life remains private. 

I  enjoyed Season Two. There is a lot more I could talk about here, but I’ll restrain myself. The highlights of the second season are the character arcs of Gordo and Tracey.  Redemption has never been so bittersweet.  Their actions frame the third season, which as of this writing, has already been greenlit. I'm eagerly awaiting more of what the season's final episode pre-credits teaser is promising us.

This show demonstrates how a believable alternate history can be constructed. If you’ve not watched it yet, you’re missing out. Highly recommended.

What’s Next?

Next month, I will have a review of Shadows of Annihilation, the third book (so far) in S.M. Stirling’s alternate history of the Great War, which continues the adventures of American Black Chamber super-spies Luz O’Malley Arostegui and Ciara Whelan. 

In the meantime, you can purchase Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.

Until then, please take care of  yourselves.

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