For All Mankind S4E3: The Bear Hug

All is not well in Russia, as the police crackdown Margot was caught up in is part of a coup attempt against Gorbachev. We don’t get much information, as communication between Moscow and Mars is blacked out, and we really only see the coup from Margot’s perspective.

Margot, or “Margaret Reynolds,” as her Russian neighbors know her, hasn’t been face-to-face with the Soviet security apparatus, but she saw firsthand how they treated Sergei. She has to very quickly regret defecting once she’s taken into custody. Especially when the police find the phone number given to her by the mysterious park bench visitor, which turns out to be a phone number at the KGB. Margot’s threatened with a treason charge, but the station where she’s being held is overrun by pro-Gorbachev forces. That’s still not great news for Margot, because she now has a soldier interrogating both she and her interrogator, and he’s very interested to know who “Margaret Reynolds” really is, and why she has a card from the KGB in her purse.

Back in the land of the free, Kelly and Aleida pitch their plan to find life on Mars to an aerospace company. It’s a cool project, but it’s not a moneymaker, and you’ll be shocked to learn that large aerospace companies are more interested in profits than science. Inevitably, that pushes them to Dev, who’s rich enough to fund the project, and ambitious to want to make his mark on Mars without worrying about the cost. Dev also rejects them, but his reasons are more personal. Karen Baldwin betrayed him when she helped push him out at Helios, and Dev has stopped trusting people, Baldwins in particular. But of course he comes around, because why else would he still be on the show if he weren’t trying to get back into space?

And on Mars, Miles is still underpaid and boring. He finds out his female coworker Sam is recently divorced, and he’s well on the way there himself. He also finds out that the one person on the base who’s making money is Ilya, who runs the underground bar-slash-commissary in the lower levels of the base. Miles wants in on the action, and Ilya’s too smart for that, until Sam talks up his restricted access to parts of the base Ilya is interested in. Miles’ bank account swells with illicit cash… until he screws it all up. And then comes up with a plan to fix things that seems guaranteed to make everything worse. On a show about brilliant scientists and heroic astronauts defying death, I’m not sure why we’re supposed to be so interested in this dimwitted fuckup, but we’re holding out hope the writers have something worthwhile in store for him. (Although to the show’s credit, it takes his unfolding disasters to a very unexpected place.)

Whereas Ed is in an expected place — too old for this shit. His hands are shaky, and he knows he can’t fly a ship with the same precision, but he doesn’t want anyone else to know that. It doesn’t cause any problems this week, as he mentors a younger pilot through a delicate docking procedure instead of doing it himself. But we’re surely headed for trouble at some point.

The big question is, is that a metaphor for the series as a whole? Normally a fourth season wouldn’t make a show irredeemably old, but things move fast on FAM, what with the time jumps between seasons. We’ve already hit the big milestones of space exploration in the early seasons, and our original lead characters are elderly and past their prime. Is the show going downhill? Or is it doing what it’s done every season, and taking its time on setup so we can get an explosive payoff in the back half of the season? For now, I’m willing to trust the process. 

Stray Asteroids:
• The irony of Soviet Ilya being the most successful capitalist on Mars goes unremarked upon. 

• Ilya’s not the only one with an illicit sideline on Mars. Ed’s been growing weed, which he shares with his Russian protege….. (We really hope this is remaining a mentor-mentee relationship and not a May-December romance). Also a nice touch that Wayne gave him the seeds that started his secret garden.

• This is less of an issue with For All Mankind and more with narrative storytelling in general. We know full well Kelly’s “what happened to you, man?” speech is going to get through to Dev eventually, because if he doesn’t end up involved with her project somehow, why else is he still on the show?

• We also catch up with Bill, as Aleida tries to find more allies for her project. He’s been in a wheelchair since the JSC bombing, and is understandably embittered, but it’s still nice to see the two of them share a moment of warmth.