For All Mankind S4E4: House Divided

Tensions are high on both Earth and Mars over the Russian coup attempt. A scuffle between two cosmonauts on opposite sides of the coup escalates until one’s suit is torn and the other’s in deep trouble with the boss. Except her boss is Ed, who’s sweet on her, and his boss is Danielle, who’s getting pressure from Houston, who are getting pressure from Moscow, to make an example of her.

Nasa chief Daniel Stern tries to play hardball with the head of Roscommos (and Margot’s new boss), but no one plays harder ball than Soviet hardliners, and she threatens to pull the USSR out of the Mars treaty, even if it means shutting down the asteroid program. She tasks Margot, newly installed at Star City, with analyzing the crash in the first episode, hoping for some cause they can pin on the Americans. Margot still looks terrified after last week’s interrogation, but she can’t resist the siren call of work, and is soon pouring herself back into studying engineering diagrams, albeit in a much shabbier office than the one she had at NASA. Not to mention the constant threat of punishment hanging over her head, and those of everyone around her.

Things continue to escalate on Mars, as the Soviets switch the computers to Cyrillic to frustrate the Americans, and refuse to recognize Dani’s authority as base commander. Daniel Stern gets chewed out by President Gore, NASA scrambles to find a solution, but, frankly, give we saw the two superpowers come to the brink of nuclear war in Season 2, this, like a lot of the season, feels like small potatoes.

Except none of that is the real heart of the episode. It’s all just happening to push things between Ed and Dani to a head. They’ve been intensely loyal to each other since being stuck together on the Moon with a mentally deteriorating Gordo in season one, but there’s a lot of buried resentment behind the cheerful “Hi, Bob”s. Ed’s not satisfied with the compromise that keeps Svetlana out of the gulag, and when they argue about that, their other issues come spilling out. Dani’s by-the-book and wants to please the higher-ups. Ed wants to bend the rules to protect people he cares about. Except that’s caused problems again and again, first with Gordo, and then with Danny Stevens. We come close to learning his unhappy fate, but all we’re left with is that both Ed and Dani blame themselves, but more than that, they blame each other.

The thing is, at least where Svetlana’s concerned, Dani’s entirely in the right. We’ve been shown again and again this season that Ed’s past his prime and no longer entirely up to the task of being an astronaut. But there’s more to it than that. The world has changed, and Ed hasn’t changed with it. He still wants to be the daredevil test pilot who thumbs his nose at authority, but space isn’t the Wild West any more. Ed’s the sheriff who cleans up the town, and then has to mosey on to make way for civilization. He just hasn’t figured that out yet.

Stray asteroids:
• We really thought North Korea would be the troublemakers this season, given the first few episodes’ focus on glasnost and US-Soviet cooperation, but they’ve been mostly backgrounded as the Cold War heats up again.

• Not sure whether Al Gore’s voice is AI-generated or an uncredited actor doing an impression, but it’s not one of the show’s stronger presidential re-creations. Couldn’t they have just called Al Gore? He’s done Futurama and 30 Rock, why not add this show to his resume?

• Dev’s now talking about opening Mars habitation to the public, in case the Elon Musk comparisons weren’t obvious enough. But that quick statement is all we see of him, and Aledia and Kelly are absent this week.

• This week in Miles Is The Worst: Miles gets to walk on the Martian surface for the first time, and all he does is complain about his spacesuit and complain that the chunks of obsidian he wants to sell on the black market are too hard to find. He’s the woooorst. Then he leans out over a ledge that even Wile E. Coyote would deem unsafe, but when he predictably falls, he doesn’t die, which I’m taking as evidence that the show’s writers hate us.