For All Mankind S4E5: Goldilocks

We’ve talked before about how this season’s stakes have felt much lower than previous years. So halfway through the season, For All Mankind ups the ante… and it still doesn’t feel very high.

An asteroid is spotted passing Jupiter and heading towards the inner solar system. While the montage of various space agencies spreading the news is played out with so much gravity you might assume the asteroid is going to hit Earth and wipe out all life, it’s simply heading into Mars’ neighborhood, and contains $20 trillion dollars worth of iridium — a dense, silvery metal that’s incredibly rare on Earth.

As stakes go, $20 trillion is certainly enough to motivate a capitalist like Ayesa, or the Soviets, who control the majority of Earth’s iridium market and would like to keep it that way. And the various spacefaring powers only have six months to capture and mine the asteroid before it flies out of range.

But do we care? The race to Mars in season 3 was exciting, less so because it was a race, and moreso because at the finish line was one of the most significant events in human history. One tantalizingly close enough that we may live to see it happen in real life, but uncertain enough that our children might not. Helios’ stock price skyrocketing, by comparison, will not be one of history’s pivotal events.

Nonetheless, Happy Valley is rushing to prepare for the mission, and while a few months have passed since the last episode, Ed’s still pissed that Dani sent his love interest back to Earth, and is undermining her at every turn. (We also get a quick dream flashback of Dani visiting Danny Stevens in his Mars prison, just to remind us there’s something going on between her and Ed we still haven’t seen.)

We didn’t see Kelly and Aleida last week, but two weeks ago, their hostile takeover ended with Kelly’s realization that getting into bed with mercurial, egomaniacal Elon Musk-surrogate Dev Ayesi may not have been the smartest play, even if it was the only one she had. This week, Dev abruptly decides he’s going to Mars to oversee operations in person, which means her life-on-Mars project is getting fast-tracked and she’s coming with him. She can train her people and plan the project on the way. So he bullies her into leaving her son behind, and Aleida into running the whole company (and negotiating with NASA and Roscosmos) in their absence. Dev also confronts his estranged mother. He wants to try and rehash the issues she had with his late father one last time before he goes to Mars, because he doesn’t intend to come back. We see how hurt Dev still is, and how much that hurt has curdled into cynicism.

And that, more than the asteroid, is what the real stakes are. None of the outer space stuff matters if we don’t care about these damaged people trying to do great things despite the pain life on Earth brings us all. So while we don’t have a thrilling historic-triumph-of-human-achievement event this season, we have Kelly breaking down watching the last message her mother sent, when they were separated by millions of miles and never saw each other again. We have Dani keeping a close eye on Ed, out of concern as much as mistrust. And the heartbreaking flashback of Danny Stevens begging for a reprieve from Mars jail and Dani having to tell him, “this is how it has to be,” before we finally learn his ultimate fate, and finally watch her and Ed’s long-buried resentments reach a boiling point. As long as the characters remain compelling (not you, Miles), the show does as well. Whatever’s happening in space, there’s nothing more interesting than the human condition.

Stray asteroids:
• While iridium’s rarity on Earth makes it a logical choice for a jackpot in space, and the show claims easy access to large quantities of the stuff will spark a “technological revolution,” it’s a brittle material without too many real-world applications. It’s mostly used to to strengthen platinum, and in high-end electrical contacts and fountain pen tips. It’s a far less impactful discovery than, say, Molly Cobb finding water on the moon, and in reality, the main effect of mining this asteroid would be to crash the global iridium market (and the value of the asteroid with it).

• The episode title refers to the nickname “the Goldilocks asteroid,” which makes no sense. We call a “Goldilocks planet” one that’s neither too hot nor too cold to support life, but this nickname seems to have been settled on because it has “gold” in the name, which is also valuable?

• The show has President Al Gore claiming he took the initiative to discover Goldilocks, sparking a political scandal, echoing the real life “scandal” in which Gore supposedly claimed to have invented the internet. It leaves somewhat of a bad taste, because Gore actually did take the initiative in Congress to expand the internet from a private military communications system to a publicly-accessible network, and his words were twisted by a media desperate to drum up a scandal. Whereas FAM’s Gore just looks like a jackass. 

• This week in Miles Is the Worst: Miles’ ill-gotten gains are enough for his wife to buy a new house. But that just leads to him trying to talk Sam into joining his black market Mars rocks scheme (which he seems to have gone ahead with beyond Iyla’s back) instead of accepting a promotion onto the asteroid mission.

• When the show gives us a barrage of new reports, they’ve started throwing in “Eagle News,” whose role is to criticize anything the US government does, right or wrong. Good thing it’s only a fictional story!

• There has been some criticism online of Wrenn Schmidt’s Texas accent, but her Russian-accent-in-a-Texas-accent is a delight.