For All Mankind S4E6: Leningrad

The G7 nations meet to discuss the asteroid capture, as it can’t help without Soviet help, but the USSR doesn’t want to give up their dominance of the Earthbound iridium supply. Margo, unable for fear of revealing herself to the Americans, watches on security cameras, scrutinizing the US and Helios delegations. The Soviet surveillance state isn’t so bad when you’re on the other side of the cameras, is it, Margo?

Until she spies the representative Helios sent. Aleida Rosales, Margo’s former protege. It’s hard to tell which of the emotions that play across Margo’s face is the dominant one. Shock? Regret? Pride? When Dev abruptly decided to send prickly engineer Aleida to Leningrad to handle diplomacy in his stead, it was clear the only reason to send her (from the writers’ standpoint) was to get her face-to-face with the mentor who betrayed her, and her country, before faking her death and defecting. We’ve spent the last week dying to see how the show contrives to get them together.

For now, however, Margo has to settle for whispering in Roscosmos boss Irina Morozova’s ear as the various factions lay out objections to the plan. The chief one? By Aleida’s estimate, the infrastructure necessary to capture and mine the asteroid and bring its bounty to earth will cost $2 trillion. Granted, the asteroid is worth $20 trillion. But that’s a heck of an outlay.

It’s also a heck of a lot of work for the crew at Happy Valley, who have a matter of weeks to scale up their operation dramatically, not to mention capture an asteroid, which they’ve only attempted once, and that attempt ended in failure and the deaths of two people. We’ve talked before about how the asteroid plot isn’t as momentous as the dueling US-Soviet moon bases or the race to Mars, but the episode does a good job of laying out how much bigger this is. And what the personal stakes are. Dani came out of retirement to lead the Mars base because she and people she cared about suffered, sacrificed, and died to make the base a reality and she couldn’t let budget-conscious NASA administrators let all of that be for nothing. This is her chance to prove the Mars project was worthwhile, even to people who care more about the bottom line than pure scientific achievement.

It’s all effective enough that it’s actually distressing when Hobson and Morozova agree to shut down the project because of the high cost and the decades it’ll take to see a return on investment, and legitimately exciting when Aleida (in person) and Margo (in Irina’s earpiece) unknowingly work together to find a solution. This also leads to a terrific scene where Margo plays Cyrano to Irina’s Christian, as she leads her through a highly technical conversation the Soviet bureaucrat really isn’t equipped to handle. (And the moment when she manages to scold Aleida and Margo simultaneously with the same words is a terrific bit of writing.)

And in the end, we get the personal stakes for Margo. She betrayed NASA and gave secrets to Roscosmos because she doesn’t care a whit about politics. She cares about the work, and almost nothing else. Solving the problems of space exploration has — and will continue to — change the course of human history. But mostly, she just has an obsessive need to solve problems. As does Aleida, and Margo knows that. And the only other thing Margo cares about are the vanishingly small number of people she’s ever been close to. Her own disgraced mentor, Wernher von Braun. Her star-crossed lover, Sergei Korolev. Her surrogate daughter, Aleida.

We won’t spoil how the show solves the season-long problem of separating Margo from the only remaining person on the show she cares about, but it’s a tremendously-acted emotional payoff to all the slow buildup of the early episodes. Every year, FAM spends a few sluggish episodes laying groundwork, only to have it pay off spectacularly in the back half of the season. Probably time to stop doubting them.

Stray asteroids:
• We also check in on Ed, now forcibly-retired, and hanging out with Ilya, after convincing the smuggler that he’s not there to bust him, he’s just an old man who wants a drink. Which he complains has “an aftertaste of cinnamon mouse ass.” Not that that stops him from putting them away “like a Russian,” as Ilya notes with approval.

• Palmer, who clued Dani in to Ed’s health issues last week, has now replaced Ed as her XO.

• This week in Miles Is the Wooooorst: Ilya sends a heavy to tell Miles he’s barred from the loading dock and out of Ilya’s smuggling operation. I feel like we’re supposed to worry about Miles here, but we were rooting for the Russian goon with a hand around his throat. Ilya’s entirely in the right to shut out a dumb guy who takes unnecessary risks and, as has been established, is the wooooorst. We’re stil going to keep right on doubting FAM where Miles is concerned.

• Sam—who should really be getting all the focus the show has been giving Miles—also sees an opportunity in the urgent asteroid capture project. Helios needs the blue collar workers they’ve taken for granted more than ever, so she start talking to them about a strike. (With the blessing of the Earthbound AFL-CIO) But it takes Ed showing up and laying bare how underhanded Helios is towards its workers to get them riled up enough to walk off the job. It’s not great that Sam steps up to lead and immediately gets pushed aside by an older man, but based on her unenthused reaction to the chants of “strike!”, it seems like the show knows that. We’re hoping we get more of her story in the remaining episodes and she wasn’t just a plot device to get the strike going, the same way she felt like a plot device to get Miles’ idiot schemes going in the early episodes.

• We just get a momentary glimpse of Kelly, en route to Mars, with the grandson Ed’s never met in tow. Dev’s presumably on board as well, but stayed offscreen this week.