For All Mankind S4E7: Crossing the Line

There’s an interesting dynamic to be mined in a strike on a Mars base jointly run by the communist Soviet Union, and capitalist Helios, with science-minded NASA caught in the middle. But FAM is largely uninterested in exploring that dynamic. Union leaders Ed and Sam negotiate not with their Helios bosses, but base commander Danielle Poole. And those negotiations are more focused on the fact that Ed’s abrupt look-for-the-union-label fervor is borne not out of any real solidarity with the workers (something Dani calls him out on), and more because he’s resentful over his well-justified demotion at her hands.

And the only reaction we get from the Workers’ Paradise is Roscosmos head Irina Morozova suggesting screwing over the workers because they stand in the way of her plans. (Which, while not very Marxist, is extremely Stalinist, which is far more in line with Irina’s ethos.)

So the strike escalates. Roscosmos and NASA assign their astronauts to do the Helios workers’ jobs, sending them out to restart the fuel generator that needs to power any asteroid-capture mission. The strikers retaliate by putting all of the base’s EV suits out on the surface. Then the astronauts try and crawl through a sewer pipe to access the fuel generators. The strikers steal a part from the generator so it won’t start. NASA ingenuity finds a workaround. The workaround doesn’t work. The resulting explosion is seen not as a shoddy quick fix by the astronauts, but as a deliberate act of sabotage by the workers.

As things escalate, the show remains even-handed, showing us both sides’ reasonable concerns, and not shying away from showing how unreasonable Helios’ treatment of its workers is. But the show is less interested in commenting on late-stage capitalism as it is building an intractable problem — as it does every season — so a metaphoric or literal moon shot can set everything right in the final episode.

The real stakes here aren’t fair working conditions, the stakes are that the incredibly valuable asteroid might sail by while the people who could capture and mine it are bickering among themselves. And as we’ve said throughout the season, those stakes are simply less interesting than landing someone on Mars or stopping a battle on the moon from escalating into a world war.

The stakes that are still interesting are the characters we still have an emotional connection to. Kelly and her son Alex arrive on Mars with Dev, and it’s nice to see a warm reunion between them and the Mars crew who sacrificed so Alex could be born. But Kelly’s reunion with her father is less warm, as Alex isn’t all that interested in getting to know the Poppy who’s pointedly avoided coming back to Earth his whole life. And Kelly isn’t interested in Ed’s strike, or his dismissive claim that he doesn’t want to see Mars just become a research outpost for “white coats,” instead of a full-fledged community, knowing full well his daughter wears one of those coats.

Speaking of frosty reunions, after last week’s confrontation between Aleida and Margot — the emotional high point of the season — the show contrives to bring them together again. The Soviet president insists on sending Margot in person back to Houston to work out the asteroid problem, but really to embarrass the Americans by flaunting their prize defector. Aleida, still working through her mixed feelings about Margot, is furious, but there’s not much she can do about it but simmer until the two come face-to-face again next week.

And we get a perfect encapsulation of brilliant, mercurial, egomaniacal capitalist Dev. He bribes the workers to cross the picket line, making an emotional appeal that providing for their families is more important than solidarity. He’s a snake oil salesman, as Ed points out, but he’s a damn good one. Ed stands his ground, because he’s far more invested in being contrary than in the financial outcome, but in the end, it’s just his stubbornness, Sam’s righteousness, and a few stragglers left on the picket line. Never one to rest on his laurels, Dev follows that up by using Ed’s contrariness to manipulate him into an unlikely plan that sets up the season’s endgame.

For good and bad, it’s the setup that’s more interesting than the endgame this season. We don’t really care that much about a trillion-dollar asteroid. But we’re deeply invested in seeing how this show keeps things going through three more planned seasons, with all of the original leads save Aleida likely dead or retired by the end of this year, and less of the solar system to explore. It’s possible this season’s diminishing returns will continue apace. But if there’s one thing this show’s good at, it’s drama and unlikely rescues. Stay tuned.

Stray asteroids:
• Even if this season has been less exploration-focused, you still get a few poetic images, like the lander carrying Dev, Kelly, and Alex gently gliding to a landing as the sun shines through the yellow Martian sky behind it.

• As always, the other G7 nations get “the US, the USSR, and the rest” treatment any time the countries behind the Mars base is mentioned.

• Like any good capitalist, Dev blames his employees’ greed for the strike, without acknowledging that it was Helios that cut their pay and changed their contracts without warning, and they were merely fighting to get back to where they started. 

• This week in Miles Is the Woooorst: No Miles this week! After last week’s episode turned him from Less Competent Danny Stevens to Less Charismatic Christopher Moltisanti, this week gives us a break from him. But we’re confident his petty scheming will figure into the endgame somehow.