For All Mankind S4E8: Legacy

Sergei Korolev, last seen escaping the USSR to West Germany with Margo’s help, is living in an American suburb with an American wife, teaching science at Spiro T. Agnew high school. Until he hears Margo’s voice on the news. One thing the show has always done well is frame larger events through one character’s perspective, so we get a quick recap of Margo’s defection and return through Sergei’s eyes, and then we stay with him as he processes that information, and decides whether to act. It’s an extended sequence with very little dialogue, just a visual of Sergei being faced with the repeated choice to turn left and go through another school day, or turn right and seek out Margo in Houston.

And when he finally does make that right turn, it isn’t Margo he reaches out to. The episode is full of those kind of deftly executed turns, and as impatient as we were through the sometimes tedious setup in the early episodes, the payoffs in the back half of the season have been worth the wait.

We also get a payoff on last episode’s kicker: Dev Ayesa wants to steal a trillion-dollar asteroid. And he wants Ed to help. And now Ed wants to bring in Sam. She’s understandably skeptical of the erratic billionaire, but can’t help but chafe against NASA’s draconian security crackdown in the wake of the strike. It’s enough for her to at least hear Dev out. 

Ed is naturally happy to be back at the center of the action, but he’s also forgotten he promised to babysit his neglected grandson Alex for a few days while Kelly’s out looking for life on Mars. As Kelly reminds him, her born-in-space son isn’t like other kids. He’s got health issues, a medication schedule, a list of rules — all kinds of things for a disinterested grandpa to screw up. (And this ongoing storyline doesn’t yet get a payoff, although we do get to see Ed being both better and worse than we expect him to be.)

But the asteroid capture mission launches in two days, so that’s the episode’s focus. Every good heist movie has a scene where someone lays out the plan, and we intercut between Margo explaining the asteroid capture at NASA, Dani explaining it on Mars, and Dev explaining to Ed, Sam, and a few key conspirators how they’re going to interfere with the mission to redirect the asteroid to orbit Mars instead of Earth, thereby saving, in their minds, the Mars base’s continued significance. (And in both Ed and Dev’s case, their own personal significance in a solar system that’s largely moved on from both of them.)

That’s one payoff we’re not going to get until next week, as we build up to the moment Dev’s plan goes into motion, then cut to credits. We’ll see how things play out in the second-to-last episode of the season, traditionally the one where everything goes to hell.

Stray asteroids:
• Mrs. Sergei’s Fargo accent is a bit much, but does at least establish that she’s not someone he was married to during his Cold War flirtation with Margo.

• This week in Miles is the Woooorst: The security crackdown at Happy Valley involves them immediately shutting down the bar Miles forced Ilya out of, so we mercifully didn’t get much of the Miles the Crime Lord storyline that was set up two weeks ago, apart from him playing a small but crucial role in the heist.

• Early on in the season, Miles felt like a lead character we were supposed to be emotionally invested in, and Sam felt like a thinly-drawn character who only existed to move the plot forwards. Those roles are reversed now, and both characters are better for it.

• The bedtime story Ed reads to Alex is The Sand Pebbles, a 1962 war novel that was later made into a movie with Steve McQueen. Exactly Ed’s kind of book.

• We don’t actually much of Kelly, but we do get a fairly stunning visual of her team working on the rim of an unimaginably large crater.

• The episode takes pains to show Margo under 24/7 guard, and then doesn’t bother to explain how she leaves her hotel room to meet another character. But it leads to yet another long-simmering payoff, so it’s worth handwaving away.