For All Mankind S4E9: Brazil

Heist movies are always fun. A clever plan, a team of charming rogues working together with style, hitting an unsympathetic target like a bank or a casino that, on some level, has been robbing ordinary people all along.

Except For All Mankind has managed to innovate, giving us a heist that isn’t fun, led by a less-than-charming group of rogues who are entirely unsympathetic. Dev is a selfish megalomaniac. Ed’s a stubborn sonofabitch who’s doing this to spite Dani for (rightfully) grounding him. Miles is a small-time hustler who destroys everything he touches. And Sam… well, we do like Sam. But we’re not rooting for her to succeed, we’re rooting for her to come to her senses.

Then there’s the target. The plan involves diverting the uber-valuable Goldilocks asteroid to Mars instead of Earth. It would help the dozens of people on Mars immensely, by making the red planet an essential part of a decades-long asteroid-mining operation. It would also screw over the 7 billion people on Earth, by making that operation an order of magnitude slower and more expensive. The show keeps telling us the massive amount of iridium Goldilocks carries will shepherd in a new technological leap forward for Earth. And whatever their stated motivations, Dev and his crew are intent on turning that leap into a crawl.

On top of that, the Terry Benedict figure in this heist isn’t some preening, arrogant billionaire. It’s humble, fundamentally decent Danielle Poole, who’s staked her reputation on one of the most difficult endeavors in human history going smoothly under her command.

So while we feel like the show wants us rooting for the heist, we’re very firmly on team Dani going into this episode, and fully expect team Dev will somehow screw this up badly enough that Earth and Mars both suffer for it.

Or, more accurately, Miles will screw this up, because Miles screws everything up. He reaches out to first-man-on-Mars Lee Jung-Gil, who’s smart enough to know Miles is an idiot and his plan is risky, but still joins in — lending access to the North Korean surveillance cameras NASA doesn’t know about — because Miles is still stringing him along by promising to get his wife out of North Korea and, somehow, smuggle her to Mars.

But that’s not our only story. In the month that’s passed since last week’s episode, Kelly has discovered several sources of methane on Mars’ surface. It could be volcanic activity, but it could be evidence of life, the thing she’s devoted her career to finding. And while Dev is excited, he’s not that excited. He’s more interested in sneaking off to meet with Ed, who’s suddenly chummy with his adversary in the strike, and is still distant towards his daughter after several years apart on different planets.  

Back on Earth, Aleida has stepped up and is competently running the Goldilocks operation for Helios and, seemingly, NASA. And despite herself, she’s getting along with Margo. They’re just too similar — focused on the work, frustrated by things like budgets and politics. She’s also been passing notes between Margo and Sergei, although Margo will only admit her interest in Sergei to be lunar-tragectory-related.

Funny enough, Sergei also sees the down side to sending the asteroid to Earth. The USSR — which has moved on from Gorbachev’s perestroika to Putin-style cronyism — just cares about the money it represents, and he predicts they’ll quickly lose interest in Mars, and without their support, budget-conscious NASA will follow suit. He has no way of knowing about Dev and Ed’s plan, but he’d likely be a supporter.

Once he and Margo are alone, Sergei lays out a risky plan of his own: the two star-crossed scientists run away together. He has a friend in the Brazilian space program, who’s be eager to have the minds that built the Soviet and American space programs putting their country on the map. Margo’s response is cagey, but she has nothing to lose, apart from a return to Moscow with the constant threat of the gulag hanging over her head.

But ultimately, Goldilocks is the main story, and the episode deftly swings things around to a heist-in-reverse. Lee’s North Korean bosses immediately realize someone’s tapped their surveillance cameras, and angrily confront Dani. She quickly discovers quite a lot of equipment has been stolen from the orbiting supply ship, and alerts NASA chief Eli, who in turn alerts the Soviets. They alert an astronaut and cosmonaut who have been CIA and KGB assets all along.

Like any good heist movie, we’ve assembled our team. We’ve set the stakes, as the asteroid is set to launch for either Earth or Mars in 24 hours. And the noose tightens, as Dani, the two spies, the Korean base commander, and Kelly Baldwin each chase their various suspicions. And FAM pulls off its own heist, smuggling a tense spy thriller inside the unsympathetic sabotage plot we thought the show was giving us. One episode left, and a season that felt rudderless in its early going has gained a lot of ground. This certainly hasn’t been the best season of FAM, but it’s turned out to be far more interesting than we expected based on the first few episodes.

Stray asteroids:
• Krys Marshall gives Dani a terrific emotional moment when she records a message home to her stepson. She wasn’t there for his first steps, and his first words, but now he and his wife are expecting a daughter, and Dani chokes up at the thought of being able return to Earth and be there for her. (She also vows to turn her granddaughter into a Trekkie; FAM creator Ronald D. Moore was a writer for Star Trek: The Next Generation and spinoff Deep Space Nine). Please tell us that was just a nice character beat for a long-suffering character and not a sign that Dani’s doomed.

• Last week, we got our hopes up that the show would give Sam more to do than be a cardboard cutout who advances the plot, but this week she advances the heist plot in the intro and is never heard from again.

• Will Tyler makes another appearance as Eli’s right hand at NASA, and while he gets far less to do than his coming-out-on-Mars storyline last season, it’s nice to see the show hasn’t forgotten him.

• It would be satisfying to see this all play out with Dev, Ed, and Miles sentenced to life in the Danny Stevens Memorial Interplanetary Jail Capsule, but we suspect the series is too invested in keeping the characters around next season. (Although another time jump would put Ed in his 80s, so we’re probably going to get some closure for him next week one way or another.)