For All Mankind
There is one thing you can definitely say about For All Mankind: This story is moving. At the beginning of episode three, there are no women astronauts at NASA — by the end of this week’s episode, Molly Cobb is going to the freaking moon.
Witnessing that steady and swift progression is just one of the aspects of “Prime Crew” that generates a lot of excitement about the rest of the season, because if we’ve gotten this far already, what could possibly happen next? With the launch of Apollo 15, this alternate universe is already pretty different from the timeline we currently live in: the Vietnam War has ended as of 1970, Ted Kennedy is running for President against Nixon and a woman is going to the freaking moon. The resulting what-ifs are tremendous.
For the characters, though, the impact of these events isn’t clear yet. Instead, the bulk of the episode is centered on preparations for the Apollo 15 mission, in the immediate aftermath of Patty’s death. Molly’s convinced that the accident means that the women’s program is dead, and she’s not wrong to worry about that, because the White House has decided that one dead female astronaut is worse optics than no female astronauts.
Thus, Deke gets told to drop it and refocus entirely on establishing a permanent moon base, but Deke, bless his heart, is pretty stubborn. So he flat out defies those orders, holding a press conference to announce that all four of the remaining women have completed their training, and also deciding to bump Gordo from Apollo 15 in favor of Molly.
Apollo 15 matters a ton to NASA because, per political pressure from Nixon, it will serve as a scouting mission for finding a moon base location (which is a big deal, as the Russians are also working to establish a base, and despite a recent crash that may have killed at least one cosmonaut, may once again be ahead of NASA).
Over the course of the training, many of the show’s women unveil some key secrets: Margo has a secret passion for playing jazz piano, which also seems to help her with her equations. And Molly, despite what everyone assumes about her, appears to be quite happily married to a nice man named Wayne. “[Ed] probably thinks I’m a lesbian,” Molly says as she and Wayne enjoy a leisurely joint bubble bath (as well as a joint). “I have often thought of myself as a lesbian,” Wayne replies.
And Ellen actually is a lesbian, and she and Pam the bartender have been sleeping together! It’s a well-executed twist thanks to a key bit of misdirection, when Ellen and Larry get a drink together at the Outpost. While everyone thinks Larry and Ellen are dating (building upon their previous movie chatter in episode three), he has known the truth for some time, and delivers more than one warning that getting caught will cost her her chance at space. He’s willing to help her by playing the role of boyfriend in public, perhaps because he too is concealing a secret about his sexuality, as hinted by the line “believe me, I know.” But secrets have a funny way of getting out.
The training doesn’t go as smoothly as it could, as Molly’s stubbornness clashes with her new crewmates, and Ed in particular gets frustrated with both her attitude and the fact that she might not be as ready as she needs to be for the mission. It’s Margo, though, who manages to kick Molly’s ass into gear, reminding her that she’s not “just a pilot” — she’s an astronaut and she has to be perfect.
So come launch day, Molly seems ready, as she, Ed, and crewmate Sedgewick strap in. “Buncha people cheering for shit. I haven’t done anything yet,” Molly snarks.
And then Ed says perhaps the funniest thing he’s said so far in this entire series: “You did just strap your ass on top of a quarter million tons of high explosives for government pay. It’s not smart, but it’s something.”
They start laughing in the moments before blastoff, while Wayne holds hands in the bleachers with the other astronaut wives, and Deke gets a call from the White House, with Nixon warning him that “if the girl screws up, it’s your ass.” It’s quite the tease for next week’s episode — but Molly doesn’t seem the least bit scared.
Houston, We Have Some Bullet Points
• In looking up information about the real-life Apollo 15 mission, one might find oneself falling down a rather bizarre rabbit hole: The “Apollo 15 postal covers scandal,” in which astronauts partnered with a West German stamp dealer to sell unauthorized special envelopes to collectors. That does not appear to be a part of this particular mission, but who knows if a future storyline might be inspired by it?
• What’s Up With Aleida? Good Question! The daughter of Octavio the janitor has become a full-blown space nerd, it appears, in part thanks to her father fueling her ambitions with papers he finds around the NASA offices. Some parents might hesitate to let their kids take a bus halfway across the country to watch a spaceship launch, but Octavio can clearly tell what it means to her.
• So far, the Aleida storyline has yet to feel like anything other than a very, very long set-up for a future reveal, but that doesn’t make it any less impactful to see the first woman go to the moon through a young girl’s eyes.
• Gordo seems to handle getting bumped off Apollo 15 better than might be expected, trying to be supportive of his wife despite his disappointment. However, when he pokes Tracy about whether or not she’s “worried about being a bad mother” while on assignment at Cape Canaveral, Tracy’s revenge — flushing the toilet while he listens on the phone — proves deeply satisfying.
• Fun fact about John Glenn, who delivers the news to Deke that they can kill the female astronaut program: He really was that sexist in real life, testifying to Congress in 1962 that “the men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes and come back and help design and build and test them. The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order.”
• That quote comes from the obituary of Geraldyn M. Cobb, who died earlier this year and receives a special tribute at the end of the episode. Cobb (for whom Molly is clearly named) was a real-life member of the Mercury 13, and actively campaigned for the chance to go to space, even in her 60s. For All Mankind may be taking place in a world that’s growing more and more different from ours each episode, but it’s finding fascinating things to teach us about reality along the way.