For All Mankind
You know, in weeks past, the idea of spending a little time hanging out on the pristine emptiness of the moon’s surface might have seemed vaguely appealing. But after the events of the uneven but tense “Hi Bob,” For All Mankind has once again made the point that astronaut life is far from an easy thing, at least at this stage.
It’s nearing the end of 1974, and Ed, Gordo, and Danielle have been living on the moon for (at the beginning of the episode) 86 days — nearly three months, with no real end in sight, due to NASA constantly delaying the launch of Apollo 24 (always for “another two weeks,” much like how pilots will say you’ll be taking off “in about half an hour”).
The emotional and physical toll has had an effect on all three of them, but most especially Gordo (and full credit to Michael Dorman for acting the living hell out of this episode). The only real source of entertainment they have aboard the station is (as established last week) a videotape containing six episodes of The Bob Newhart Show — and they’ve watched them so many times that at this point, they’re able to recite the dialogue from memory. (The title of the episode refers to how often Bob Newhart characters say “Hi Bob” onscreen, a pre-internet meme that, in the 1980s, became perhaps the very first TV-show drinking game.)
Danielle tries urging Ed to take Gordo’s increasing anxiety seriously, as she’s very conscious of certain people’s mental states right now; her Vietnam veteran husband has not adjusted to civilian life well, thanks to what feels like a pretty clear case of serious PTSD (and he won’t seek treatment). It’s hard for her to do anything for him from her current position, and Gordo isn’t any easier to help, especially when he descends into fits of panic over the presence of loose ants on the station.
Back on Earth, the FBI agent determined to reveal Larry as a secret homosexual has also started targeting Ellen, questioning why a woman of her accomplishments and background would be with him … the implication, of course, being what we know to be the truth: They’re providing mutual cover for each other’s sexuality. The simplest answer to the problem, at least logically, comes as a suggestion from one of the higher-ups at NASA — but when Pam finds out that her lover is seriously considering the option of what would be a false marriage, she’s furious, telling Ellen that the two of them are over if she and Larry go through with it. But the pressure of getting discovered and losing their careers proves overwhelming, so one of the episode’s closing beats is Ellen and Larry at the courthouse, with only one witness present to watch them tie the knot.
In addition, one of the episode’s ongoing subplots, building upon events from weeks past, is the fact that Ed and Karen’s son, Shane, and Gordo and Tracy’s son, Danny, have been best friends all their lives, but according to the school principal after yet another vandalism incident, they’re becoming a bad influence on each other, with Shane specifically leading Danny into increasingly bad instances of acting out.
This has always been a subplot that hasn’t managed to gel alongside the other well-fleshed-out story lines, largely because little effort has been made to really understand the two boys or give them anything resembling an internal life. Which is frustrating, given that the ways in which they’re acting out — Shane especially — feels like it has a lot of potential for drama. Maybe it’s a case of limited screen time? Or the writers not being sure how to integrate young perspectives into the narrative? Whatever the situation, it’s unsatisfying at this point (and will only get worse).
Gordo’s already struggling when the worst happens — the Bob Newhart tape, after countless viewings, finally breaks. And tragically, NASA’s been unable to convince Hollywood studios to send them other shows, because there’s a concern that if the public gets a sense that they might one day be able to tape TV shows at home and watch them without commercials, it might cut into the advertising revenue of networks. (This is a very funny line to include in a show airing exclusively on a streaming service to which you can subscribe for free if you buy a new smartphone.) Attempting to reenact the scenes they have committed to memory only goes so far, and Gordo’s clearly near the breaking point.
But Ed thinks he can walk Gordo back from the cliff, so the two of them go on a moonwalk where Ed tries to talk Gordo through whatever’s going on …but Gordo starts panicking over the ants he thinks he can see inside his spacesuit, and starts trying to take his helmet off — at which point, Ed realizes that Gordo’s gotta go home.
However, if Ed sends Gordo back in their lifeboat, he’ll have to explain to NASA what happened, and Gordo’s career as a pilot, space or air, will be completely over. “That’ll kill him,” Danielle says, and so she comes up with a solution, “accidentally” injuring her arm one night while trying to swap out a battery. This means that Ed can send the two of them home with Danielle’s injury as a cover for Gordo’s instability, while Ed stays behind.
The reason Ed has to stay on the moon is that the Russians, who also have their own base nearby, are starting to encroach on the American presence there, going so far as to leave tracks and footprints by NASA’s equipment. So he’s there to hold the territory and also conduct surveillance on whatever the Russians might be planning, at least until Apollo 24 launches in “another two weeks.”
However, the episode ends with a very good reason for NASA to speed up that timeline, at least for Ed’s sake. Ten days after Gordo and Danielle return to Earth, Shane has yet again acted out (this time, shoplifting baseball cards) and Karen grounds him, leaving him at home while she heads to a PTA meeting. Shane, angry that she’s forbidden him from going to his basketball game, defies his grounding and bikes away from the house in his uniform. When Karen returns home, she finds two cops waiting for her — but instead of revealing that Shane’s gotten into trouble again, they inform her that “there’s been an accident.”
Yep, Shane may be dead, and that’s where the episode ends! Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
Houston, We Have Some Bullet Points
In terms of the revelations from episode six, the most important detail that gets slipped in here is Margo telling the Jamestown crew that a new contractor will be manufacturing the valve that malfunctioned on Apollo 23. There isn’t much else from Margo in this episode, but the fact that she is going along with the cover-up but still trying to quietly address the issues raised by Wehner’s report, is vaguely heartening.
The low-gravity effects are sparsely used (probably because they’re not cheap) but very effective, especially when it comes to Ed and Gordo scuffling.
After seven episodes filled with dense references to history, it’s now hardly a surprise to Google a name and discover a deeper meaning to it. Mary Jo Kopechne, the White House staffer that President Ted Kennedy is rumored to be having an affair with, is in fact the woman who, in real life, drowned in the Chappaquiddick car accident that torpedoed Kennedy’s chances of becoming president. In For All Mankind’s reality, remember, it was mentioned in episode one that Kennedy canceled his Chappaquiddick trip in 1969 to instead hold hearings into why the Russians beat America to the moon — meaning that Mary Jo never died, and apparently stayed close with Kennedy for the following years. (It’s always nice to see an adulterer stay loyal to his mistress.)
This week in not-so-deep music cuts: We get a bit of America’s “A Horse With No Name” (a staple of 1970s-set movies and TV shows), with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Someday Never Comes” playing near the end, the lyrics “first thing I remember is asking Papa why” coming in as Shane bikes away. For the record, I write this having no idea if Shane’s going to be okay, but I do hope that he is — if only because while his story line’s been a bit frustrating, this would be an awfully dark ending to it.