Well, to For All Mankind’s credit, it didn’t pull any punches with “Rupture.” One of the ongoing questions of the season has been “what exactly is the point of Shane Baldwin as a character?” And this episode’s answer? Sacrificial lamb. The random car accident that sent Ed and Karen’s son to the hospital in episode seven results, by the end of the episode, in Shane’s tragic death after being declared brain dead.
For any family, in real life or on television, that’d be enough drama, but thanks to the events of “Hi Bob,” Ed is now currently marooned on the moon, with no way back to Earth until the arrival of Apollo 24 to relieve him. Thus, much of the episode revolves around how much he should be told about what’s going on, given the circumstances — with both NASA and Karen leaning on the side of “nothing.”
The argument, and it’s a good one, is that Ed is in a very precarious position right now, and telling him that his son is on the verge of death while he’s hundreds of thousands of miles away would do nothing to help either Shane or him. But it means a whole lot of lies, which has a particularly devastating effect on Karen.
Shane’s tragic fate is the main through line of the episode, though there are plenty of check-ins with other ongoing storylines. Gordo, now back on Earth, is risking his career by going to a non-NASA therapist to discuss the anxiety that ended up consuming him during the mission. He and Tracy are still together, but their marriage isn’t on the best of footing, with Tracy banishing him to a separate apartment any time he gets on her nerves. However, they manage to reconnect a bit when Gordo confesses to her about the therapist, trusting her to keep his secret.
Also, the Apollo 24 crew — Ellen, Deke, and Harrison “Harry” Liu — are getting ready for their launch (finally!), but lurking in the background of their preparations is the still-present racism and sexism that an acceleration of the space program hasn’t managed to completely solve. The pokes made by a TV reporter interviewing the crew, as well as the grumblings from the Apollo 24 back-up team (a trio of white men who aren’t thrilled about being secondary to “the chick, a geezer, and a Korean”) are troubling touches, mostly for what they threaten about the future. But Harry, in his brief introduction, feels like an intriguing new character, whose loyalty to his crewmates makes him easy to like.
President Kennedy is also still under fire for his extramarital affair (as the headlines put it, “President seen as compromised morally, politically”). Not as controversial, though, is young Aleida, who has gotten herself a boyfriend recently, with the hickies and varsity ring to prove it. However, she’s still passionate about her interest in math and science, and so finds herself torn when, thanks to Margo’s help, she gets admitted to an advanced program of study that could ensure her future … but will mean leaving behind her friends to attend a new school.
All this happens while the Russians are still hanging out just a crater away from the American base on the moon, and Ed is doing his best to surveil them, discovering at one point that they’ve planted some sort of surveillance device to monitor the American ice-mining operation. The more that the Russians encroach upon American activity on the moon, while also doing things like maybe building subterranean levels to their own base, the more nervous the Americans get.
And things take a psychologically vicious turn when Shane’s medical condition becomes national news, reported around the world but still withheld from Ed … until, that is, the Russians manage to send him a text communication: “DEEPEST SYMPATHIES ABOUT YOUR SON.” NASA tries to keep Ed believing that this is all just Russian head games, but the ruse falls apart when the second opinion Karen seeks confirms the initial finding: Shane will not recover. Tearfully, Karen tells Ed the truth, and Ed, truly broken, finds that bottle of Chivas that Gordo had smuggled up to the base weeks ago. No parent should ever have to mourn a child, in a just world — but to do so while 238,900 miles away from everyone you know? Unbearable.
In terms of the season, how Shane’s death affects the remaining story is as big a mystery as anything else in store for this show. It’s funny, how you watch enough TV and you come to feel like you can guess certain events; certainly For All Mankind hasn’t been completely free of story points feeling like obvious choices. (As just one example: the marriage of Ellen and Larry.) But here we have a very clear example of the show zagging where it might have zigged, and while any narrative focused around a dead child is tough to process, just what this means going forward is pretty impossible to predict. It’s a scattered episode, one unafraid to get raw with its emotions, but lacking the cohesion of other installments. Only two episodes left in the season; hopefully it all comes together in the end.
Houston, We Have Some Bullet Points
• This isn’t the most prominent message of the episode (if only because the use of helmets was only just about to take off), but bike helmets can literally save lives. Not to get all after-school-special here, but seriously, don’t let your loved ones ride without them.
• If you heard “Dr. Marston” and thought to yourself, wait, the creator of Wonder Woman? Nope, not the same guy. The business card Gordo gives Tracy lists the psychologist’s first name as Robert, not William.
• The National Inquisitor — the publication that Karen is reading while waiting for news about Shane — seems to be a fictional publication, if only because when you Google it, one of the first results is the fine 1980s sitcom Alf. This clearly means that For All Mankind takes place within the Alf Extended Universe, something which I do hope the show explores down the line.