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For All Mankind Recap: Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space

For All Mankind

The Bleeding Edge
Season 2 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

For All Mankind

The Bleeding Edge
Season 2 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: Apple TV+

Welcome to the retrospective recaps of For All Mankind season two. Season three debuts on June 10, and what better way to whet viewers’ appetites than by recapping the season that skyrocketed For All Mankind to greatness?

The season-two premiere of For All Mankind encourages viewers to consider the ways time and experience affect ambition and optimism. “The Bleeding Edge” plunges us right into wondering about the concept of heroism: What are the meaning and consequences of Molly rescuing Wubbo from the full force of the solar storm, particularly if she’s the only one who knows she risked her own life and career to do so? Nine years after so many team members rescued Molly from drifting out into space, why do Tracy and Gordo both feel like washed-up frauds? Is it moral and just, or meddling, for Ed to wield his power and authority in the name of helping his friends follow their dreams and find some peace of mind about the past? Is it a bit of both?

Before we dive too deeply into the slightly murky pool of these questions, let’s back up just a tad for context. On the moon, Molly and Wubbo have survived the solar storm and are tended to back at Jamestown Colony. Ellen has decided to bring both of them back to Houston with her when she departs the following day to begin work as deputy NASA administrator. Molly is incensed: Having been exposed to a terrifying amount of radiation, she knows the last two months of her tour offer a final chance to find the rich source of lithium she’s certain is up there. Her radiation-indicator badge is still green, for crying out loud; what’s the problem? Ellen, ever the voice of implacable reason, has made up her mind, though. Molly’s shelter-in-place location wasn’t safe enough, so she needs to have a full battery of tests on Earth and can return within a year to finish the job once she’s cleared medically. There’s no wriggling out of it and no way to use her secret heroics to get what she wants; back to Earth they go.

This episode is particularly economical and brisk (yet unhurried!) as it moves the plot forward while giving us substantive glimpses of these people and their relationships over the last nine years.

A highlight amid the highlights is a scene at home with Ellen and Larry. As far as fake marriages of convenience go, the Wilsons’ is very good. Their mutual platonic affection is sincere and rooted in excellent friendship chemistry, and their arrangements are mutually beneficial. Wins all around! Ellen claims to be too busy to pursue a romantic relationship as Larry has done, but we’ll see how long that lasts now that she’s back on Earth and in the protective bubble of her marriage.

Once Ellen leaves the ease of her bubble at home, things slide into chaos. She’s off her game in her first meeting as NASA deputy administrator with Margo, Tom, and Bradford in a series of mortifying little things. Her classic cordovan briefcase is too much; her red blazer is the wrong, bold color in a sea of Middle Management Grays and Blues; she has to drag a chair up to Margo’s desk to participate at the periphery of the meeting; and she fails completely at trying to convince the other three not to reallocate funds from the Mars program to retrofit Jamestown Colony to survive future solar storms. Not a great first day.

The rest of the episode is a series of scenes pondering the theme of what’s next. Ed, Gordo, and Dani reunite for drinks and serious talk at the Outpost, and their bond is as strong as ever. They still greet each other with a bright and cheery “Hi, Bob!,” starting with frank vulnerability and staying there. Newly widowed Dani has come to grips with her husband’s death by suicide and knows exactly what she wants next: a return to missions in space as soon as possible. Ed and Gordo prod her a bit, but she’s very clear that she can’t and won’t spend the rest of her life reminiscing about one long-ago lunar assignment. Ed’s concerns melt away in the face of Dani’s certainty, and he agrees to put her on the crew of an upcoming mission. It’s not exactly fair that he’s putting friendship ahead of all other priorities, but it has the ring of authenticity about it. What’s the point, the show seems to be asking, of accruing decision-making authority without wielding it to help out a pal every now and then? Or pretty much all the time?

A great scene of the Baldwins and Cobbs golfing together drives home Ed’s updated philosophy even more plainly. While Karen and Wayne split a joint (I love their devoted Odd Couple friendship so much) in the golf cart, Ed and Molly have a heart-to-heart of their own — in perfectly coordinating blue-and-khaki outfits, no less! — about personal and professional priorities. Surely, Ed’s ambition can’t really be satisfied with his work as a desk jockey, training ASSCANS (as the astronaut candidates are affectionately known)? He misses being up in space, doing the real work, right?

Well, yes and no. He doesn’t miss the moon that much, and over time, he’s realized that “the life you think you’re gonna have sometimes doesn’t end up making you happy.” He finds a lot of meaning in the work he’s doing now, and it gives him the opportunity for a do-over as a family man. Summed up neatly, “it’s not pushing the envelope, but … I don’t know, sometimes it’s just more important to be with the people you love than doing what you love.” He’s not blowing smoke, either. Just a scene or two before, we got to see Day One of the ASSCANS’ training program, and thanks to Molly’s back-of-the-classroom lip-synching along with his spiel, we get a sense of how long he’s been in this role and how much she enjoys seeing him relish it. Shane’s death and Molly’s likely shortened life expectancy hang silently in the air between them.

Little wonder, then, that this episode concludes with Ed’s surprise announcement that not only will Dani be heading back to space, but Gordo will, too. Ed wants to right what wrongs of the past he can, regardless of what Gordo’s truest wishes or abilities might be. How is this Baldwin ex machina going to turn out?

Speaking of spiels and Gordo: sigh. Even as the Baldwins and Dani are being driven by earnest self-reflection, the Stevenses are flailing in space. In alternating scenes, we can see that they’ve been reduced to all shtick, no substance, with their unhappiness emerging in different ways. Outwardly, Tracy is flourishing, while Gordo is an absolute mess, but they have more in common than they realize. Does talking to Rotarians and Shriners or even repeating the same old talking points with Johnny Carson mean anything compared to their lunar missions? Gordo goes on a little bender, sobbing into Ed’s arms that he feels stuck in time, that he feels “like I don’t exist anymore, like a shadow.” Meanwhile, Tracy keeps missing her required flight simulations as she theoretically prepares for a publicity tour of duty up at Jamestown Colony. Does she even really want to go back up there?

Houston, We Have Some Bullet Points

Needle drop of the week: the Specials’ “A Message to You, Rudy” playing over most of the golf scene. There’s no way anyone in this quartet other than Wayne has ever even heard of the Specials, but the lyrical point that you’d better think of your future is well taken.

• Kelly can’t bring herself to tell her parents that she wants to apply to the U.S. Naval Academy; like her Dad before her, she’s in thrall to the romance of flight. Ed and Karen have told her she can study whatever and wherever she wants, but she clearly senses that that freedom doesn’t extend to pursuing such a high-risk career in military service. Instead, she’s tucking her USNA student prospectus away like it’s a nudie magazine.

• I do find it odd that the social stigma against queer sexuality is something that isn’t markedly better in this timeline. Can we not imagine a reality that includes both an un-assassinated John Lennon and more steps toward LGBTQ+ liberation? This timeline seems blessedly free from the HIV/AIDS pandemic so far, so why not incorporate the freedom of one’s sexuality being an unremarkable commonplace?

• Walk, walk, fashion, baby: Tracy is absolutely nailing the Hot ’80s Mom look in this episode. Painted-on jeans tucked into cowboy boots (this is Texas, after all), topped with a slouchy-chic sweater? Chef’s kiss! At the other end of the spectrum, poor Ellen and her ill-fitting red blazer. It’s extra jarring to see that on an independently wealthy former socialite — those ladies know to get their clothes tailored.

Check the For All Mankind page this Friday for episodes three and four.

For All Mankind Recap: We Are Floating in Space