It would have been nice if Space Force had built to the climax of this penultimate episode, with its history-making moment for the first black person (and first woman) to set foot on the moon. The writers seem to embrace what a major moment this would be in history, adding only a bit of humor to the joyous moment. Angela Ali saying “It’s good to be black on the moon” instead of “back” is funny enough, and it’s a nice detail that her new BFF Chan is the only one who chuckles, in a way that shows honest affection. And the moment that follows, in which the accidental astronauts jump and dance on the lunar surface, contains actual joy. It’s just too bad the preceding episode and most of this one makes it feel like the series has limped to this climax instead of building to it.
It opens with Space Force introducing the men and women going to the moon, including trained cadets, like Angela, and people who are primarily there to fill suits, like Eddie. The press conference doesn’t please F-Tony, but even he understands how much of the world would pay attention to the first woman on the moon. This is a social media manager’s dream come true. Later in the episode, Ali struggles over what to say to the world, having a fun conversation with Chan about options like, “There goes the neighborhood.” She settles on the solid, “It’s good to be back on the moon.” The United States hasn’t put feet on the moon since 1972. It would be major if it happened again.
So this unexpected group takes off with most of them panicking in their own way. The (relatively) successful launch gives General Naird the adrenaline to ask out Kelly King, and it’s a genuinely nice moment because Steve Carell and Jessica St. Clair have solid chemistry both as a couple and comedically. However, happiness is short-lived, because China makes a power play on the moon, claiming the Sea of Tranquility for their research. That just happens to be where American astronauts are supposed to land in a couple days.
At first, Mallory tries diplomacy with a Chinese scientist who belittles him (comparing his name to a duck) and sends him spinning. The generally level-headed scientist basically wants to now employ Naird’s former suggestion of “bomb” to solve their problem. On a smarter show it would be fun to consider how Mallory and Naird have switched places since episode two, revealing how maybe they have more in common than they first suspected.
The mission is derailed further with the news that Eddie Broser is a convicted criminal. It turns out that F-Tony didn’t really vet anyone and Brad doesn’t seem to understand what the word means. The funniest scene in the episode takes place when Tony interrogates the astronauts halfway to the moon and finds out one has a grandfather who is an Irish terrorist, and another has dressed in blackface. It’s a funny concept that results in a funny scene, but then it’s just dropped for the rest of the episode. (Although could come up in the finale. Probably not.)
Cut to the date between Kelly and Mark at a nice-looking place called the Backwoods Inn. They drove far from base, and Kelly presumes it’s because Mark isn’t allowed to date her, but learns that it’s more because he’s worried how Erin is going to react. She doesn’t take it well. Mark tries to break the news to his daughter gently but then Kelly walks into the kitchen, in classic sitcom style, and Erin freaks out. She rushes to the prison only to learn that not only is mom fine with it, it was her idea … and mom is dating a guard named Louise. Erin spirals out, confronting dad about how he will have even less time for her now. Again, there’s a decent but underdeveloped idea here: Erin isn’t upset about a new mother figure, but she is upset about losing her closest friend in her father. Although there’s irony to her complaint that she only gets 40 seconds with dad when she needs him, given her limited screen time this season.
Back to the control center, where everyone is scrambling over what to do about the Chinese. Naird speaks to a Chinese General, and basically doesn’t get anywhere. He does learn that the Chinese took heavy equipment to the moon. Why? To build a little station that looks like it’s made of light material? They look at the satellite footage again and spot the reason a few hundred miles away: a drilling operation for H3, an unlimited source of energy that could power the country for a year with one cargo hold. They’re trying to hide an illegal drilling operation. Space Force won’t let them.
Ali and her team land right where they were planning to land and Naird tells her to take the moment. Again, it should have more power, but the joyous dance after the snafu is kind of fun. And then the Chinese go and knock over the flag from Apollo 11 in retaliation. POTUS is going to go on a tweetstorm about that.
• Yes, the Apollo 11 flag is still there.
• Wondering if H3 is a real thing? Apparently it is, although there’s some controversy over if it’s truly a viable energy source.
• The way Tony tried to steer the press conference felt as close to political satire as this show has gotten in how it reflected the way Trump has been speaking to reporters for years, but particularly during the pandemic. Tony’s “What a great answer to a terrible question” and threatening to break a reporter who asks something serious felt very reflective of the current White House’s relationship to the press. Let’s get more of that.
• I really hope that the Kelly/Mark thing isn’t just designed to give Erin drama. Not only does Jessica St. Clair deserve more than that, but she has nice chemistry with Carell and the show could use a new energy like hers at times.
• One episode left! It’s probably going to be about Mark reconciling with his daughter and punishing the Chinese for knocking down the American flag. And maybe space chimps. Who knows?