Apple TV+’s original series For All Mankind opens like many movies and TV shows about the NASA space program do, with families gathering around their TV in 1969 to watch the moon landing. Only in For All Mankind, the Russians land on the moon in 1969 with different first words and planting their flag on the surface. From there, everything changes.
‘For All Mankind’ looks familiar, but it’s not
For All Mankind posits a world in which the Russians were the first on the moon. After that, we get to enjoy the history of space travel from films like The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 for the first time all over again, because in this fictional world they are quite different missions.
Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) is a shuttle commander who ran a successful Apollo 10 mission to the moon before the Russians, and now wonders whether he should have just broken protocol and landed. Margo (Wrenn Schmidt) is a Houston control operator so dedicated to her work she sleeps in her office. Wernher Von Braun (Colm Feore) remains a godfather of rocket technology.
Going second changes everything
One simple development changes the entire course of NASA history. Now Apollo 11 is batting cleanup, and it makes the astronauts mad that they’ve got to go second. The butterfly effect of this changes a lot of other history, as the series give hints that other historical figures changed their plans to accommodate these new developments, although For All Mankind doesn’t specifically explore the new timeline to that degree. It’s more hints and implications of all the other events that would be effected by a new NASA history.
Apollo 11 goes very differently in For All Mankind and it’s suspenseful because we can’t count on the history we know, or that we just saw in First Man, to play out again. The astronauts do a slow motion walk but it’s not The Right Stuff this time. They don’t get to be pioneers.
‘For All Mankind’ takes breaks from space too
Episode 2 is a lot less space travel. It features a long government hearing. Dramatic things come up like Von Braun’s Holocaust ties (still true in this timeline), but it’s less eventful. It also introduces the sexism women faced in the Houston control and in their own marriages, which For All Mankind will explore further.
But episode 2 ends with such a major development it shows this series still has a lot on its mind. The female astronaut candidates Tracy Stevens (Sarah Jones), Ellen Waverly (Jodi Balfour), Patty Doyle (Cass Bugge), Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) and Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger) become the focus for several episodes as they go through intense and harrowing training, compounded by gender politics.
‘For All Mankind’ makes you believe it could’ve happened this way too
For All Mankind is directed like the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon. So it’s like watching a docudrama about the real space program, only it’s from an alternate universe. It’s science fiction playing by the rules of science fact.
The production design is impeccable, down to the historical detail and the convincing footage of space missions that never actually happened. For All Mankind uses all the tools that filmmakers have honed over the decades since the real NASA missions to tell a brand new story. This story never happened, but it explores how the human spirit would be impacted had we not enjoyed the triumphs NASA did.