Part 11 of 12
Date of airing: May 10, 1998 (HBO)
The Bormans and the Lovells were still married after all these years. One of them was defined by their love for each other, the other couple was going through some serious hardships, but came out of it healthy and with their love still intact. The marriages of astronauts and their wives is a little harder to put into a normal average, to see whether marriages keep going or are divorced, because of the pressure of the men’s jobs, but the Apollo marriages were pretty obviously not ready for the tasks and demands of an astronaut, as most of the marriages crashed and burned, even if most of them did so about a decade after. This as a nice episode to show exactly that, and how love and affection and appreciation was sometimes not enough to keep the marriages alive. The astronauts’ jobs were to not crash into a building or onto a field and to land the freaking lander on the moon. The wives’ jobs was to raise the children and to protect their husbands from troublesome home lives. I have no idea if there was truth to it, but the way Marilyn Lovell kept things from Jim was probably the prime example of how much the wives had to work to not only keep the marriages alive, but also protect the husbands from not losing focus on their NASA jobs, which needed the men’s undivided attention that could have easily flown out the window if someone like Jim Lovell would have learned that his kids were in the hospital, albeit just for procedural surgeries. And now I really want to know if Marilyn Lovell kept all the things from her husband for real, and if it ever was a serious problem in their relationship. I would also love to know if Jim and Marilyn ever had the talk about what she kept from him to protect him.
I loved that each act of this episode was centered on another one of the wives, giving as much focus and attention on them as possible, after previous episode didn’t focus on them at all, with the exception of one or two acts during “Apollo One” for obvious reasons. While Susan Borman was one of the wives with their chapters, making her the wife with the mot screentime (after all, she was sometimes the focal point in the storytelling during the Apollo 8 mission, depicting for the first time what the family down on the ground were feeling when the astronauts were up there), I loved the focus on Pat White and Marilyn Lovell, and how both women were essentially on opposite sides of the astronaut wives club spectrum. Marriages fail almost everywhere, so you can’t even say anything special about the astronaut marriages that failed during the 1970s and 80s, but Pat lost her husband in the Apollo 1 fire, and Marilyn was married for the entirety of the program and beyond. One marriage was successful, the other prematurely ended in a deadly accident. One marriage continued on, the other lost both members to death, but a decade and a half apart. There were different levels of emotions in that premise, but for some reason the experience of the wives was still the same, as there wasn’t a lot of distance between the two. Marilyn could have easily been in Pat’s shoes, and Pat never got to know if her marriage to Ed was something special, and could have hold together for years and decades. It’s pretty obvious the writers thought the same, or otherwise Pat wouldn’t have been the center of attention between the death of her husband and the other wives’ mention that they missed Pat, and the episode wouldn’t have started with Marilyn moving to astronauts’ town, as well as the episode putting so much emphasis on the scene when Jim realized he was kind of kept away from his kids’ lives. It makes one think whether Marilyn was the front wife of the astronauts wives club, and if Pat was something of a black sheep, because her husband was one of the first dying on the job, and she had a lot of time just looking at all the other successes, unable to build an emotional connection with each of them, because why was she pretty much the only one to live through the trauma of losing her husband?
Meanwhile, this episode gave me what I was asking for in previous episodes, when I was missing character depth through the characters of the wives, while their astronaut husbands were working on the moon. First of all, I wasn’t expecting that all those reactions (minus Susan’s, who got her own story in the Apollo 8 episode) to be collected in a single episode, but when it started, I didn’t even expect to be emotionally assaulted like that, when Marilyn was at Marilyn See’s house to keep her away from the press and radio, or when Pat realized Ed died (granted, it was reused footage from “Apollo One,’ but it’s still one of the most powerful moments of the entire series). I mean, holy shit… Marilyn knew that Marilyn See’s husband was dead, but she had to act like everything was fine, until at least Marilyn See could be officially told. How much of an emotional torture must that have been for Marilyn Lovell?
There should be more stuff like this out there. I know that ABC did a miniseries titled THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB, but if I remember correctly, it didn’t rally get rave reviews, and I’m not that interested to watch an entire series about the wives only, not even after I really wanted to watch it, which was a feeling that dissipated ten seconds after I wrote that sentence for the “Mare Tranquilitatis” review . A feature film in the vein of Jan Armstrong’s portrayal in FIRST MAN is all I need right now. A miniseries that goes into each wife with importance is great. Like, an extended edition of this episode, focusing even more on Pat, and what she had to go through to accept Ed’s death and her standing as one of the original astronaut wives. Maybe even more of Susan, because her secret alcohol problem intrigued me, and were perfect for a little soap opera-ish story arc. Maybe even Marilyn Lovell, whose efforts to keep her husband protected from emotional troubles led to a fine and exceptional marriage between the two.
Rita Wilson and Jo Anderson delivered standout performances during this episode. They reminded me once more why I love watching emotional drama stuff, rather than sitcom or silly genre shows. Those two almost made me cry during this hour, and there is never a better feeling for me than being emotionally affected by scripted television.