Season 1, Episode 1
Date of release: November 1, 2019 (tv+)
Watch out, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, you’re about to get revisionist history competition, as the multi-billion dollar company selling computers and phones has also decided to let the Soviets win the race to the moon and have the Americans pick up the pace in the most dramatic fashion imaginable. If the Second World War and the moon landing can be revised by television writers, what else can and would be interesting enough for a streaming television drama? HBO was close to ordering a Benioff/Weiss drama that would have never abolished slavery (thank the heavens for social media to immediately force HBO to shut that shit down before too much time was spent developing the premise), but what if 2016 saw Hillary Rodham Clinton elected president? What if the Soviet Union never stopped existing and Germany would still be split in the East? What if China would not be the sleeping giant any longer and made history for themselves much earlier than now? Those are probably ideas intriguing enough for television writers to think about, now that a second revisionist history television drama makes its way into the minds of those people who actually follow what kind of shows are being developed and premier, because chances are most of the potential audience even missed that FOR ALL MANKIND was even in existence — I only learned of it week or two before the launch of Apple TV, proving once again that streaming networks have to do a better job when it comes to promotion.
It was the end of June of the year 1969 when the Russians surprisingly and shockingly landed on the moon without fanfare from their government, with cosmonaut Alexei Leonev, who in real life was the first human to perform a spacewalk, stepping foot on the lunar surface and pummelling the American consciousness at the same time. The space race, which was essentially a spin-off of the Cold War between the Americans and the Soviet Union, was lost, and president Richard Nixon and NASA had to ask themselves and each other multiple questions as to what really happened, why it happened, and what can be done about it. It turns out that in the consciousness of 1969, losing the space race was as humiliating and shocking as Brazil losing a World Cup semi-final match on home turf against one of their biggest rivals with a 6-goal margin, and that only Americans know that kind of humiliated feeling and what it meant for them as a community, as the rest of the planet is wondering what the hell is actually going on over there, and why the Americans are so pissed about a historic scientific achievement.
FOR ALL MANKIND decides to visit that premise and tell its viewers what could have happened if the Soviets really were the winners of the space race, although the question remains how far the show is going to move in the long run and when it will leave the space race era of the narrative. After all, the show streams in the year 2019, where we have gotten more moon landings, a space station in Earth orbit, multiple rovers to Mars, multiple satellites to various planets and moons of the solar system, as well as all the catastrophic failures that came with it, including successful failures like APOLLO 13 (quoted and used pretty much twice throughout this episode) and horrible failures like the space shuttle disasters of 1986 and 2003. Will FOR ALL MANKIND go through these ideas as well or will Ron Moore’s show be forever stuck in the Apollo era? Will the focus of the show remain with the Americans only or do we get some spy stuff into the actions and plans of the Soviets, as it’s imaginable that they pretty much won’t stop conquering space after landing on the moon?
FOR ALL MANKIND is already of interest to me because of its space race premise, but it might only be a question of time until the show could alienate me over its decision to be too fictional in the future and to deliver a narrative that may not even have anything to do with the original idea of Soviet feet imprints being on the lunar surface. Granted, there won’t be much of an interesting show when the only thing that was revisioned for this fictional narrative is the moon landing, while all of the rest of what NASA and America as a whole will go through is reminiscent of what we have seen in FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON and our scientific history books already, but there is a fine line between revising history and going for a complete different run of the space race that would make this show as fictional as they can come and the only thing that is missing is someone sitting high up in some castle, telling us all that this version of history has not happened at all. That makes FOR ALL MANKIND a little interesting though, as the writers could choose various possibilities and constantly refine what the show really is about. The writers could choose to follow the conspiracy theory that the moon landing never happened, which could lead to a whole new way of fighting a weapon-less war. The writers could also decide to include science-fiction elements into the narrative for the sake of “not giving a damn” whether or not the show is a realistic portrayal of what would have happened if the Soviets landed on the moon first. The show could also just have a story that continues the space race past the Apollo program, depicting a world space nerds would have liked to see for real after 1973, when Congress stopped giving NASA money and forced them to abandon the space program for a little while. Because really, if the space race had continued well into the 1970s, maybe we would have been on Mars already?
Cast-wise, the episode did not make a huge impression, as things were focusing on the establishment of the alternate timeline, but these first 65 minutes had some interesting tidbits to offer, beginning with Margo waking up in her office and getting ready for the day, and continuing with the general involvement of the astronaut wives in the story, which came to a peak when the signal fo the Apollo 11 was lost and the astronauts were presumed dead for multiple hours. That scene alone was better than what the FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON episode focusing on the astronaut wives delivered, and it gives me hope that FOR ALL MANKIND will focus a whole lot more on the wives than real-life ever did. In this alternate reality, will the wives have more control over their decision-making, be more important in their husbands’ lives beyond being the housewives, listening to the NASA feed at home? In the meantime, it’s quite obvious that Aleida’s travels from Mexico into the United States, all while NASA was landing two American men on the moon, will have a larger meaning in the narrative of the series, although its missing connection to the space race in this episode made it an alienating storyline, destined to only fill the airtime and push the episode past the 60-minute mark (by the way, streaming networks, don’t do that). The only thing Aleida’s story reminded me of was Dani Ramos’ journey from being a scared Hispanic girl to a resistance fighter in TERMINATOR: DARK FATE, which I watched two days prior to this episode. Immigration is a hot topic, both in real life and in scripted narratives, and it’s about to become the initial premise of Freeform’s PARTY OF FIVE reboot. Talking about writers looking at real life as to how to build their narrative…