For All Mankind holds a few cliffhangers up its sleeve in season 3’s penultimate episode, but first it must deal with its soapy dilemmas.
Ellen and Larry are in the hot seat, Kelly Baldwin’s baby is coming along ahead of schedule, Aleida Rosales is all out of heroes, Karen and Dev might switch jobs — and Danny Stevens’ goose might be cooked!
A decent episode of the Apple TV+ alt-history sci-fi hit focuses on plot nitty-gritty and emotional turmoil, until it gives way to a typically frustrating final reveal.
For All Mankind recap: ‘Coming Home’
Season 3, episode 9: In the episode, entitled “Coming Home,” the Mars basecamp is up and humming and everybody’s ready to go home. The toilets are full, and people are sick of the monotony. They’re getting along, but it’s definitely time to get gone.
Kelly Baldwin (Cynthy Wu) is several months pregnant now. Dr. Mayakovsky (Goran Ivanovski) wants her to go up to the Helios Aerospace ship Phoenix to have the baby, because they know more about the conditions in space than on Mars. (Plus, they can simulate Earth’s gravity up there.)
The trouble is, they don’t have enough fuel to get her to the ship. The plan thus becomes: Find one of the many hundreds of probes sent to Mars by other governments (North Korea in this case) and strip them for parts.
Baranov (Alexander Sokovikov) and Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) are the only people expendable enough to make the 18-hour journey to do it. When they get out there, they find something impossible … footprints.
Turmoil on Earth
Meanwhile, President Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) uses the Martian baby as a cute distraction from all the trouble she’s not really fixing on Earth. One of her colleagues makes it clear that unless she starts playing ball with the far-right agenda, they’re going to tell everyone her husband, Larry (Nate Cordry), had an affair. If she denies it, they’ll subpoena the private Oval Office recordings and impeach her.
There’s a lot of cutesy talk about how Congress hasn’t impeached a president in 100 years, and the guy mentions Karl Rove and Lee Atwater digging up dirt on President Bill Clinton, yadda yadda. Politics! Exactly the same as if nothing different had happened.
Larry and Ellen listen back to the tapes that were rolling (apparently without them knowing it? Because they’re … morons?) while they discussed the scandal and the cover-up. They sent Jeremy (John Forest), Larry’s lover, to rehab to get him out of the public eye, and they don’t think he’ll help if they ask him to go forward with a lie.
Larry, recognizing there’s no other option, agrees to fall on the grenade he unpinned, and tell people he lied under oath and betrayed his wife. Ellen doesn’t love that, but she doesn’t have much else to suggest in place of his plan.
Deciding the future of Mars exploration
At Helios, Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi) and Karen Baldwin (Shantel VanSanten) try to talk their investors into thinking about next steps on Mars. They’re reluctant, understandably. The mission has been a PR nightmare, what with all the deaths and natural disasters.
They pull funding for further exploration of Mars, and Karen lays out a plan that Dev hates: Sell the Phoenix to NASA. Dev says it’s going to look like a white flag. And the last thing he can afford to do now is look weak and broke. The board does, however, like Karen’s plan — so much so that they vote to remove Dev from power as CEO and put Karen in his place.
… and getting to the bottom of that stolen spaceship design
Aleida Rosales (Coral Peña) invites Bill Strausser (Noah Harpster) over to discuss her pet conspiracy theory about the Russians stealing her ship design. She’s done some hard math, and it looks like there’s no other explanation: Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt). the woman who gave Aleida her life and career, gave her schematics to the Russians.
This is true, but they don’t know it, of course. Bill’s horrified and feels betrayed. He doesn’t want to believe it, but he’s pretty adamant that Aleida tell the FBI. Aleida doesn’t trust the FBI (they harassed her father, which led to her brief homelessness as a teen. Remember season one? Me neither).
Furthermore, Aleida doesn’t want to ruin Margo’s life. She just wants accountability, an explanation and an apology. So, when Bill goes behind her back and tells the FBI, they’re once more on the out — maybe permanently this time.
Back on Mars, Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) gets the report about why the drilling equipment malfunctioned. They blame dead operator Nick Corrado (Daniel David Stewart), which sends Danny Stevens (Casey W. Johnson) into a rage. The explosion, the landslide that resulted, the deaths of a bunch of crew members — it was all Danny’s fault. He was high and not paying attention to the requests of the drilling crew.
Lincoln, Nixon or Washington?
This episode of For All Mankind is mostly good, but we still get the usual howlers from the show’s writers. As Ellen tries to make her decision about letting Larry take the fall for his affair, she looks portentously and meaningfully from a portrait of Abraham Lincoln to a portrait of George Washington to a portrait of Richard Nixon. You see, the next decision determines how she’ll be remembered.
I find it bitterly funny that a closeted Republican choking the American working class ever had a shot to be the next Lincoln, but I guess most of the ways we remember and talk about our leaders is grade-school nonsense. And so by coming out, she’s becoming a Lincoln or a Washington.
Then we get some B-roll of important Washington landmarks: The Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the Washington Monument. Just in case you were hit in the head between takes and forgot everything you ever knew.
Plus, Nate Cordry’s terrible wig is somehow worse this week, which doesn’t help the Larry/Ellen narrative feel anymore grounded.
Dignity and sleaze
I’d applaud this development a little more except for … well, it’s on this show. You gotta dial it all back to the point of For All Mankind, like the meme with the bricks growing in size between two historical events.
Say it with me now: Because Russia beat us to the moon, we have a gay president in 1996.
I just … come on … like, yes, good for the show to give Ellen and Larry their dignity, but also … the showrunners had no trouble with all the other grimy Republican stuff they’ve been up to all season, all three seasons.
It’s another unearned victory lap here on For All Mankind as we await next week’s season finale.
This Week in Alternate History
OMC still wrote “How Bizarre,” and somehow this several-weeks-old song turns up on Kelly’s iPod on Mars. I give up.
Watch For All Mankind on Apple TV+
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Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.