The Right Stuff 1×03, “Single Combat Warrior” drops a little of the Nat Geo sheen and seems more and more like your regular kind of drama, which is both a good thing, and a bad thing. A clear hero is emerging in this show, but this episode still spends too long on the notion that these men’s time training to make history, was somehow very, very hard and lonely, and that …well, any mistakes they might have made during that time are understandable.
Boys will be boys, if you will.
Now, I don’t want to discount the issues of loneliness or how much pressure they were under, and how hard the job actually was – even though the show kind of brushes that off more than it probably should. But their wives were lonely too, and I promise you, no one’s writing a woe is me tale about their pain.
Even The Astronaut Wives Club wasn’t really that.
So, three episodes in, my main problem with The Right Stuff in general, and with 1×03 in particular is just …a problem with reality, or a problem with the lens they’re using the show us reality. Yes, the historically accurate way to tell this story demanded a lot of white people in front of the camera, but it didn’t require the tone of it to be white male centered, which it is.
And when this feels more like a documentary, that’s easier to hand wave than when it feels like just a regular drama.
Take Shepard, for example. Jake McDorman, like all the actors, if we’re being honest, is outstanding in this, and yet Shepard is so hard to like, even though the actor plays him with enough charisma that you want to, because the glimpses at his vulnerability are too short and the cocky persona is always, always on. Hopefully they’ll delve deeper into whatever’s going on with him, because we really need to do something to humanize the guy who literally acts like he cares about no one – not even his wife.
But then again, all of them act like they don’t really care about their wives, with the exception of Patrick J. Adams’ John Glenn, which is why Glenn is the easiest character to like, by far. Colin O’Donoghue’s Gordo Cooper puts on a brave fight, as a guy who is trying, but never quite managing to be the man he thinks he should be, and definitely the man his wife deserves, and yet he’s no John Glenn, of course he isn’t.
This isn’t an acting dig, because everyone does a great job with what they’re given, but the show has mainly focused on those three so far, so it’s easy to compare and contrast not just the acting, but the characters we’re being asked to root for.
Except the men we’re rooting for are not really heroes, not the way we’ve always been taught to think about them. They’re flawed people who did something that no one else had done before, yes, men who trained hard to get to where they got, but that’s …about it.
No heroes here.
And that’s without even going into the end of this episode, which is a tangible reminder of the real dangers the first astronauts were exposed to. We now look at space travel as a safe and easy think, and it’s hard to lose sight of the fact that, not so long ago, it wasn’t. There was a lot of work to get to a place where the President can now yell Space Force and we’re forced to take that somewhat seriously.
This all comes together in a good way in this episode, and the hour is engaging, doesn’t really drag and it’s easy to watch. It’s just not something I’m going to think about after the episode is over, or feel the urge to discuss with my friends over socially-distanced zoom calls, unless we’re talking about how they present all women as temptresses and all men as well-intentioned, just unable to resist. This is a good, entertaining show, it’s just not a great one, despite the actor’s best intentions.
Of course, the real question is …considering how little competition it has, did it really need to be?
What did you think of The Right Stuff 1×03 “Single Combat Warrior”? Share with us in the comments below!
The Right Stuff is available to stream on Disney+.