Despite a time jump, For All Mankind 3×01 “Polaris” somehow manages to pick up right where the previous season’s finale ended. Which, when describing an episode of a lesser series, would make no sense at all. But it makes perfect sense here, in terms of the masterful blend of alternate history and incredibly touching personal stories. Basically, it’s the natural next step in the series’ very fine storytelling.
Of course, we can’t have a new season of this series without getting caught up on what we’ve missed. The first minute or two features the usual blend of news, both from the real world and from For All Mankind‘s newer, sometimes better (sometimes not), version of events. Perhaps the most surprising change in that montage is seeing one of our original characters, Ellen Waverly (Wilson. Whatever), first as a Republican (bestie, why) Senator from Texas and, later, aiming for the White House.
Since she was previously such a huge part of this story, it’s odd seeing her solely cut against those vintage news clips. And it probably goes without saying? But it’s equally odd referring to the catch-up clips from the late ’80s, and the episodic parts from the early ’90s, as “vintage” at all.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, though. And we see enough of that in For All Mankind 3×01, as well. That’s nowhere more true than in the tension between Margo and Molly, having had the same fight so many times, Margo can (in a completely bored way) finish Molly’s “I decide…” line.
It’s what “Polaris” teaches us about our characters and their journeys to this point that matters most, though. And it’s certainly a season premiere that sets up plenty for what’s to come.
The “Polaris” dream becomes a nightmare
It’s difficult to even know where to begin with just how genius everything about the “Polaris” destination wedding is. Perhaps it’s in seeing Ed and Dani react to everything about the space tourism, particularly the “amenities that astronauts could only dream of” line. Or, maybe it’s in seeing Karen, once the stay-at-home housewife type…living the dream of letting everyone (at least, all the rich people who could afford it) see space, even after outright saying she still hates it up there.
What better way to catch up with everybody than this? Than getting so many pieces of the puzzle—so many members of our For All Mankind family—back together, in space, for a celebration that devolves straight into yet another dangerous situation? Weddings and funerals are, after all, how we, as people, always seem to wind up reconnecting and catching up. Here, there was never going to be a more appropriate way to do that than in space.
So, what do we learn on Polaris?
Danny Stevens, with the weight of his parents’ heroism on his shoulders, is able to —at quadruple gravity—pull off the impossible. He saves almost every single life at his ill-fated wedding party in a daredevil act that, probably more than a fancy space wedding, would absolutely have made Gordo and Tracy proud. As the family “golden boy,” weird affair last season aside, it made sense, too.
For his younger brother, Jimmy, though…Life has not exactly been as kind.
We shouldn’t have expected anything different either. Jimmy is the one who was with Gordo during those last years, when he was at his worst—when Danny was off at the Naval Academy and only coming home, occasionally, to two parents who were trying their best to pretend at being ok for him.
“Everyone keeps talking about how happy Mom and Dad were, but let’s be honest: That’s horseshit. Because half the time, if they weren’t screaming at each other, the other half the time, they were throwing things at each other. Now, they’re lovers on the lunar surface? That’s what NASA does—they twist things into how they want us to see them. They died. For the country. They died for the space program; they died for each other. But the truth is, is they just…died. Now, they’re dead.”
If Danny saving the day is a tribute to the late Stevenses’ bravery and daredevil mindset, Jimmy’s wedding toast is all his father’s brokenness. Honestly, if I didn’t know better, I’d think David Chandler was just an aged-down version of Michael Dorman during that whole speech.
Then again, Jimmy’s smoke with Isaiah is all Tracy’s rebellious spirit—and even all her trick. Both Stevens boys are a perfect reminder that, in some ways, the people we love never truly leave us. And the ones who raised us always leave a mark. It’s how we use that mark, what we let it become, that matters.
By the end, once the threat of death is gone, we even—maybe—see a little bit of that adrenaline-loving side of Gordo and Tracy in Jimmy. Or maybe that first genuine smile of the night comes from simply realizing he’s not dying up there, not like that.
The same old debate
It takes two seconds worth of banter in an elevator for us to know Dani Poole and Ed Baldwin are still friends, yet still competitive AF. On Polaris, they’re partying it up, then fighting for their lives. But back at NASA, they’re at the center of another battle.
Yeah, it’s the same old rivalry between Margo and Molly, which is about as tense, awkward, and delightful to watch as ever. Margo wants Dani as the Commander for an upcoming mission to Mars. Molly, somewhat unsurprisingly, thinks it should be Ed.
They’re both amazing leaders. And both astronauts were pioneers at Jamestown. But Dani and Ed have different ways of doing things, different temperaments. The debate should work from only that standpoint—and should be about as healthy as they come. And whatever mutual respect and camaraderie, laced with “hey, this job is so mine,” is fun to watch between two virtual equals.
There’s a moment in For All Mankind 3×01 where Molly hints at Margo’s choice being about something other than qualifications. As in, “oh, it’s just because she’s a woman.” Or, worse yet, “oh, it’s just because she’s a Black woman.” And, quite frankly, it’s exhausting.
“She’s commanded more missions than any other astronaut in the program the last 10 years.”
In the context of this series, Dani Poole is the leader. Without her sacrifice and her willingness to screw up her own reputation, things would have been so much worse for Gordo after his obvious break in Season 1. Then, there was the handshake in Season 2 that basically averted a war. Soooooo, did that radiation rattle Molly’s memory?
Or is she just another white woman of a certain age who, no matter what a Black woman accomplishes, she’s never going to be as good as a white man? She’s never going to be the choice for what she’s accomplished. Will only ever be some sort of boogeyman of “forced” diversity?
In the context of what happens during the wedding party disaster, both Ed and Dani prove themselves. For the billionth time. Under the pressure of this new, terrifying situation, what do they do? They step up; they help others. It might happen in different ways for each of them. But they always fight and never give up. Without both of them, who knows how much worse the situation might have been.
Someone should tell Molly, whether it’s her AU or the real world, no matter how much she throws other women under the bus for the old boys’ club, she’s still never fully going to be one of them.
Side notes from For All Mankind 3×01
- Ok but all the detail with the technology upgrades. Margo’s assistant with the touchscreen tablet, not quite today’s iPad or anything…but still well ahead of its time. The flat screens. And the laptops that…definitely were not like that 30ish years ago…
- And yet, someone had the good sense not to mess with Short Circuit and Number Johnny Five. Leveled up.
- Do the opening credits make anyone else emo every. damned. time. or are the rest of you normal?
- Humanity got to piss on Margaret Thatcher’s grave decades earlier? Love to see it.
- “Space tourism. God help us all.” *stares in dumb billionaires in The Year of Our Completely Fucking Absent Lord, 2022*
- Margo, honey. If someone sends you a whitefish platter? The answer is “thank you.”
- Aleida is thriving. She deserves. A family? Still at the same job, after all her struggles between the first two seasons? Going to space?????? You love to see it. Love. To. See. It.
- Is it really the beginning of a new chapter of For All Mankind without a “Margo gets ready for work” montage? We think not.
- “Motherfucking fuck!” Aleida gets me.
- “We came in peace…for all your cash.” Queen.
- The shots of Dani and Ed, on Polaris, doing their thing while Margo and Molly are arguing about them? Pretty iconic contrast.
- “He’s arrogant. And he’s got a temper. And, to be frank, he’s old.” Winning qualities for men, apparently.
- Sooo, Margo’s still feeding intel to Sergei. And still not letting it click that she’s screwing us all. Fabs.
- I hate that she’s basically alone and doesn’t even consider herself a part of Aleida’s celebration, even after being such a huge part of her success? But Sergei is not the answer.
- When Dani was like, “too late”? I felt that. Basically, all of her reactions to everything are perfect. She is everything. Krys Marshall? Also everything.
- Didn’t need the reminder of the affair…and neither did Karen. Great work from Shantel VanSanten there.
- The moment where Ed and Danny said goodbye, I was sure he was going to wind up as dead as his parents. Such fabulous stuff in the entire “all hell breaks loose” part of this episode, from all involved.
- Just under an hour of this streaming show feels like one of those summer movie events…but without the three-plus hours worth of bloat.
Thoughts on For All Mankind 3×01? Drop us a comment!