For All Mankind 3×02 “Game Changer” is a vivid and truly damning depiction of the difference between entitled privilege and exhausted humility. It’s about supporting the people you care about even when you miss out on your dreams versus just letting yourself become bitter. Of course, there are some other dynamics at play, as well. But what most certainly stands out, more than anything, is just how easy it is for Ed Baldwin to fall from “living legend,” as Dev Ayesa calls him at the end, to lousy loser.
And it’s sad because we know, deep down, that Ed was—is—one of our heroes. But heroes fall. They look back on their lives, at their “handful of medals. Mission badges. Folded photographs and newspapers. Enough to fill a shoebox in a closet,” and can still feel empty. Can still feel like something is missing, has been missing all along, because of one, big regret.
So, even as “Game Changer” very clearly marks Ed as someone we want to deliver a not-so-joking punch in the gut to, we still feel for him. We probably shouldn’t. But For All Mankind has always been so successful at taking the necessary time to really show viewers the quiet moments. And so, in giving us those full pauses, those very human moments of feeling, the series makes us care about every single person.
…even when we’re pissed at them.
So, let’s take a look at what For All Mankind 3×02 “Game Changer” has to say about these characters. For better or worse.
Good ol’ boys crying the same old tears
It starts out well enough, with his big “win.” But he doesn’t realize Molly’s basically naming him Commander out of spite, or as part of her pissing match with Margo. And he has no reason to. He is, after all, the big test pilot hero. It’s not like he hasn’t done plenty to prove himself. Nobody has ever denied that.
Actually, nobody has denied him much, ever, which is the problem. After all, he’s a white man of a certain age. So, of course he was always going to get this mission.
It all starts to go sideways when Ed boasts about his “understanding” with Molly that will make doing a little nepotism with Kelly totally fine. While we’re at it, let’s not even begin to talk about how gross his complete dismissal of Kelly’s work is. He can’t even bother to try getting the name of the bacteria she discovered right. And Cynthy Wu‘s reaction is, legitimately, every girl whose loved ones belittle her dreams in that moment.
Later, when Margo returns to NASA and finds out what’s happened, it really starts to get ugly. And by “it,” I mean Ed’s behavior.
He’s outraged. Ed gets in Margo’s face. And he utterly fails at showing even one ounce of the grace an obviously-disappointed Dani had when Molly broke the news to her that she didn’t get the gig.
“But you’re wrong on this one, Molly.”
Sure, Dani questions the backwards assertion that her qualifications make her a better second, not first, choice. But she immediately steps up, says she’ll be backup crew without even thinking about it, and makes sure to congratulate Ed when she sees him.
Dani jokes off her disappointment with Ed, returns his friendly “hi, Bob” without a thought. And, after ribbing him about the whole situation, gives him a hug.
After taking his outrage out on Margo, though, Ed decides he’s going to treat Dani like trash, too. Forget what they’ve been through together and decades of mutual respect. Ed can’t even keep up the “hi, Bob” tradition. Too butthurt.
Instead, he’s pouting over booze, raining all over Dani’s parade and…basically taking credit for everything Dani has done to get here. And, oh, sure. Dani is qualified, “but.” There are “other factors” at play.
“I don’t even know what to say. I’ve heard crap like that my whole life. But I never thought I’d hear it from you.”
It’s always “qualified but” when a woman gets something over a man. And when you add a Black woman getting a leadership position over a white man—a younger Black woman, at that—well, the entitlement just jumps right out.
And what about Dani? Well. The difference is glaring.
Dani couldn’t throw the type of tantrum with Molly that Ed did with Margo. Can’t be the “too emotional” woman—or, worse yet, the “angry” Black woman—after all. While Ed’s busy taking his pain out on her, Dani can only respond so much. Even getting up to leave like she did, the emotions are under the surface, controlled. They’re not allowed to be anything else, not for her.
Actually. For as much as Kinnaman takes us on a journey as Ed, Krys Marshall paints us a picture with Dani. This is art; it’s the beauty and quiet strength, somehow managing to keep it all together (she shouldn’t have to), that’s all too familiar. We know what this character is thinking and what she’s feeling. It’s all about just how hard it is for her, yet also how second nature it is, to only let them see so much. She stands up for herself, lets people know when they’re out of line. But she dances across that tightrope of society’s requirements for how she behaves.
Meanwhile, Ed just…keeps it up. He goes to Karen, drunk. His ex-wife has to take care of him and make him feel better about his dying dreams before he even asks her how she’s handling her partner’s recent, literal death. It kind of sucks. No, not kind of. It sucks a lot.
We get where Ed is coming from in a lot of ways, especially with thinking he was going to be the first to Mars only to have it ripped away. That is crushing. The problem is, in his defeat, he’s his worst self. And it’s just a reminder of the never-ending whining about white men being the most oppressed that we see way too often in the real world lately.
To paraphrase a well-known saying here: For All Mankind 3×02 makes it clear that Ed is used to privilege. So, of course, to him, Dani being treated as his equal feels like oppression.
The “Game Changer”
Dev Ayesa has a dream, and he needs Karen Baldwin to pick up the pieces after her nightmare to achieve it. While making her business deal with Dev, Karen makes it very clear just how smart she is. She knows, based on the type of engine he’s working on, exactly why he wants to buy her dead company. And in the process, she makes it clear that she is not to be underestimated.
The sale goes down, after some delightfully entertaining sparring. In the process, it’s clear Dev develops a lot of respect for Karen. As he should. Karen Baldwin always had a particular type of strength about her, a kind that’s not always respected the same as others. But For All Mankind 3×02 gives her a whole new layer.
We probably see, moreso than at any point in this series, just how much more Karen is—could have been—than the a housewife stereotype. With that being said, she does fall back into being Ed’s support system a little bit too easily. Then again, moving on with your life doesn’t mean you stop caring about people you once shared that life with. So, it’s not at all surprising that she uses her new connection to help Ed get his Mars dream back, if in a different form.
What is, of course, surprising is how Dev fits into all of this. He’s going for “free enterprise” and a lack of hierarchy at his company. Even the decision to bring Ed in is part of a team decision. He has big dreams and wants to be the civilian who is not only the first to Mars, but also the first to put an end to the ongoing competition and colonization from the U.S. and Russia.
Dev is a fascinating new character, who seems to have all the right ideas of how things should work. And Edi Gathegi brings this light to his story about his dad’s dreams. It’s the same type of joy we see elsewhere from characters like Dani and Aleida when they realize their own dreams.
“So, you rolled the dice on a wild idea. And it didn’t pan out. So what? Show me somebody who never failed, and I will you somebody who never took risks.”
But For All Mankind has always warned us, in a way, about progress and hope. Women were astronauts much sooner in this timeline, but it came at the cost of the U.S. losing the race to the moon. And we adopted the Equal Rights Amendment early, but Ellen is still hiding her truth, decades later. So much is new and exciting in this world. But then again, there’s still Molly trying to be a good ol’ boy with Ed, even though she never can be.
So, who knows? If Dev gets the positive change he wants on Mars, what will that mean on a larger scale?
More on For All Mankind 3×02
- It’s really the tiniest details that make this episode. Case in point: Marshall just makes Dani so real with all of them. Like the big sigh before congratulating Ed. Or that half eye roll and little look down to the side after hearing Molly’s nonsense reasons for why her qualifications made her wrong for the mission. We’ve seen and heard it all before. And so has she. It’s exhausting.
- “I don’t need to think about it. I’ll back him up. Whatever the program needs—whatever Ed needs—I’ll be there.” A leader. Even when exhausted and let down.
- “They picked the old white guy. Shocker!” Boiling. Hot.
- Even Dani’s joy when she gets the call is in stark contrast to Ed’s swagger when Molly makes the big, public announcement. There’s no fanfare for Dani, no banter. Just…a loss of words, wide eyes, a heart temporarily stopped in her throat.
- Maybe I cried when she held that phone to her chest, ok? Maybe I did.
- Ellen Waverly, running as a GOP candidate. With a running mate who will bring in the evangelicals. Still don’t get it. Might never.
- “It doesn’t matter that I’m a former astronaut, who put my life on the line for over a decade. I’m running in a party that’s infatuated with alpha males. So, I need one on the ticket. Is that it?” When you realize what’s up but stick around anyway. Leave the party. They don’t care about you—trust me.
- “We just had the governor’s mansion renovated last year. And I am still trying to find my favorite pair of cufflinks.” But Ellen’s running ads about Democrats blowing money. K.
- No but Ed’s speech about the medals was so sad. And the shot of him and Karen was just…sad. The setup makes all those “what ifs,” and all that grappling with a legacy, hit so much harder.
- Danny’s giving stalker vibes. I didn’t need the affair, really didn’t need to revisit it, and really, really don’t need him parking outside Karen’s house in the dark like that.
- “In America, anything is possible.” Sounds like a threat post-2016.
- Aleida’s child-like wonder when she picked up that moon rock was so beautiful. More. Need more.
- Also: Iconic use of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today.”
- “I know you hate it when I mope.” Understatement.
- “He’s probably stuck in his ways like everyone else at NASA.” Dev, new bestie, you have no idea.
- Ed going to Helios is giving petty. Weirdly support it. Like, this is how you do it. No rage, no racism and misogyny jumping out. Petty.
- But the best part is, this finally feels like it’s Dani’s season.
- Tag yourself: Margo’s dropped jaw or Dani’s “wtf is this mess” face? I am both.
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