For All Mankind 3×04 “Happy Valley” is nothing if not yet another warning from this series: Space is unpredictable. People and governments are unpredictable. And no matter how close victory is, no matter how much you’re just on the verge of reaching impossible heights, you can suddenly find yourself at a terrifying low.
The true measurement of a person—especially of a leader—is how they handle even the most disappointing of circumstances. It’s in how they put their minds to doing the right thing (or not), and how well they adapt to ever-changing dangers.
“Happy Valley” also asks us, repeatedly, to consider what’s most important. Is it the victory, winning a race? Or is it actually caring for other people? Let’s check in with our heroes and horrors to see how For All Mankind 3×04 answers its own questions.
So far, For All Mankind Season 3 has not exactly shown the best in Joel Kinnaman’s Ed Baldwin. When “Happy Valley” starts with what Ed thinks is a sure path to victory, to being the first on Mars, he’s still a little bit in his obnoxious strutting peacock era.
But something happens, along the way. When his skills as a leader become crucial, he steps up. First, he step in when Danny Stevens is about to destroy a fellow crew member. And I’m honestly not sure how he does it. Gordo and Tracy were his chosen family, and here he is, having to calm their son down after he catches Nick’s reenactment of the fictionalized version of their deaths.
It’s gross. Nick and the others are obviously in the wrong. We shouldn’t treat the Stevenses’ incredible sacrifice with the same “good time” jokes we do around things like Aliens‘ “get away from her, you bitch!” scene. In the context of this series, they were real people, not just some story to tell for entertainment. It brings to mind so many other misuses of true history that’s been immortalized on film. And it’s just as uncomfortable here as anywhere else.
But Ed knows he has to keep Danny tethered. Which is, of course, something Ed temporarily forgot when he argued with Dani Poole about bringing him to Mars in the first place. But now, when he sees he’s needed, Ed works some kind of magic and diffuses the situation. Because he’s, suddenly, the real Ed Baldwin again in For All Mankind 3×04.
We’ve missed you, Ed. Truly.
“If it was us breaking down in the middle of outer fucking space, we’d want the same consideration. Don’t you think?”
He makes the call, lets everyone back at Helios know that it was a difficult decision, but lives are on the line.
“I know how disappointing this is for everyone. But bringing those folks home, safe and sound, is more important than mission success.”
The big moment comes, of course, when he defies Dev’s weird “we voted, so y’all up in space, whose lives are on the line and who already decided, have to do what we say” nonsense. After he’s told to stay the course, he tells his crew they’re continuing the rescue mission, regardless. Nothing changes.
And remember: This is the man who was almost the first to land on the moon but who made the decision not to land. He knows this disappointment—better than anyone. But he wants to do the right thing.
Too bad Dev is trash and prevented that.
But oh, it’s beautiful to see that small nod from Bill Strausser back home. And that weary, yet resolute, way Ed sits in his Commander’s chair after he realizes he’s an “almost but not quite” yet again. Of course, the best moment of all is when all Ed’s rage is directed, for the first time this season, at the right people. At actual injustice, disgustingly trying to pass itself off as justice.
Welcome back, Ed. You’re just on time because we’re really going to need you after how For All Mankind 3×04 ended.
Operation Jolly Roger
There’s something so sweet about seeing the Sojourner I crew troll the Phoenix crew. Pirates? In space???? Like, yes, let’s take several orders.
As “Happy Valley” opens, Dani seems to be stuck in the same place—of having to graciously brush off Ed’s bragging—as she was in For All Mankind 3×02. But, as soon as she’s done swallowing all that bullshit, it’s time to win. There’s a feeling of family aboard this ship, which makes it even more satisfying to see their come-from-behind victory. Even if it’s only temporary.
“Ed, I wish I could see the look on your face when you crunch the numbers and realize we beat your ass to Mars.”
In this moment, Dani gets to brag a little. She’s more than earned it, through hard work and keeping her head down all these years. And if it’s a little bit petty and hypocritical of me to say I loved seeing her pour salt on Ed’s wounds, then so be it. It’s a victory for women, and I’m always going to support that.
“I learned from the best.”
Ed did try to take credit for all of one Danielle Poole’s successes back when he was throwing his temper tantrum. So. All’s well that ends well.
When Dev and his supposedly “world changing” group of spoiled, entitled brats decide to leave the Russians stranded, nothing about this mission ends well. Once Ed and Dani have finally found their peace—after Ed has become her friend and the leader she always believed in again—it’s up to her crew to do what his is banned from doing. It’s time to be heroes.
And if anyone doubted before For All Mankind 3×04 what kind of leader Danielle Poole was…Well. She took those crushed hopes and dreams of her crew, acknowledged them, and then motivated them to move forward.
“Hey. We earned the right to be the first on Mars. No one can take that away from us. Now, I know this wasn’t our mission. But it is now.”
10/10. No notes.
And then, as Dani and her crew attempt to make that rescue…All hell breaks loose. It’s heartbreaking, and that entire ending sequence is nothing but constant stress. You can feel something is going to go wrong before it ever does, and when it does, it is utterly brutal.
But Dani keeps her cool as best she can, even as her people are literally being crushed under the weight of what’s happened. For All Mankind is so good at giving us these extended scenes of build-up. It’s suspense at its very finest…but boy, does it hurt that much more, make that much more of an impact, when it’s happening to people who are trying to save lives. People who, despite saving our asses over and over again, never had their shot at glory. Until now…until it was ripped away.
The political climate
It’s truly difficult seeing the people on Earth protesting Ellen
Waverly Wilson’s clean energy plans. It looks like, regardless of where we are in terms of scientific growth, and regardless of who’s POTUS, progress will always be met with opposition. And it might just always involve putting people out of work.
Even more painful, of course, is recognizing that Jimmy Stevens is getting sucked in by For All Mankind‘s version of a Sandy Hook conspiracy theory. How far down the rabbit hole he’ll fall is anyone’s guess. But even continuing to have these types of conspiracies in this version of the world…just, well. It sucks.
In For All Mankind 3×04, Ellen is starting to realize that being President sucks, too. Her budget deal is about to fall through because the very same people who told her it was good to go are now pressuring her to suck NASA dry. It’s something she was very clear, on the campaign trail, about being against. But here she is, getting pressured by a bunch of old white dudes who’ve never really seen what the organization can do—which, of course, Ellen has—to work against everything she believes in.
To work against people she cares about, people who already don’t even trust her anymore because she’s a politician. She’s no longer one of them.
“But she’s one of us.” “Not anymore, she isn’t.”
So, when Ellen goes on her visit to NASA to congratulate them on their big win in the Mars race, it’s a new kind of heartbreak. There’s the moment where Jodi Balfour looks over her shoulder, falling behind the group ever so briefly, with her eyes lingering on the statues of Gordo and Tracy. Or her photo on the wall. And there’s just her pure joy at coming home. You can actually see the weight drop from her shoulders when she gets there…
But sometimes, you can’t actually go home again.
Margo’s little shit-talking display with Aleida proves that. (Which, yeah, it was entertaining…but still. Ouch.) It’s more than that, though. After all, she’s on this trip as the President, to congratulate the agency she’s advocating for behind the scenes on a job well done…just as that job gets destroyed. And she, as President, has to be the one to call the Russians for information while the people who still work at NASA—she’s totally still workin for them—are trying to solve a different problem. Namely, the problem of how to save everyone.
Ellen is not one of them anymore, no matter how much her heart says otherwise. She’s also not really one of the good ol’ boy politicians, and they make that pretty clear, too. So, she doesn’t really fit anywhere.
And what, of course, proves this more than anything else in For All Mankind 3×04 is how Ellen and Margo argue over what it means to do the right thing. Should Ellen, as President, do something to force Dev’s hand? Or, as Ellen says, is it up to NASA to save lives? Maybe the truth is, somehow, both. The only thing that’s for sure is how great it was to see Balfour and Schmidt fight it out…even if it also hurt.
More on For All Mankind 3×04
- It’s the screaming “that’s my Ed!” at my laptop for me.
- Ummmm and also constantly repeating “no, no, no. Not Dani, not Dani, not Dani. NO” during the entire end sequence of For All Mankind 3×04. Like, no. You can’t. Please no.
- “Being first isn’t everything.” Kelly knew it, Karen knew it. And, deep down, so did Ed. We love a family!
- That moment where Ed realized NASA was up to something? Utterly priceless. Kinnaman nailed it.
- We continue to stan Aleida Rosales. That pirate sail plot had her method of creative thinking and pure genius all over it. That’s our girl.
- Pirate Radio Station. Iconic.
- “…there’s nothing like a little music to bring us all together.” Exactly.
- “You’ve got to learn how to control your temper. Believe me. I know how hard that can be.” Ed Baldwin? Self-aware? Love to see it!
- “…show the American people that bipartisanship can work.” If only.
- “Everything felt possible. Like we could really change things.” Thinking back to 2012, I am…
- The Russians were so worried about winning a race, they caused a disaster. Doing anything to get ahead usually ends that way.
- “At least you already know: I kicked yo ass.” “So, nothing’s lost there.” That’s my Ed and Dani! Hi, Bob!!!!!
- “I work for the United States of America. You work…for an asshole.” Correct…and also, wouldn’t it be nice to live in a timeline where “the United States of America” is not the asshole?
- Ellen, bestie. I could’ve done without the Columbus mention. He’s trash.
- “Let me tell you: She was one tough SOB.” Literally the only true thing Jimmy’s new friends said.
- Have I mentioned that Dev Ayesa should choke, and I low key hope Bill and Karen are the ones to do it?
- “You’re sacrificing lives for your own selfish interests, but what else is new?” GET HIM, MARGO.
- Aleida’s little “fuck” when she turns her head there at the end. Same.
- “Sometimes, you have to ignore the politics and do the right thing.” Paging Joe Biden. Listen to Margo. Do the right thing.
- …not Dani. Please. No.
Thoughts on For All Mankind 3×04 “Happy Valley”? Leave us a comment!