There’s a brilliance to For All Mankind 3×08 “The Sands of Ares” that goes beyond the crisis at hand. In a high-urgency situation, in which everyone comes together to recover any survivors from the landslide on Mars, we see more quiet, human moments. It’s not what we’d expect from most episodes of this type, especially after the previous episode’s ending.
But that’s what happens, sometimes, when the dust has (quite literally) settled. (And, you know, buried two people alive). Sometimes, even as you’re up against time, it suddenly feels like the very thing that’s wasting away has also just…slowed…down.
And, so, we get to see what it’s like to have those moments of alone time, to plan, to suggest the impossible. We get to learn, and love, and lose — all while we have a precious few number of hours to make everything right. That’s the journey For All Mankind 3×08 takes us on, and it’s one that’s just good.
A presidential pause
Well. If Larry wants to whine and lecture Ellen for doing something for herself, let’s pretend like we can tell a fictional character to go to hell by making sure we take a timeout to discuss that visit with Pam. Shall we?
Hmmm….Yes. We shall.
Basically, if you want to see what the whole, “if you love someone, let them go” thing gets you, take a look at Pam Horton and Ellen
Waverly Wilson. For Pam and Ellen, For All Mankind 3×08 is about coming to terms with the past, confronting the truth, and…heartache.
Yeah…Honestly, it’s just about pain.
We see this pretty often, both in fiction and reality — this idea that someone has to make a sacrifice for a loved one, so that the person they love can follow their dreams. In this case, it’s Ellen who, supposedly, would’ve never gotten where she is today and, according to Pam, would’ve resented her for it. Eventually.
“You were headed for such great things. And I knew it — from the day I met you. So, yeah. I gave you up. Because I thought that, maybe one day you could make a real difference for people like us. But I guess I was wrong.”
The thing is, that could be true. Or it could not. We’ll never know. And that’s the frustrating part — not just here, but every time something like this happens. Ellen didn’t get to make that choice; she was fed a lie because it was what other people thought was best for her.
Then, there’s the real tragedy: At least, as of right now, it was all for nothing.
“I’m not as powerful as you imagine. Look at me now: I had to sneak out of the house to visit the love of my life.”
Ellen still can’t tell the majority of the people in her life about Pam. She’s not living as her true self, and even after she’s reached the White House…What change has she been able to make? For All Mankind‘s version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”? Bills, aimed at helping the economy, that key politicians have pulled their votes from after learning about Larry’s affair with an aide?
What was the point?
The scene at Pam’s house is a masterclass, from Jodi Balfour and Meghan Leathers, on how to let the tiniest of expressions convey decades worth of heartbreak. It’s the small smile from Balfour when Pam tells Ellen it’s at least good to hear her say she’s the love of her life. And the pained look immediately after Ellen passes Pam the letter. Or in all that gazing. The sound of death in Balfour’s voice when she talks about having to “settle for what’s possible.” And, of course, the loaded looks of goodbye after President Wilson, naturally, gets interrupted because of the “developing situation” on Mars.
Duty calls. The problem is, answering that call sometimes means losing what could (should?) have been. Given the fond way Pam recalls a young Ellen’s “fire, ready to take on anything and everything,” in “The Sands of Ares,” maybe it also means losing yourself.
But maybe there’s hope. Ellen absolutely does not put up with an ounce of Larry’s shit — and is outright confrontational in some of her responses to it — when she gets back to the White House. So, maybe we’ll see that old Ellen fire make a real, meaningful return.
Karen steps up.
If For All Mankind 3×08 does a wonderful job of reminding us, through Pam’s eyes, that Ellen used to be the future hero, it does an even better job of showing us how far Karen Baldwin has come. But Karen hasn’t lost any pieces of herself. She’s grown — there are more pieces now.
Even though she’s not an astronaut’s wife anymore, she remembers what it’s like to be left behind and feeling more than a little bit helpless. She remembers all those times she was alone, or with Tracy, or with any number of others. So, instead of making phone calls, Karen knows it’s important to go in person and sit with the people who don’t know the status of their loved ones.
“It is better than sitting in front of that television, drowning in fear.”
It’s more than fitting that Karen winds up visiting Amber Stevens. As someone who knows exactly what Amber needs, how to be that shoulder to lean on, and even how to take charge when that phone rings, she’s perfect. Because she knows, better than anyone, that a ringing phone can bring you either the worst news of your life…or the greatest relief.
The hope here, of course, is that her conversation with Jimmy — yet another scene filled with quiet, and pauses, and time for us all to just settle in the moment — starts to drag him back into reality. Initially, when Karen shows up at the Stevens household, Jimmy just thinks she’s bullshitting him. But they have that talk, and she looks up at the stars as he focuses on the ground (!!! the symbolism !!!)…and they share those bittersweet smiles about how much they hate it.
If Jimmy Stevens can trust anyone about what’s going on with NASA, and space travel, and all that jazz, it’s Karen Baldwin. Maybe, after “The Sands of Ares,” he’s learned that. Here’s hoping. Otherwise, you know, ugh.
Not to be corny, but…Teamwork makes the dream work.
First of all, yes. For All Mankind 3×08 just has so many shots of pure…nothing. We get it: Mars is sand, death, and nothing.
I mean, I’m here for it. It’s just a lot.
“They’re all gone. Might we be the only survivors?”
Alexei, initially completely alone in the worst desert of all time, discovers Nick’s body. He and Louisa find each other, only to share news of more death — Louisa found Isabel, dead. But nobody knows where Ed and Danny are, and there’s only so long they can survive.
The rescue is so organized. We just have so many brilliant, strong leaders. They all, somehow, keep their cool — even amidst the chaos. These are the people who step up and save the day, even when it seems impossible. On Mars, we’ve got Dani Poole, back to being a fantastic Commander and calmly jumping into action every step of the way. She delegates tasks, believes in her people, and manages to keep the mood from becoming helpless.
Then, Team Earth is a pleasant surprise: NASA, Roscosmos, and Helios work together for the first time. It’s always been either all enemies, or secret collaborations, or tense rescues. But this time, finally, it’s all hands on deck.
And it’s beautiful! All those minds together, Bill Strausser and Aleida Rosales finishing each other’s sentences again — be still my heart! What’s not great, initially, is seeing Dev Ayesa isolate himself from the rest of the group. At Helios, it takes Karen more than one attempt to get his attention after everyone else has left the room. Later, at NASA, he just…disappears.
“I tell the story of how my dad came to this country with no money to his name and…and how he achieved his dreams. But…I leave out the rest.”
But then, when Margo finds him. And we’re suddenly back to the beauty of it all. At the beginning of the season, Dev told Karen this beautiful story about hopes, and dreams, and his dad coming to the U.S. with nothing. My initial hesitance to fully believe he was anything other than too good to be true was validated when he pushed the Russians’ rescue off on
NASA’s Dani’s crew. And then, there was that fit of rage after Ed’s crew regained control of Phoenix.
…but what happens during “The Sands of Ares” is yet another really special, quiet moment. This time, it’s all about showing us who Dev is, and what he’s been struggling with all along. If Edi Gathegi was pure light and joy the first time Dev told his dad’s story, he’s pure introspection, vulnerability, and just…lost in memories in For All Mankind 3×08. It’s like he’s talking to Margo, sure, but he’s also not even in that room.
There are so many little elements that make this whole conversation work, from all the beats, to the physical space Margo leaves between herself and Dev even after walking closer, to that final close-up of Dev after Margo goes back to the group. But what makes it really hit is Gathegi’s kind of…hm. The technical term is clearly “superhuman balance of inward projection and just acting the shit out of it,” I believe, combined with the newfound respect and growth for both characters in the scene.
Plus, Dev finally gets to save the day. After his alone time, he comes back with a plan that is equal parts genius and insane. If you think about his father’s losses, and how they destroyed him…Knowing about that makes what he’s able to do so much more important — and it’s already plenty damned important.
Because, um. Hi. Ed Baldwin, slowly dying, waiting for a rescue.
Which, of course, brings us…here.
Hi, yes, there’s still a crisis.
All the meaningful, personal interactions aside, no discussion of For All Mankind 3×08 would be complete without talking about Ed and Danny. Which, first of all, if you didn’t cheer when Ed finally hauled off and hit Danny…why? And if you didn’t just about cry yourself to death over finding out Ed survived, are you human? Not to mention the way he almost immediately slipped into dad mode…
Ok. Spiral ended. Back to the plot.
Seeing Ed and Danny, trying to keep each other alive — when not beating each other up, both emotionally and physically, obviously — and just try it hope for a rescue…It’s heavy, ok?
Ed’s faith in NASA never wavers. It’s his faith in himself, as a parent, that makes him finally, almost, give up. Which, of course, that’s because Danny decides to waste precious air and energy, telling him all about how he used to terrify the shit out of Shane.
But Danny being Danny aside, there’s a really interesting partnership here. Whenever one of them is about to lose faith, the other is right there to force them not to. And even after the fight, Danny jumps right into action, trying to patch Ed back up. It’s never been about wanting to get rid of Ed, or really hating him. The kid is just colossally fucked up.
Toward the end, there’s so much pure angst from Danny, when he talks about his own guilt over Shane.
“I thought if I—if I lived the life that I took from hi—…the life that he was meant to live, that it—that it’d somehow make up for what I did. I fucked it up. I fucked it up like I fucked up everything my whole life. Now, I’m going to leave Avery. Like my mom and dad left me and Jimmy. It’s not worth it, Ed. It’s just not.”
There were even a few minutes there where I stopped wanting the slow, painful death for him. And I’d say that’s all down to finally giving us something to connect with. Cartoon villain stuff doesn’t work. Danny’s addiction could’ve caused all of this without the weird creeper-stalker vibes. We could’ve still felt for him in this life-or-death situation…without the Karen obsession and the hacked messages.
But we’re here. And Casey W. Johnson does such great work in this episode that, for those moments where his character really just lets it all out, it’s actually possible to care about him. Really, truly care. Can we please stick to that going forward?
While we’re at it, let’s not talk about Ed using the last of his energy to try to comfort the guy who just made his own injuries worse. It’s like every scene between Ed and Danny builds that slow walk toward the end, and we’re right there with them. We’re feeling those losses they’ve never really dealt with, the desperation, Ed’s bitterness with himself over what he thinks will become his last conversation with Kelly. This could’ve been the whole episode on its own, and it still would have been brilliant.
Then again, we could also say that about just about any other part of For All Mankind 3×08.
Scattered thoughts on For All Mankind 3×08
- All that before the opening credits?! Ok then!
- There is so much coffee in this episode. Blessed. My notes are like, “coffee” and then, “angsty coffee,” and “coffee!” Everyone drink the magic live-giving beans. Yes.
- “So, this is weird.” Mood.
- A letter that’s basically a lie. “You left me without saying a word to my face.” My EO stan feels have been attacked.
- The silence at Pam’s house. Kill me.
- “Thanks, but I’ve had enough freeze-dried battery acid for one day.” Dani, my love, I am definitely a coffee snob. But if trash caffeine is the only caffeine available? We drink it.
- “And whatever interpersonal crap you two have stops now, you understand.” Boss, it’s called Rolan’s homophobia.
- It’s that head tilt and hair flip from Ellen when Larry’s spouting his bullshit for me.
- “God damn. Mother fuck. Sonofabitch.” Exactly.
- Oh, ok. Kuznetsov finally learned some respect for Commander Danielle Poole, huh? Better late than never, I guess.
- “I’m going to do everything in my power…to find Ed.” The hesitation? The choked quality of Gathegi’s voice? Excuse me? What’d I do to deserve to hurt like this????
- “My brother may die, and they’re using this time to sell dick pills.” Look: There’s hope for Jimmy, ok?
- Like, this kid’s flannel shirt game????
- “We may need to dig a big hole. Very fast.” Ok, but why is this so funny out of context.
- “If you two don’t think you can handle it, I’ll do it myself.” Commander Poole, folks.
- And that eye roll when Will says she doesn’t know enough about explosives. Y’all are in trouble once everyone survives this mess.
- The repeated “be a man” line. Joel Kinnaman, folks. Obviously, Kinnaman’s work on this series is forever brilliant. But that part. Damn.
- Am I the only one who noticed all the daddy issues in this episode? Oof.
- If you get that little “I’m impressed” look from Aleida Rosales, you know you’re smart AF.
- A little bit convenient that Kelly was the right blood type for Alexei…But, I mean, if For All Mankind 3×08 wanted to hit me in the EO feels with letters and whatnot, might as well make me think about “I’d give you a kidney” while we’re at it.
- “Hey…hey…” Dani’s so soft when Ed wakes up???
- “Feel like shit?” “Yeah.” “Good. That means you’re alive.” A whole mood.
- Kind of sad about no “hi, Bob,” though.
- OH, GOD. KELLY’S GRIEF. STOP.
- Probably not here for this weird pregnancy twist. We’ll see, I guess.
- “Grab yourself some coffee and some food. The sun’s going down, but…this day is not done.” Good advice any day, regardless of the situation.
- “People like to hear about success in America. About rising up, pulling yourself up from your bootstraps. They don’t like to hear about failure.” Exactly. And the way I felt that pause before “failure” is, um…yeah.
- “Crying is good. It’s better than pretending like everything is ok.” Good to know y’all approve because this show causes a lot of crying.
What did you think of For All Mankind 3×08 “The Sands of Ares”? Send us a comment!