There’s good television, and then there’s the completely different galaxy where For All Mankind 3×10 lives. Much like previous season finales, “Stranger in a Strange Land” is packed full of hope and devastation, the best of humanity and the worst. And just…so many other things, too.
There’s the unbelievable, pushing the limits of what humans can accomplish. The series has always asked “what if,” after all. “What if” we were better? “What if” we could do more than we ever thought possible? But For All Mankind also recognizes that there are two sides to every coin. That, as we look at the best we have to offer and dare to dream, we might just as quickly finds ourselves living our worst nightmares.
It’s certainly a choice to give us the beautiful, gravity-defying triumph of Kelly Baldwin literally being shot into space with nothing more than hope and promise…back-to-back with the horror show on the ground at NASA. The pain and the terror are certainly amplified by that juxtaposition. But, looking back — and having experienced For All Mankind‘s season finale more than once before attempting to find words for it — it’s also one that ought to amplify the good, too. We should value the awe in Cynthy Wu’s eyes, when her character realizes she’s going to survive the impossible, all the more in the face of so much loss.
Because our successes are precious. We need to hold on to them to get us through the darkness…or maybe just to get us through the long wait until we see what’s next for these characters.
Here’s hoping you’ll stick with us as we discuss For All Mankind 3×10 in full. Or, you can always hop to the messy part at the end. We won’t judge you through our tears…much.
In sticking with the ’90s theme, let’s just say “isn’t it ironic” to the losses we experience in For All Mankind 3×10. And some of that irony is on the bitter side. Case in point: Karen Baldwin, after mentioning how much she hates all of this so many times, dies looking up at the sky. At Johnson Space Center, no less. Twenty years in the viewing gallery, waiting to see if her loved ones were coming home safely…and no one even knew they needed to worry about her. She was, after all, safe on the ground. Just doing mundane, “normal” things.
It’s even more painful when you think about how she was just finally coming into her own and recognizing her value. After struggling with guilt and almost not taking the job, she was just about to become CEO of Helios. But, her new title never became official.
The person who helped Karen realize it was ok to be a “selfish prick” and take that position…also dies on that horrible day. Of course, we’re talking about Molly, who actually dies due to a selfless act. For her, dying in the very place she never really wanted to leave is as close to a happy ending as it gets.
“Happy” is, obviously, not the right word for the way we lose Molly at the end of For All Mankind 3×10…
But it’s satisfying when you consider, Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb, the real-life inspiration for our Molly, never got to do any of it. Never went to the moon, was never immortalized by naming Johnson’s replacement after her. It’s odd, paying tribute to someone who passed in 2019 by killing her fictional stand-in. And yet, it just works. The standing ovation certainly helps with that.
The shot of Sonya Walger, disappearing back through the smoke and rubble as Molly heads off to save more lives instead of leaving when she can…is pure art. It’s gorgeous; it’s powerful. And, if we’re being honest here, it’s hard to even write about without getting emotional.
Molly wasn’t lying when she told Karen there was “not a chance” of keeping her away from NASA. Throw in the part about how she was a barnstormer because it was all she could do “after these fuckers killed Mercury 13” (another tribute to Jerrie)…
…and yeah. If we had to lose her, this was the only acceptable way.
“The future is ours to fight for. And win.”
On the plus side, that ending with Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place” confirms that, somehow, Margo Madison survives the events of For All Mankind 3×10. But…not sure if we could consider what she’s doing in 2003 “living.” Sergei’s in bright suburbia, reading Tribune articles about Molly’s space center. And Margo’s…in a place with much less lighting.
It also looks like she doesn’t have to rush like crazy to get ready for work anymore? Off brand.
But, even after knowing how it ends…Even then, there’s no stopping the actual whimpering as we sob our way through Aleida searching for her after the bomb. Or just wanting to cry ugly tears during what we think — until that leap to the future — are the final shots of Margo. (And no, I’m not exaggerating about the whimpering part.)
It’s difficult to put into words what the image of her exiting Mission Control, alone, means. Put Margo’s walk out next to Molly’s last move being a walk in. Think about their long-standing rivalry, how Margo ousted Molly earlier this season…and suffer.
No, really. There’s no other way to put it. It’s painful.
So, suffer with us.
It’s also painful to look at the destruction in that office, with the wind blowing through it. Just the way Coral Peña breathes in that moment is enough to help a person find tears where they thought there were none left. (Can confirm, personally.)
And, speaking of the Margo/Aleida connection: Can we take a minute to marvel over the small tells from Peña and Wrenn Schmidt as Margo gives her goodbye speech? The rest of the people in that room have no idea what’s really happening when Margo stands there, choking through her words about “what an honor and a privilege” it has been to work there.
But Aleida does. We do. And their performances tell us everything we need to know: This is it. The end. Even without Jimmy’s McVeigh-wannabe “friends” getting involved, it would’ve been the end of an era.
And what does that ending mean now? Will the investigation even matter after all of this? And how do we begin to fix what’s broken when we see one of the most touching, supportive mentor/mentee relationships on television — especially between two women — blown up the way it was this season? It’s awful to think of Margo being alive out there while Aleida (seemingly???) believes her to be dead. Especially when you think of everything left unsaid.
Working backwards, chronologically — at least as far as this episode goes — it’s worth pointing out that there was at least a possibility of these two still maintaining…something. Their moment in the hallway — where, even with Aleida feeling so betrayed, Margo is able to get her head back in the game — spoke volumes about just how important that relationship remains. Aleida just wanted answers. And, just as much as she didn’t want to believe Margo to be a traitor earlier in the season, she seemed to still trust Margo enough to accept her apology.
But now what? It’s not like “after all this is over, we’ll talk” looks to have been a promise kept…
But hey! Some endings are happy!
Can we just take a moment to live in Ellen’s smile? You know the one. Right at the end of the finale, just before she responds to Pam’s “hey” with a “hey” of her own.
That’s a moment that has been decades in the making. And sure, while we started Season 3 like, “wtf. Why is Ellen grabbing herself a trash uber-conservative VP who doesn’t believe in science,” and “nope. Ellen being GOP will never make sense” and all that jazz, this finale makes the clear beginning, middle, and end of her season-long journey quite an iconic story indeed.
“I’m pretty sure being dishonest about my sexuality falls short of high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Because, not only do Ellen and Pam finally get to be together…But there’s also that scene, in the Oval Office, where POTUS is done giving a shit. And, honestly, “women who are done taking shit” is the only thing I’m more addicted to than caffeine. Which means it’s definitely my favorite attitude to see Jodi Balfour get to just rock in this role.
It doesn’t matter whether she’s threatened with impeachment because people feel “betrayed” or being told the party is under assault, Ellen has a comeback for every shitty take in For All Mankind 3×10. And it bears another mention: This version of the character is just purely glorious to watch.
Those bitter laughs in response to pretty much everything Bragg says are the type that we’d truly love to bottle to bring out on a bad day. The crowning moment of the whole confrontation is when President Ellen Drag-Them basically says, “fuck your party.”
Ok. Maybe those aren’t the words. But close enough.
“And I won’t allow you to destroy the Republican party.”
“Maybe it needs a little destroying.”
Just…mic drop. Dismiss this old white dude. The end. Burn it down, Ellen. My President!
Meanwhile, in space…
When it comes to the Mars mission, politicians, the Helios Board, and the media are all united in their ignorance. And Jimmy Stevens’ terrorist “friends” are beyond ignorant, for what it’s worth. That’s all we care to say about them, other than…slow clap to Jimmy for having a conscience when it was already too late, we guess?
The events of For All Mankind 3×10, or really the season as a whole, prove this mission is not a failure. At all. In the first place, all three “known” crews made it to Mars. Sure, there were some pretty horrific twists and turns along the way…But people. On Mars. And then, there’s the totally reckless, not-at-all-conventional, way they manage to save Kelly and her baby.
On any other series, “let’s launch this pregnant woman with pre-eclampsia into space because we don’t have enough fuel to get her all the way to Phoenix” would’ve been a joke. But there’s something about the way For All Mankind 3×10 tells this story that makes it good. Nearly inspirational, even.
I think it’s at least partially due to this idea of expecting the unexpected. But, much more importantly, there’s simply the way everyone comes together to make it happen. There’s the group of geniuses on the ground at NASA, and then there are the three combined crews, formerly fierce competitors, that have now become some sort of space family. When the real world is crumbling, it’s nice to see “enemies” come together as friends like that. That’s what fiction is for, in the end — escaping.
Actually, one of the things that works best here is the very beginning of For All Mankind 3×10, where we get the backstory on our surprise North Korean guest. He’s been stranded on Mars, completely alone, and just…missing his person.
Lieutenant Colonel Lee Jung-Gil doesn’t even realize he’s the first person ever to land on Mars. He’s just abandoned, having crash landed with a pilot who is now dead. We get that long sequence of him looking at that photo, still trying to do his work, constantly trying to radio home even when he gets no answer…And. Eventually, he gives up. But it’s just as he’s about to end it all, that Dani and Kuznetsov show up.
So, it all starts to make sense. It’s not “oh, these evil North Koreans want to shoot first and ask questions later.” It’s “this man is terrified and alone and at the end of his rope. Of course he’s going to defend himself and his post.” But Dani, ever the best leader on any planet, manages to start some form of communication. When Kuznetsov resorts to violence, she rushes to save this stranger. And they bring him back to Happy Valley, where he insists on going back to his mission because duty is so important to him.
But, over time, he also becomes part of our space family. He’s so delighted to hear Ed Baldwin — our Ed!! — speaking his language. This is someone who hasn’t heard a word, understandable or otherwise, from anyone but himself for months. And now, his native tongue. Something we usually take for granted — but that’s everything to him here.
By the end, he even gets to call home. Now, that’s a happy ending.
C.S. Lee had such an incredibly difficult job here, in terms of communicating every single emotion, basically with no words. But he killed it — as everyone on this series always does.
That’s the only predictable thing about For All Mankind, actually. Every single soul is impressive.
And in the end…
As it turns out, it was never about whether Ed or Dani was the better choice for Commander. We needed both of them. Couldn’t survive without Ed’s flying skills, to finally become the hero he was always meant to be — to not be overcautious in the face of danger. To just trust himself instead. Bonus: Those very basic foreign language skills turned out to be valuable, too.
And Dani…Where would any of NASA’s missions have gotten without her? Nowhere. She remains, even with our new knowledge, the first woman on Mars. And deservedly so. When everything started to go wrong, there was never going to be anyone else who could hold it all together, who could make it all work with so many different people, in such a stressful place.
Then, there’s the shared grief. There are performances upon performances (upon performances) in For All Mankind 3×10. But certainly, the moment where Dani has to tell Ed about Karen — when he has just emerged, victorious, from saving Kelly — is a standout. Dani and Ed have been through so much together. When we talk about space family, we could cut everyone else out but these two and still have something very special. Being able to recognize and feel how strong that bond is as we watch is heavily dependent on Krys Marshall and Joel Kinnaman, who are two incredible scene partners. And they just get better with every outing. Practice makes perfect, after all.
The small moments, like Dani lending Ed strength through a touch on his shoulder as they’re kicking Danny off the island (so to speak), are certainly just that. Pure perfection.
So…Yeah. It was never Dani or Ed. It always had to be Dani and Ed.
More strange thoughts on For All Mankind 3×10
- That gentle way Margo told Aleida she knows when Aleida was having trouble telling her about the FBI…I suffer. You suffer. We all suffer!
- When Ellen burns shit down on her way out, she’s gonna find a way to pardon Margo…right?
- “Selfish pricks change the world.” A motto.
- “You don’t give a shit about my legacy. Or me!” Did the Suits writers give Ellen that line? (If you know, you know.)
- Ok but that one micro-expression from Schmidt when Catiche tells tells Margo it’s Aleida who’s been talking to the FBI. It’s “yeah, I knew it” and “God, twist that knife” all in one.
- “Margo, we can help you.” “I’ve seen how you help people.” But, like. Based on what we see of 2003, Catiche totally “helped” Margo, right? I want theories. Y’all, come share them!
- Kinnaman when Ed switched from confusion to rage in that confrontation with Danny. Gold. Danny can perish.
- “You thought? You didn’t think at all, you selfish piece of shit…My daughter’s not the way you absolve yourself from your fucking guilt.” Normally not a fan of Ed’s rages, in general. But this bitch deserved it.
- And then, we have Dani and Kuznetsov cracking up while they’re being held at gunpoint because they realize they weren’t the first, and all that fighting was meaningless.
- Dani’s “what the hell” when Ed starts with the Korean is all of us.
- “My good dumpling, this is now your home.” Ed.This show tried to pretend like it was a comedy for five minutes. We all know better by now, though.
- I’ve said all these words, and I haven’t even gotten to the whole point where Kelly was in so much danger but still didn’t want a single soul to sacrifice themselves for her. Or how, when she got her Russian space suit, of course it was Alexei’s. And of course they had to break all our hearts with showing her caressing her baby bump with his name on it.
- That voiceover…was gorgeous…if you don’t think about colonizers and whitewashing.
- Elastica’s “Connection.” Taste.
- “No. I’m doing it for me, too. But tell me what’s wrong with that, huh? I have worked my ass off to get here.” You did, Karen. You did. And this hurts, considering.
- That look Commanders Poole and Kuznetsov share before Dani points out that the crew is the extra weight they need to cut out to save Kelly. They. Have. Come. So. Far.
- “We’re going to change the world today, Jim. And give your parents the justice they deserve.” That boy and his brother have disgraced the memories of their parents so much…there are no words. However long this review is, just type the phrase “fuck you” a million times that, and that still doesn’t sum up the type of response necessary for this mess.
- “Are you suggesting we light Kelly Baldwin up…like a rocket?” “Basically.” I am a corpse.
- The look Margo and Aleida share when everyone gets to work on Aleida’s wild AF plan…I love them.
- “But that’s pretty easy for you to say, Dev. I mean, you’re, like. Rich.” Piping hot.
- Speaking of. Billions of words…haven’t talked about Dev watching everything he built slipping through his fingers. More pain? Absolutely. Is there some shitty audacity there in his confrontation with Karen? Yes. Do I weirdly feel for the out-of-touch rich dude anyway? Yup. Gonna say it’s good writing and acting making that work. Shocker, I’m sure.
- And also: That deadly slow-motion shot of Dev walking away when he realizes his “people” aren’t coming with him. Ouch.
- “Where’s the Queen of Darkness?” I’m really supposed to live without this? Ok.
- The Margo/Sergei call. Do I even need to say anything else? Just. The call.
- “Yeah. I’m old.” When you go on twitter dot com, and they’re talking about a 20-30ish-year anniversary of one of your lifelong fave shows/movies/albums.
- The score for Kelly’s launch.
- And also. The score immediately after the bomb.
- The sigh when Dani looks at that photo of her people.
- Gonna go cry now.
- May we meet to say “hi, Bob” again soon.
- This show is just so special to me. I’m sure absolutely zero people could tell.
Thoughts on For All Mankind 3×10 “Stranger in a Strange Land” or the season overall? Leave us a comment!