Meet the new planet, which is identical to the old planet.
In Season 4 of Apple TV+’s alternate history series about space exploration, “For All Mankind,” the year is 2003 and there is a multinational colony on Mars. Will it surprise you to learn that all the belligerent class problems on Earth are replicated on Mars?
Astronauts and scientists are at the top (they literally live on the surface of the planet) while the grunts who do all the dirty work are underpaid, mistreated, and sent to dark, underground dormitories—and they won’t accept it. Finally, a new TV show depicting labor organizing!
The series takes place eight years after the bombing of NASA’s headquarters in last season’s finale. Both Stevens Brothers are out of the narrative and I couldn’t be happier. NASA still has a presence in the story, with Daniel Stern as the new administrator declaring “I will not be the guy who gave the CIA authority to impose martial law on Mars!” He says things like. But the importance of the space agency as a primary environment has completely diminished.
Now the focus is on Mars. And Russia.
The first is where we find Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman), headstrong as ever, now in silver fox mode, eyeing a handsome cosmonaut he works with.
Daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu) and her baby from Mars return to Earth and are puzzled as to why Ed keeps postponing his return date. Admit it, the man is in prison for life! He’s soon joined on Mars by his old friend Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) – the inside “Hello Bob” jokes resurface – and it’s a delightful reunion. But Ed being Ed, those good feelings don’t last long.
Part of this is due to the aforementioned labor problems in the colony. Ironically, the name of the police station is Happy Valley. But the colony exists for mercenary purposes (they don’t call it a colony for nothing!), and everyone is focused on capturing asteroids to obtain lucrative minerals. An asteroid could be worth $20 billion. Actually using one of these is more complicated than anyone expects. This causes potential sitters to cool down and work on HVAC instead, and they don’t get the rates they were promised.
Meanwhile, Kelly is frustrated by political and budget problems that put his scientific research on the back burner. So he and engineer Aledia Rosales (Coral Peña) quit their jobs at NASA and start striking out on their own, hoping the private sector can step up funding for Kelly’s experiments on Mars.
There’s also former NASA chief Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt), who is passing information to the Soviets. The bombing at NASA was a convenient distraction, allowing him to escape undetected and seek refuge in Russia, but he finds this a difficult adjustment as he lives a boring life under a new name. Things get worse when he seizes power in the government, but this could bring him closer to his real goal: working with Russia’s space agency. This analytical mind wants: work.
These are the season’s three narrative threads; It’s not about space exploration or marriages going to hell or even thinking about how different daily life might be when you’re on another planet. (Apparently this is a lot like living in a submarine?)
Everyone is in more or less deep distress. It’s not a bad storytelling device, and I’ve always appreciated the show’s attention to showing what problem solving can actually look like. Happy Valley episodes are richly detailed. There is a black market on Mars. There is marijuana on Mars. As in previous seasons, geopolitical tensions are deeply concerning. Throughout its run, “For All Mankind” has been a mix of the intriguing and the frustrating. There’s enough of the latter to keep watching.
Toby Kebbell joins the cast as a man who takes one of those crappy jobs on Mars, showing that creators Ronald D. Moore, Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert took the time to consider what might happen if a workforce on another planet threatened to go on strike. They are organizing, but they do not officially form a union. (Surely some have been in unions before and have any idea how it works?) It’s not perfect. But I don’t want perfection. I want these stories there is no In TV and film because they exist in the real world now. More than half of NASA’s workforce union?. It’s time for this show (or any show) to consider why.
Earlier this year, Fox debuted a reality series called . “Stars on Mars” Physicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein called it “an incredibly well-done piece of propaganda” that normalizes the idea of commercializing space. Most space propaganda would have us believe that going to space will solve our problems. It’s a fantasy. “One of the points that many of us make is that when we go into space, we take our problems with us,” Prescod-Weinstein said.
Happy Valley residents might agree.
In the real world, space exploration is unlikely to receive funding unless there is a financial incentive in the form of extracting unused resources.
To its credit, “For All Mankind” does not shy away from this inevitability. The primary theme of the season: Space is a business.
“For All Humanity” Season 4 — 3 stars (out of 4)
Where to watch: AppleTV+
Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.