Friday, November 1, 2019

REVIEW: 'For All Mankind' - America Sits in Collective Dread as the Soviet Union Lands a Man on the Moon in 'Red Moon'

AppleTV+'s For All Mankind - Episode 1.01 "Red Moon"

NASA is in crisis as the Soviets land the first man on the moon in 1969, the beginning of an alternate history.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of AppleTV+'s For All Mankind.

"Red Moon" was directed by Seth Gordon with story by Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert & Ben Nedivi and teleplay by Ronald D. Moore

This is an overly long premiere that is more interested in setting up a mood of uncertainty and national dread than really introducing its main characters. It's an alternate history drama. The key diversion from our timeline happens right away. It's a thrilling sequence to watch as the world comes together to watch a man land on the moon. Those thrills quickly make way for dread as it becomes apparent that this is a Soviet astronaut. The United States has lost the space war. The Soviets put a man on the moon a couple months prior to when NASA was plotting its own launch. As such, everyone is furious and trying to make up for the lost time. That's not the only immediate difference either. When Apollo 11 actually goes up to make its famous landing, it comes with the uncertainty of the feed cutting out for over four hours. As such, mission control and the entire world has no clue if the eagle has landed. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin could be dead on the moon. They could have failed in this mission. The premiere ends with the uplifting note that it was ultimately a success. It was just a bumpier entry than everyone was expecting. That highlights just how shaky all of this actually was at the time. It's a magnificent feat that could have gone wrong in so many ways. Politics shaped the science in so many key ways as well. After the Soviets land, President Nixon is angry and worried about whether or not it is still worth it to fund a space program. The command leader in Houston understands the importance of competition. He knows that the Americans need to send their own astronauts to the moon to ensure that the Soviet Union isn't the only nation with domain over space. It's vital for morale and to send the message that the Americans are just as savvy and advanced as any other nation on the planet. There is the desire for Americans to always project a sense of strength. They need to profess their dominance. It's a mentality that has been earned over time. The American dream is enviable to so many people. Immigrants will pay coyotes to illegally guide them through to this country. It's a perilous mission that could go wrong at any moment in time. And yet, there is hope just like there is for Apollo 11. It could all end in disaster. However, there is the promise of a much better future just across the next ridge. That is the overwhelming quality throughout this premiere. Again, it's a solid mood that radiates off of every single action. Of course, the narrative presents Edward Baldwin as its leading man. He comes across as somewhat naive and foolish. He speaks openly to a reporter about the failure to take risks at NASA. He could have been the first man on the moon if they showed more confidence in his mission. And yet, the shaky landing for Neil and Buzz may have proven that it took those two extra months just to ensure everything eventually turned out okay. Karen understands that her husband would never release a public statement taking back the claims he made to the press. He always stands for honor, duty and country. However, all of this may put things into better context for him. He's not a man who puts a whole lot of thought into his actions. Karen is the one making plans for how an eventual move will change their lives if he rejoins the Navy. Meanwhile, Gordo is the one thinking about what the first words spoken from the moon should be. Ed doesn't necessarily care about any of that. And yet, he's determined to be a part of NASA and help it succeed. That may be the right energy. The show just undercuts itself in the early going so that it may be hard to root for some of these main characters. Additionally, it's unclear where exactly the show may be plotting its next course. That uncertainty may not be reassuring to the audience after spending 65 minutes already in this world.