Friday, November 1, 2019

REVIEW: 'For All Mankind' - NASA Sends a Group of Women Through Harsh Astronaut Training in 'Nixon's Women'

AppleTV+'s For All Mankind - Episode 1.03 "Nixon's Women"

Deke must recruit female astronauts after Russia lands a woman on the moon.

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 next episode of AppleTV+'s For All Mankind.

"Nixon's Women" was written by Nichole Beattie and directed by Allen Coulter

This drama has presented a reactionary United States. It has become a country that is no longer on the cutting edge of innovation. Instead, the leadership seems to be lagging behind the Soviet Union. The space race may still be competitive. And yet, President Nixon wants to put a woman on the moon as soon as possible simply because the Soviets have already done so. He wants to be capable of doing everything that our greatest enemies have ever done. That just may not present an innovative mission for NASA. They are plotting out the next missions to space. Ed and Gordo are excited to be slotted for Apollo 15. They don't want to do anything that will jeopardize their standings. And yet, this hour isn't fundamentally about them. Instead, it is about the women entering this world. It's a very progressive and powerful storyline because it showcases the importance of gender parity. It delves into real history by mentioning the Mercury 13 - a program just like the Mercury 7 but made up of female pilots undergoing the same exact astronaut training. It was ultimately cut short without any of them being given the certification to go into space despite how impressive many of them were. This time period is still very regressive and sexist. When considering the requirements for female astronauts, the men in charge see families and children as a distraction that should immediately be disqualifying to any candidate who may be interested in the job. That just happens to come at a time when the Equal Rights Amendment and the women's movement are really making strides. In fact, this new timeline suggests that this new program training women to be astronauts gives the movement a rallying cry that may be necessary to push this legislation through. The ERA still hasn't been ratified to this day. None of these women want any of this to simply be handed to them either. Nixon believes NASA can just stick a woman in a rocket and send her to the moon. It can't be as simple as that. Every person who takes up space in that mission needs to do so with a specific purpose. Every mission is designed that way to ensure that the Americans are learning something new with every venture outside of the planet. It's a miraculous accomplishment. This hour just showcases how grueling the training can actually be. Again, the narrative has highlighted just how improbable the science and engineering of it all was. It was miraculous that the world sent people to the moon. But human lives could easily have been lost throughout this entire experience. Someone dies by the conclusion of this episode too. That puts everything into stark contrast. Nixon wants his perfect picture of Gordo and Tracy Stevens as the first couple in space. He views her as the perfect face to replace Anastasia in inspiring the rest of the world. But she fears that she is only being kept in the program because of that narrative. It doesn't matter how well she performs in any of these tests. She will remain no matter what. That can be incredibly condescending and make others think that the process is biased. The show leads the audience into suspecting that it ends fatally for her. The training has grown to a dangerous phase to prove who has the skills to make it in space. Tracy has heart and guts. She protects her teammate when they are out in the desert. That may not be enough for her to survive. She keeps fighting though. However, she doesn't get that moment of being victorious and proving everyone wrong. Instead, the action shifts to Gordo's perspective as he fears the crash site is now his wife's grave. She is still alive. Instead, it was Janet - the second best in the class - who failed and likely died. That is devastating but it's a somewhat false and forced moment as well. The camaraderie - or lack thereof - of the female astronauts provides the show with a strong hook that should be expanded upon further. But some plot twists force the show into embracing the male perspective a little too strongly here. Instead, it's better to spend time with Molly who has been through all of this before and expects the rug to be pulled out from underneath here again. She is very critical about Tracy's standing when better candidates may be cut instead. That very much gets inside Tracy's head when she should remain focused on the task at hand.