Friday, December 13, 2019

REVIEW: 'For All Mankind' - Tension Escalates Between Ed and the Soviet Astronauts on the Moon in 'Bent Bird'

AppleTV+'s For All Mankind - Episode 1.09 "Bent Bird"

A crisis in space puts the Apollo 24 and 25 crews in peril.

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.

"Bent Bird" was written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle and directed by John Dahl

NASA keeps hitting significant roadblocks in its expansion of the space program. They don't understand what the Soviets are doing. There is even paranoia that someone from within NASA is trading secrets to the rogue nation. Meanwhile, Ed Baldwin is stranded on the moon. He refuses to abandon Jamestown station. He couldn't leave if he wanted to. He is stuck up there even though his son has just died. Karen has had to bury Shane by herself. That's a brutal responsibility that has completely knocked the spirit out of her. She doesn't know how to move forward with her life. She may find friendship in Tracy and Wayne. She can rely on them when she feels lost in her own sense of identity. However, Tracy has professional responsibilities at NASA too. It's not long before she is up in space as well to stage a rescue mission. Everyone wants to remain hopeful about the space program. It can't end in disaster. Everyone has worked too hard to make it a success. Ed is forever afraid that the Soviets are sabotaging the American pursuits on the moon though. That is even proven to be true here. He catches a Soviet astronaut at the crater work site. There is the potential for this interaction to turn deadly. It doesn't at that point. It eventually does though. The hour ends with Ed being more than willing to kill in order to give the American government a fighting chance in the space race. That feels like a sensible decision he is making because everything continues to go awry. That may be the reaction that the audience is having after this tense and taut episode. And yet, Ed isn't operating with that information. He remains isolated on the moon. He still has a job to do. He will continue to do that. This isolation has been getting to him though. Gordo eventually hit his breaking point. Every astronaut may have to face that moment. When it happens to Ed, he commits murder. That is absolutely horrifying. His government may view it as a justified display of force. A Soviet astronaut needed safe harbor before running out of oxygen. Ed gives this man a sense of salvation only to cruelly take it away. All of this may start an international crisis. The world on Earth is perilous and growing more and more unstable with each passing day. Some societal progress has occurred. However, the paranoia rings out throughout this universe. It convinces Ed to take this action because he was unable to save his son. He wouldn't have been able to do anything if he was on Earth though. It still may have turned into a tragedy. NASA may be experiencing even more of those in the wake of the shuttle explosion as well. The priority is to get new astronauts in space to replace Ed at Jamestown. Ellen and Deke are intended to man that mission. However, their propulsion system is in need of repair after they arrive in space. That means Tracy and Molly have to move up the launch of Apollo 25 to make those repairs. It just creates a perilous journey where Apollo 24 is sent thousands of miles away from the moon while Molly is left spinning in space all by herself. She is more than willing to sacrifice her own life to ensure her fellow astronauts have the fuel to get back to Earth. Tracy and Gordo refuse to follow that order. That may be insubordinate. But it highlights the humanity still on display in this world. That is uplifting. It ultimately is a successful rescue. It just leaves even more characters stranded in space with mission control unclear of how many they may be able to save in the end. That is such a tantalizing place to explore in the season finale. Everyone is forced to make hard choices. Octavio is arrested because the FBI refuses to operate with any sense of compassion or understanding. That will leave his daughter emotionally stranded as well. The physical perils in space though are the chief concern. Mounting those rescues will ensure that everything comes to some form of conclusion in the finale even if it may ignite the conflict between America and the Soviet Union further. Those stakes are valid while the more personal, grounded ones remain too hit-or-miss in order to provide compelling storytelling moments.