For All Mankind” may be the most perplexing television show ever. Part of this is due to a time change in Season 2, as this alternate-history glimpse at a never-ending space race jumps to the 1980s. Much has changed, but a remarkable amount has remained relatively unchanged.
But the newfangled timeline isn’t the only source of In the decision-making rooms of the Johnson Space Center and the houses within driving distance, Apple TV+’s most ambitious series in its fledgling originals library oscillates between operatic lunar exploration saga and small-scale family drama.
Both are needed for the show to work properly. Without an interpretation of what makes the fictional astronauts to the moon’s Shackleton crater, the sweeping vistas are relatively inert. Unless the show can deliver on what all that preparation is leading to, the corporate power struggles back in Houston are just set-dressed board meetings.
And on the backs of huge booster rockets, it’s not unrealistic to expect a space tale to aim for at least some emotional complexity. When given the option of letting a pivotal moment unfold with a careful understanding of the emotional weight or drowning it in a thuddingly obvious AC/DC needle drop, “For All Mankind” prefers the latter.
There are moments of pure brilliance where the show lets the wonder and majesty of these space-age pursuits play out unadulterated. Too often, though, the Season 2 plot interactions are delivered like a hammer hits, designed to hit the viewer with ideas of remorse, intent, and sacrifice in such a way that no one could possibly miss them.
It’s a herculean task to give all of these players in the larger space program enough emotional complexity while still having time to manage all of the other explanatory moving parts with such a large ensemble.
Season 2 of “For All Mankind” makes a deliberate attempt to break from the status quo, despite the fact that the show spent the bulk of its first season treading water as the different parts of its timeline fall into place.
Seeing the ramifications of that outside strain play out is definitely a sign that “For All Mankind” can really move when it wants to — John Marshall Jones as the official Security ambassador to Houston is a true highlight among the Season 2 additions — and it’s certainly a sign that the show can really move when it wants to.