For all mankind covered roughly 30 years of alternate American history in its three seasons, in which the Soviets beat the Americans to the moon, the Americans doubled down on their space program, and the world kicks off the 90s with a race to Mars. And, of course, it is recognized that these differences have ripple effects on other areas of culture. John Lennon is still alive, Bill Clinton does not become president in 1992 and the USSR still exists. However, the show seems to be trying to parallel our reality in a way that doesn’t always feel true to the show business.
(Minor spoilers for Season 3 Episode 4 of For all mankind.)
On the Helios mission, we see a character quote aliens and imitate the Chestburster scene from Extraterrestrial. Meanwhile, on NASA’s Mars mission, Kelly Baldwin runs a pirate radio station playing “Possum Kingdom” by The Toadies. Now maybe the music world would have progressed the same way despite being one of the most important people in rock living after 1980, but I find that’s very hard to believe science fiction would have been the same. We are talking about a world where the world’s space programs did not back down in 1972 but had several fully equipped moon bases.
Not only is space exploration more advanced in the world of For all mankind, but it’s also already much deadlier. We have seen people die preparing a rocket for launch, during training exercises, in space on a rescue mission and on the moon due to both open hostilities and unexpected disasters. . The third season premiere showed that an entire wedding party nearly died in the world’s first space hotel, and at least three people died trying to avert another disaster. The space hotel has been closed, but the ship in which these people died is now in service as the Helios ship. These disasters seem to indicate an acceptance that space travel, like early exploration of our planet, is inherently dangerous and that danger is in some ways mundane. Some people will die in space. It’s sad, but you can’t let that get in the way of progress.
This world science fiction would probably focus less on gruesome deaths in space, as they would be less notable, but would simply use space as a setting for more mundane stories. The sappy Tracey/Gordo flick starring Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan sounds perfectly fine. Or maybe we turn to another stranger as a metaphor for all our existential fears. Maybe the world of For all mankind has a movie genre exclusively about humans trying to live underwater and all the dangers to be found the in an environment inherently hostile to our lives.
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Header image source: AppleTV+