By Ruth Johnson
The Hammerstein Ballroom holds a lot of people—in fact, it’s probably second only to the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden of the New York Comic Con when it comes to capacity. The audience for the For All Mankind panel didn’t really fill the space, but you could sense excitement in the audience for the show nevertheless. An alternate history of the space race, the series asks what would have happened if the Soviets had landed on the Moon before the United States. It’s a premise that perhaps only Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander) could have come up with, drawn from his desire to see “the space program we never got.” At the panel, Moore expressed his disappointment not just in the direction of the space program after the United States made the Moon landing, but also in today’s space program. It’s clear that one of the goals of this show is to encourage interest in space exploration once again.
For All Mankind is one of Apple’s premiere shows for its streaming platform, and they were clearly excited by the project. The show looks and feels like Mad Men, but focused on the space race instead of advertising executives. The panel consisted of the main cast and two other executive producers in addition to Moore: Joel Kinnaman (Edward Baldwin); Michael Dorman (Gordo Stevens); Wrenn Schmidt (Margo Madison); Sarah Jones (Tracy Stevens); Shantel VanSanten (Karen Baldwin) and Jodi Balfour (Ellen Waverly). The three other EPs were Ben Nedivi (The Umbrella Academy, Fargo), Maril Davis (Electric Dreams, Outlander) and Matt Wolpert (Fargo, American Crime Story). The panel was moderated by IGN’s Laura Prudom.
Before the Q&A however, the audience was offered a sixteen-minute sneak peek of the firsts episode and a full trailer. No spoilers, but it was a high-quality, highly tense sixteen minutes—exactly what to expect from the creator of another great sci-fi show, Battlestar Galactica. The cast and producers came out to appreciative applause, and the Q&A got underway. Prudom first asked about the origins of the show; it came about, Moore said, from an old idea he had about a show focused on the ’70s—but he thought at the time it was a depressing story. Turning the idea on its head and making it about the space race continuing turned it into an optimistic tale, the producers agreed.
The cast each introduced their characters to the cast: of Ed Baldwin, Kinnaman said that he’s All-American astronaut with an incredible emotional journey over the course of the season. He praised Moore’s originality, and “the scope of the character weave.” VanSanten opened her introduction of Karen Baldwin as “this one’s better half,” pointing to Kinnaman, to laughter from both the panelists and the audience. She got serious, though, with the second part of her answer, discussing how Ed and Karen’s relationship is ultimately about teamwork. VanSanten also touched the theme of the show: the fact that we do fail, but that we learn from that failure and we grow from it.
The next For All Mankind astro-couple was introduced: Gordo and Tracy Stevens. Of his character, Dorman said that he’s a playboy, and of her character, Jones said she’s a reluctant astro-wife (at least when compared to Karen). Schmidt discussed how her character Margo is a workaholic, perhaps too dedicated to her job in the space program. Her arc over the season was hinted at in that she should be in mission control, and possibly will be by the end of the season. Balfour as Ellen Waverly represented the other part of the premise of the show; that because of the continued escalation of the space race, women will be trained to be astronauts. Her character actually doesn’t appear until episode 3, although Balfour was featured in the trailer.
Moore was then asked about why NASA would allow women to train to be astronauts—he went into a little bit of the alternate history of For All Mankind. Partially because the Soviets land on the Moon first, President Richard Nixon withdraws from Vietnam early—but perhaps more amusingly, Senator Ted Kennedy never holds the infamous party at Chappaquiddick, therefore never getting into the car accident that nearly destroys his career. He becomes the liberal alternative to Nixon, and Nixon, feeling threatened, decides to give the order to NASA to start training women to become astronauts.
The actors were asked to go into a little bit more detail on their characters; they tried to avoid spoilers as best they could, but a few details got by. Kinnaman probably did the best part of evading spoilers, merely referencing that Ed has lots of fits of rage, mainly due to his disappointment about the Soviet moon landing. VanSanten said that Karen is the glue of the Baldwin family, and hinted at the fact that there would be “lots of expectations from the program” for the astro-wives, similar to real life. The two elaborated that Ed and Karen are like “two statues made of marble that are cracking.”
Dorman said that Gordo is “close to achieving his dream, but he doesn’t know what it means.” Jones said that in addition to Tracy’s reluctance about being an astro-wife, she has a dream of space, which she does share with her husband. In the trailer, Tracy is shown training to become an astronaut, so it’s a quasi-spoiler that she does, somewhat, achieve that dream. Schmidt maybe dropped the biggest spoiler—all we’ll say is that Margo will intersect with a real-life famous scientist who worked for the space program. Balfour said that Ellen grew up with a deep love of aviation, with Amelia Earhart’s picture on the wall.
With Margo’s storyline came the question of how For All Mankind will blend the historical and the fictional. The panelists agreed that it has to do with portraying the real people as honestly and truthfully as they possibly can. Nixon was brought up again, and Moore showed off his Nixon impersonation for the audience. It was pretty good. Kinnaman discussed just how uncomfortable it was to wear the spacesuits, and Moore joked that the most uncomfortable section of them will be merchandised. Finally, they discussed the technical aspects of the show and brought up how even the background actors were trained in how to operate everything, especially in Mission Control. Legendary flight director Gerry Griffin actually consulted for the show. On that note, the panel ended, even though it felt like the program, with its extremely fascinating premise, could be discussed for another hour.
For All Mankind premieres November 1, 2019 on Apple TV+.