The space program as of 1983 is booming in the universe of For All Mankind; “Every Little Thing” sees astronauts from across the globe celebrating the rising of the sun on the moon and an expanded Jamestown base to boot. But first, we get a flash-forward of about eight years or so since the end of season 1. Reagan gets elected in 1976 to the Presidency, not 1980, like in our timeline. Jimmy Carter, I guess, never had a chance in the show’s brave new world. A lot of very weird things flash by in a dizzying montage of newspaper headlines and TV reports; the weirdest might be that somehow Camilla Parker-Bowles ends up the Princess of Wales and gets to marry Prince Charles. How the space race affected that, I’ll never know.
Back on Earth, Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) is still a workaholic, with her much bigger office serving as her apartment, in a nice parallel to the post-credits opening of season one’s pilot. She has a shower now, but she’s still making notes on her notepad while brushing her teeth with her toothbrush/pen combo. She’s also now the Director of Johnson Space Center, in a nice surprise. Only took twenty years of service — there’s a plaque on her office wall denoting those many years of service. She’s trying to finagle some polar launches from Vandenberg AFB, offering football tickets as a gift to the new Department of Defense liaison General Bradford (John Marshall Jones), who takes the tickets but doesn’t let NASA launch from the Vandenberg base.
Most of “Every Little Thing” sets up for what will follow, but it’s so entertaining that it doesn’t really feel like set-up. Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) is now an Admiral, and also the chief of the astronaut office. He plays golf on the carpet and scares the crap out of astronauts like Gary Piscotty (Michael Benz) who just wants to go to space. Kinnaman’s performance to me in the second season is impressive: he’s got gravitas that the Ed of eight or so years ago didn’t really have, but he’s also still a giant baby about a lot of things. He’s also got killer comedic timing, which is really on display here.
Ellen Waverly Wilson (Jodi Balfour) is the commander of Jamestown, and I’m hoping she had a break in between her first command of Jamestown eight years prior. She’s turning 40, and she’s not happy about it, talking to her husband, Larry Wilson (Nate Corddry), and insisting that her birthday party be a welcome home party. She doesn’t want to go out with the other astronauts to see the sun rising, preferring to stay in at Jamestown, experiencing it for possibly the last time. There’s mention of a new position she will hold, but what it is “Every Little Thing” withholds from us.
The astronauts who watch the sun coming up are quickly placed in danger; at the very end of the episode, which flashes back to 24 hours before the sun rising after watching the astronauts dance and sing Bob Marley’s “Don’t Worry About a Thing.” We explore the updated lives of our favorite characters — Karen (Shantel VanSanten) and Ed adopted a daughter, Kelly (Cynthy Wu), in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the various South Asian conflicts. They have a cute spaghetti dinner. Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman) leads a sad life, giving speeches for Rotary clubs punctuated by PTSD attacks and intrusive questions about what really happened on the moon. And Tracy Stevens (Sarah Jones) makes regular appearances on Johnny Carson and announces she got married off-screen to Sam Cleveland, some sort of businessman — without telling Gordo, which she isn’t obligated to do, but she also didn’t tell her sons. Tracy seems like she’s on a wild ride, and I’m not sure when or if she’ll get off of it.
But back to the oncoming danger. Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger) is also on the moon, and she’s watching the sun come up from a hanging perch, much like she was in the midpoint of season one, digging for the ice that would transform the space program. She’s hanging out with another astronaut who is filming the sun coming up. And then — disaster strikes. A massive solar flare ignites, sending hard proton radiation straight to Earth and the moon moving faster than usual. Earth will be okay, but the astronauts on the moon have a hard timeline to get back to Jamestown Base and its underground shelter.
Molly, on the other hand, and her friend, are stuck on the surface. Molly gets to a cave, but her friend gets trapped under his flipped rover. Molly goes to save him, abandoning her dosimeter, which we’re told, if it turns red, she’s “dead.” So, she takes the dosimeter off, allowing it to remain green as she goes into the radiation storm to rescue her buddy. By the time she drags him back, his dosimeter is red, and we end with her heavily breathing in the cave. An intense end to an episode that really seems to breeze by, no doubt unleashing consequences for the rest of the season.
All in all, “Every Little Thing” is a good start to a season that will only advance from here.
Watch For All Mankind Season 2 Fridays on Apple TV+.