The episode title “Rules of Engagement” refers to the plot line about the Russians taking over a mining site run by the Americans, and the fact that Reagan has tasked NASA with reclaiming the site…which, as General Bradford and Ed both point out, that means they’re going to be bringing guns to the moon for the first time. That’s the only way they can hold the site. They get the bright ideas to send Marines to the Moon, and Margo and Thomas O. Paine (Dan Donohue) both think the idea is ridiculous, but they do have their orders. The plot is dropped after this, with the rest of the episode finally dealing with Kelly’s desire to go to Annapolis and Tracy and Gordo’s troubled relationship. Oh, and Aleida (Coral Peña) is all grown up and back!

The real highlight of “Rules of Engagement”, and of the season so far, is a very long scene between Karen, Ed, and Kelly where Ed kind of explodes after learning about Kelly’s desire to join the Navy. Karen had a similar reaction at the beginning of the episode; she was stunned into stammers, and she expresses her fears for Kelly joining that life. Ed’s taken a toll from both being in the Navy and being an astronaut…does Kelly really want that life? But Kelly, bless her, is determined, because she wants to make a difference in the world as Ed has. Karen does not respond “what am I, chopped liver?” but maybe she should have.

Anyway, Ed explodes when he discovers Kelly’s desire because he gets the deep feeling he’s going to lose her as soon as she announces this. See, Ed never really got over Shane’s death from last season — remember him kidnapping that cosmonaut? Yeah, turns out the cosmonaut was able to plant a bug on the original section of Jamestown. Clearly, Ed’s actions during the period following Shane’s death and leading up to Shane’s death haunt him. The scene is one of the most intense this show has had, with Ed telling Kelly to go ahead and leave and enlist in the Navy and that he’ll block her admission effort. Kelly fights back, and Karen even gets violent.

But Kelly, bless her heart, gets between the two of them and pronounces “Now whatever that was we’re not doing it anymore!” Kelly really has grown on me. The family then has a really well-written and acted heart-to-heart, ending in Ed accepting Kelly’s going to Annapolis if she gets in. The family sings “Anchors Aweigh” together as the scene fades away. If they could all get Emmys for the scene, I’d give them to them. Sadly, I’m not sure the Emmys even know this show exists.

Tracy Stevens (Sarah Jones) drinks first thing in the morning in "Rules of Engagement"
Sarah Jones as Tracy Stevens
Credit: Apple TV+

Tracy and Gordo’s plotline in “Rules of Engagement” is less joyful. Tracy and Karen have a mini-reunion, where it’s clear Karen is still wary about Tracy’s new marriage. Tracy crashes her car after driving drunk and calls Gordo for assistance. Her new husband is out of town. But that still doesn’t mean her ex-husband should be her first call. Especially since she tells him to take her to their former house, where she crawls into bed and forces Gordo onto the couch. Gordo’s clearly done with Tracy in her current state—he’s got bigger fish to fry. He’s going back to the moon, after all. He takes her keys to the house.

It gets revealed that Tracy and Gordo will be on the moon at the same time, a fact which Tracy places the blame for solely on Ed’s shoulders. To be honest, Ed probably didn’t even consider the difficulties it might cause, because he hopes his astronauts will be professional. Tracy’s outburst to him isn’t professional at all, but she still chooses to stay on her path to the moon. Maybe she’ll make it.

Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) appeals to an old friend
Wrenn Schmidt as Margo Madison
Credit: Apple TV+

The final “Rules of Engagement” plot has to do with Aleida and Margo, in another tense scene where Margo offers Aleida a job at NASA to save her from getting deported. Aleida thinks Margo’s both pitying her and feeling guilty about essentially abandoning her when Aleida’s father was deported. Aleida ends up breaking up with her boyfriend who called Margo and taking the job anyway. Aleida and Margo will surely butt heads—and from the look and sound of grown Aleida, she’ll butt heads with everyone else, too.

This episode is mainly about getting people into position, but the amount of boiling over that happens makes it an intense, gutsy episode. “Rules of Engagement” could have slowed down the season’s momentum, but it just feels like things are getting ramped up to an even higher level.

Watch For All Mankind Season 2 Fridays on Apple TV+.