Well, that escalated quickly. After more than a few episodes of set-up—which weren’t unwelcome—things in “Don’t Be Cruel” are finally progressing. Thomas Paine gets blown up in the KAL 007 disaster, RIP. That actually happened, and it’s a cool instance of For All Mankind blending fiction and reality. This proceeds to ramp up the tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States, leading to Dani being held captive in Star City, but at least she’s not in the gulag! It also means Ellen is now Acting Administrator of NASA, which is a helluva promotion for someone so new to her Deputy Administrator job.
After a pep talk from Larry—although I hesitate to call it a pep talk—Ellen, with severe survivor’s guilt, since she was supposed to be on that flight too, goes full hawk on her fellow NASA colleagues. This pleases General Bradford, of course, but makes an enemy out of Margo. Ellen recommends to President Reagan that they retake the mining site from the third episode in the next 48 hours and that they need to arm Pathfinder, Ed’s shuttle. Why Ellen does this is unclear. Why does she want an ally out of a lame-duck President? Is it to boost the Mars aspect of the space program?
Margo is arguably the hero of “Don’t Be Cruel”, getting Sergei to get a message through to Star City and telling him that the Buran shuttle has a dangerous flaw–the O-rings, which you’ll remember from the Challenger disaster. Apparently, the Challenger disaster doesn’t occur in For All Mankind’s timeline, because Margo and company caught it in time. Telling Sergei might be a mistake, though, too, for all that it’s a humane thing to do–General Bradford told her not to pass on that information, and to some extent, she’s passing on a secret technological fact, making her a quasi-spy. But it was still the right thing to do. She also tells Aleida a story about Bill Strasser peeing himself and earning the nickname “Mr. Peanut”; knowing Aleida, this’ll come to bite both of them in the ass.
Dani, trapped in an apartment in Star City, has a talk with a Soviet Chief Engineer (Endre Hules) who tells her that Yuri Gagarin himself stayed in the very room where she’s trapped now. He carved his name into the door before leaving, as did a few other cosmonauts. The Engineer, who seems to be very high up, leaves a knife for Dani to do the same. Once she’s allowed to leave, we see she’s carved “Poole” into the door. It’s a nice reminder of the lasting impact that these astronauts and cosmonauts made, not just in space, but on the world they left for short periods of time.
Karen does two stupid things in this episode–first, she sells the Outpost to Sam Cleveland (Jeff Hepner) and two, she kisses Danny Stevens, a young man she’s known since infancy. And slow dances with him. It’s uncomfortable. Whether this will grow into something more has yet to be seen—she immediately goes home and has sex with Ed, who seems surprised but not unwelcoming to their having sex. Ed doesn’t do much in “Don’t Be Cruel,” which honestly isn’t a bad thing–it’s nice to see him take the backseat to both Karen and Kelly. Kelly has her adoption records and is heartbroken to find out that her mother died in childbirth. Her father, on the other hand, is alive and living in Arlington, TX. Presumably, the ever-resourceful Kelly will find him.
Finally, the armed Marine-astronauts do take back that mining site, rather easily. The cosmonauts take one look at their guns and just flee, which is actually pretty heartbreaking. The United States has clearly taken the first move in arming its astronauts. Tracy does some kickass flying, too. Good to see she’s back on the saddle. All in all, “Don’t Be Cruel” is probably one of the best episodes so far, really advancing the story and showing just how bad Soviet-US tensions got during the Cold War.
Watch For All Mankind Season 2 Fridays on Apple TV+.