For the past three seasons, For All Mankind has proven to be a gripping and grounded television series. Through season four, the show continues that high standard to the point of being one of the finest shows on the air right now. Genre shows are often overlooked for some reason and fly under the radar when it comes to nominations for mainstream awards. But certainly, For All Mankind and Joel Kinnaman as Ed Baldwin, Krys Marshall as Danielle Poole, and Wrenn Schmidt as Margo Madison deserve to be among those lauded.
This Apple TV+ series goes beyond science fiction and being an exciting space show; instead, it’s an interesting portrait of humanity with a complicated message about motivations, hope, and so much more. It blends and bends genres to go from sci-fi to drama to spy show to thriller, and is just so satisfying to watch. Everything in season four works to create this really compelling drama that just happens to take place in this alternate (and frankly, in some ways, tantalizingly possible) timeline of science possibility.
[Warning: Spoilers for For All Mankind season 4 below. For my review of the season 4 opener “Glasnost”, visit this page!]
The promises of Glasnost are kept in For All Mankind
For All Mankind is a generational show; it takes place over decades, with each season jumping in time. The fourth season takes place starting in 2003. Humanity is well established on Mars at this point, with Happy Valley bustling. Before the season began and through the opener “Glasnost“, we were promised a show that would explore the differences and resulting conflicts between the “haves” and “have nots” at Happy Valley. The officers, the astronauts, are the haves, and the have nots on the lower decks (to borrow from Star Trek) are regular people hired on to Mars and contracted to work for Dev Ayesa’s (Edi Gathegi) Helios.
Season four delivers on the promise of that clash in a most interesting way, with a labor strike on Mars, complete with sabotage and more. We’re in an era where labor is at the forefront of the minds of many in Hollywood (and around the world!). Considering that we just came off of dual historic strikes by SAG-AFTRA and the WGA to ensure fair treatment and payment by the studios, this feels particularly prescient. But the thing about For All Mankind is that the care and details that go into making it help ensure that it is always one step away from being possible. As we get closer to our real time, if the show continues, it’s bound to cross into the prophetic.
Miles and Sam’s importance in For All Mankind season four
The first episode of the season promised us that Miles (Toby Kebbell) and Sam (Tyner Rushing) would be the agents and catalysts for more of this discord. Sam’s journey was kicked off by the unequal treatment of her colleague’s death on the XF Kronos mission. Grigory Kuznetsov’s (Lev Gorn) death made global headlines, while Tom Parker (Mac Brandt) was the “and someone else.” Miles’ motivation being more family oriented to provide for his family on the brink back in Louisiana.
The fourth season delivers on this promise, and we see it play out most fascinatingly. For Sam, the events of “Brazil” and “Perestroika” tease a hopefully larger and more space-faring role in the future. Miles’ journey this season was similarly interesting… From lying about his college career in Tallahassee to get to Mars in the first place, to taking over the Happy Valley black market (to provide for his family), then enduring torture to ensure future work on Mars. Rushing and Kebbell both bring these characters to life with such purpose.
Margo’s story comes to an end in season 4
At the end of season three, with the attack at Johnson Space Station, many thought Wrenn Schmidt’s Margo Madison was done for. The trailer and “Glasnost” revealed that she wasn’t, and was instead alive and “well” in the Soviet Union. The promise of Margo this season was fulfilled, and based on the events of “Perestroika”, it could be a fitting end for the character.
Margo isn’t thriving in the Soviet Union after betraying the US to save Sergei, played by Piotr Adamczyk. As Sergei accurately telegraphs to Aleida (Coral Peña) this season, she’s a bird in a cage and at great risk. We see that play out in some of the best spy sequences in the show. As the Soviet Union has a decidedly nonorderly regime change, Margo gets caught in the crosshairs and is arrested. She witnesses some gruesome things, and Schmidt captures perfectly Margo’s horror. Because of Schmidt’s skill, you feel her loss and grief this season.
Some of the strongest scenes in season four are between Margo, Aleida, and Sergei, too. You feel the cautious hope Margo has when revealing her true situation to Aleida. Then, because Coral Peña is so freaking talented, you feel the magnitude of loss when it all comes crashing down. The two characters’ family-like relationship has always been special in For All Mankind, and this season keeps upping that. Margo’s final scenes, where she takes the blame for what happens with the asteroid (and shields Aleida), are powerful and a fitting end for her story. And it concludes the mother/daughter-like relationship very fittingly.
Although he’s not a main character, Piotr Adamczyk deserves praise for his work on the show, too. Like Margo, Sergei, is a victim of the KGB and Soviet manipulations. We find out this season that his character is living a quiet life in Iowa as a science teacher. Years have gone by, and he’s remarried and, like everyone else, thinks Margo is dead.
The shock that Adamczyk brings to the screen as he discovers she’s alive is so believable. I cheered when he decided to take the fork in the road for I-35, and his ultimate ending was all the more heartbreaking but fitting. For All Mankind has never been afraid to kill off main or other characters; just ask Shantel VanSanten or Sonya Walger.
Joel Kinnaman’s Ed Baldwin admits he’s no longer of Earth
At this point, Ed Baldwin has fully admitted what has been clear to the other characters (and indeed the audience) for so long: his home is among the stars. He wants to die out there, having built something, and not in a nursing home on Earth.
Kinnaman’s Baldwin is older now; as Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) came on board to take over command of Happy Valley, we were promised tension, and this season exceeded the original promise in every way. Both Danielle and Ed have gone through it together, from being stranded on Mars to more, so the long-simmering tension is interesting. As an audience, we finally get answers (although it’s only a brief vignette) about what happened on Mars and how they both played a role.
Danielle’s rightful callout of Ed’s weaknesses and how he’s using Happy Valley to escape help act as the catalyst for some pretty snarky and undermining behavior by the aging astronaut. I didn’t have Ed’s visit below decks or his stirring up and allying himself with the strikers, and also Dev Ayesa on my bingo card. When you consider the character, though, it aligns perfectly with who he is. It fits the blaze of glory in the emotional scene with his daughter, Kelly Baldwin (Cynthy Wu).
Ed Baldwin is of space. He’s always used space to avoid his family responsibilities and trauma. And now, it seems his medical woes. But this season brings his family to him. His daughter Kelly comes to Happy Valley when she leaves NASA as part of her Helios work, and she brings her son Alex (Ezrah Lin) to the station with her. It’s been many decades since the character has had to interact with a small child, and that helped add an extra dimension to Ed so many seasons later.
Baldwin has been one of the through line characters as we pass from decade to decade that helps anchor For All Mankind in the familiar and helps keep the show out of anthology territory. By the end of season 4, it’s clear there’s still a story to tell for Ed, but the character is, again, going to be pretty old.
Danielle Poole made it out alive
Danielle Poole, brought to life by Krys Marshall on For All Mankind, has always been an interesting character. She’s been the story’s moral center in some ways, which continues in this season. Her character’s actions have always been for the good of things.
Lured out of retirement by new NASA head Eli Hobson (and talented actor Daniel Stern), Dani takes command of Happy Valley, and has to navigate complex geopolitical and interpersonal relationships with her old friend Ed. She successfully navigates it all and tries to make peace with the strikers. At the same time, she still longs for her family on Earth. Marshall brings such heart to Poole.
Dani’s moral high ground makes a bit of a turn this season as the events in Happy Valley challenge her. As things wind up, she authorizes the KGB and CIA operatives on the station to question (i.e.: torture) Miles Dale about the missing com equipment. Miles suffers immensely under the operative’s hands, offering a layer to Dani’s character and posing the question, is this justified, given the benefit that Goldilocks could bring mankind? (It’s a question worthy of Spock, bringing up the discussion about the needs of the many, versus the needs of the one.)
The rising tension between Ed and Dani hit a crescendo this season too, putting two friends who have survived decades and hell on opposite sides, and Marshall does such a wonderful job of showing the agonizing inner conflict. And it has grave implications for her. There’s a moment at the end of the season where you think, “OK, this is it. Danielle is not going to make it out alive,” when she’s shot during the raid on the North Korean capsule. Every season of the show ended with a major character’s death, and it seemed like it may be Dani’s turn.
But that doesn’t happen here. Dani lives, and is in recovery from the shot. It’s not a grand death for her character, but it does hint at the end of her story, unless there’s more to see on Earth.
Aleida, Dev, and Kelly and the Helios-centric future
In the end, Dev, Aleida, and now Kelly get what they want with a future where Mars matters. Goldilocks has been successfully stolen, and the flash forward shows us that Dev is still on the red planet.
Aleida’s journey got the most screen time this season. The opener promised that her character wasn’t okay after the events at JSC, and Coral Peña showed such talented vulnerability in bringing that to the screen. We got to see her character regain her confidence as this season went on, and make peace too, in some ways, with Margo.
Dev is a fascinating character. He’s not the playboy tech or hedge fund billionaire we typically see on screen. Instead, he is someone who cares about Mars, partially because of his dad’s unrealized dreams. We learn more about his past this season, and Edi Gathegi is so charming we can’t help but root for Helios Aerospace.
The trio represents the show’s future, and I hope we see what happens next.
Will For All Mankind get a season 5 on Apple TV?
There’s no word whether For All Mankind will get a fifth season yet, but we sure hope so. From the conclusion of season 4, it’s clear there’s so much story left to tell with these characters.
All episodes, including the entire fourth season of For All Mankind, are now streaming on Apple TV+. Learn more about it at the Apple TV+ website.