For All Mankind

Unknown.jpegI’ll be honest, it was an image like this that made me very keen to watch this Apple Original tv show. Women in space!

And then I discovered it was the creation of Ronald D Moore, aka the dude who brought back Battlestar Galactica.

And then I discovered that it was an alt-history version of the space race.

… and really that’s all I want to say about the show above the cut, because if you haven’t heard about what the opening thing that makes it alt-history, I really firmly believe it’s best to go in unspoiled. Just know that the show is in many ways deeply grounded in history – to my eye, the costuming and sets are wonderfully historical, and the background politics etc are largely on point. But there is one, and then a resultant cascade, of changes that make this show a magnificent what-if. I genuinely held my breath at key moments in the narrative, and I was horrified and delighted and shocked and joyful. It’s well worth watching.

Spoilers ahead…

Some thoughts…

Apparently Moore and the writers didn’t know about Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series?? The conceit is entirely different, I know, but there were some beats that were just so resonant of the novels. Maybe inserting women into the picture was always going to lead to some similarities in narrative, given that they’re focussing on the same period – although with massive differences in what makes them alternative history.

I love Molly Cobb, a lot. I love the way they constructed her character, I love how determined she is and I love and am saddened by her cynicism. About halfway through the season I realised who she reminded me of: the embittered Sarah Connor of Terminator: Dark Fate. Cobb isn’t as far gone as Sarah, but you can definitely see the potential for that. I was quite sad that they made Cobbe hetero, rather than gay, after the insinuations… and then was very pleased with they made Ellen gay!

I have no problem with watching so-called ‘issues’ shows, but/and this show impressed me deeply with including so many ‘issues’ and avoiding preaching, or any of the other accusations thrown at such things. I (as a straight woman, so pinch of salt here of course) thought the way the show dealt with homosexuality within the 60s and 70s American culture was pretty good: acknowledgement of its existence, an empathetic portrayal, presentation of the reactions of many people (oh Deke, you disappointed me but I know you were realistic), and a ruthless portrayal of how some people dealt with the reviled part of themselves in order to get what else they wanted in life. And I loved that Ellen is shown to be conflicted, and they acknowledged Pam’s pain and disappointment, and… yeh. I thought it was well done; I would also love to hear from queer audiences about their reactions. I was disappointed by a lack of mention of Stonewall; it’s too close to the events of the opening episode to imagine that it hasn’t happened, given the discussion of the Chicago etc riots of the preceding year.

Which brings me to the portrayal of African-Americans in the show, which again – as a white Australian – struck me as well done. Danielle’s determination to succeed but also her cynicism about being toted around as a token felt very real; crowd scenes could have done with more colour but then, so much of it was shot in NASA environs, either the offices or the homes of the astronauts, so maybe it does make sense to show them as white enclaves? (They never go down to the computers’ office.) I was so very pleased to see Harry as a Chinese American on board (although WAH), and the Asian dude in flight control for Apollo 25 whose name I didn’t catch. And, of course, Aleida and her dad as examples of Mexican migrants and their experiences. I desperately hope we get more of Aleida in season 2; they’ve set up so much it makes no sense to abandon her now.

I was fascinated by Tracy Stevens, and Margo Madison – such different women with different expectations and hopes and dreams, and very different ways of going about their lives – I think what I really loved from the whole show was the demonstration that there’s no one way of Living As A Woman. I was horrified by Margo’s use of the classified documents, and I can see why she thought it was necessary – and I am overwhelmingly impressed that she doesn’t seem to have suffered for it: the show presents her as a perfectly competent flight director. Tracy is the character who most put me in mind of Kowal’s work, and I was very conflicted about her at the start, because of the way she was being used by the establishment; and I love that she stepped up and proved herself – without sacrificing her core: still standing with her friend, and loving her kids, and so on.

… and 800 words in I realise I haven’t even mentioned the fellas, except Deke whom I love even though he is a product of his time. Joel Kinnaman was excellent as Ed, who alternately horrified and pleased me throughout the show; Gordo is dreadful with occasional moments of brilliance. The FBI dude doesn’t deserve a name; Aleida’s father, Octavio, is just wonderful; and Werner von Braun was exactly as problematic as I expected.

And finally, the final 30 seconds, after the credits of the last episode: Oh. My. Goodness.

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