For All Mankind faces disaster in ‘The Sand of Ares’ [Apple TV+ recap] ★★★☆☆

For All Mankind has a Martian crisis on its hands this week’s episode, “The Sand of Ares.” Ed and Danny are trapped, Danielle has to come get them, and Karen, Jimmy, and Amber wait on tenterhooks for news of the rescue.

It’s all hands on deck at NASA in the meantime, in the Apple TV+ space soap. People start confessing dark things as they face down death. And there may not be enough people left to make any sense of the Mars mission when it’s over.

For All Mankind recap: ‘The Sands of Ares’

Season 8, episode 8: Danielle Poole (played by Krys Marshall), Rolan Baranov (Alexander Sokovikov), Kelly Baldwin (Cynthy Wu) and Will Tyler (Robert Bailey Jr.) are working when they get hit with the sandstorm that knocked out Helios Aerospace and Roscosmos over near NASA’s Sojourner 1.

They’re gonna have to rescue them at some point, but they don’t know the extent of the damage. Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) was injured in a drilling accident. And now he and Danny Stevens (Casey W. Johnson) are trapped in a lander together with six hours of oxygen left.

Meanwhile, Alexei (Pawel Szajda) is stranded by himself, sick and puking in his spacesuit, completely lost in a haze with no one responding to his distress signals. Some members of the Helios crew are dead.

Ellen gets petty

Back on Earth, President Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) is visiting with Pam (Meghan Leathers), her old flame, a woman she hasn’t talked to in a decade. Ellen confronts her about lying about why Pam left her back when she first decided to run for office.

As usual, Ellen is here for the pettiest of reasons: She’s mad that Pam didn’t break up with her to her face. She has literally everything, she’s the president of the United States, but it’s not enough. women, amirite?!?!? This show, I wear to god.

Anyway, now Pam is pissed because Ellen immediately caved on LGBTA rights. Ellen hems and haws but Pam is absolutely right. And frankly, For All Mankind won’t admit that Ellen has always been a calculating nothing, just a suit headed for eternity. The show just doesn’t realize that the stuff she’s been doing is grotesque and boring.

When Ellen gets back, she’s missed the briefing about the Mars catastrophe and Larry reads her the riot act. She punishes Larry by forcing him out of the room during the cabinet meeting that follows.

Dueling problems on Mars and Earth

Back on Mars, Alexei finds his way to the NASA rescue module. But locating Ed and Danny is still gonna be like finding a needle in a haystack. NASA, Helios and Roscosmos must team up on the ground!

Karen (Shantel VanSanten) goes looking for the families of the dead to tell them about the misfortune. Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt), Lenara Catiche (Vera Cherny), Aleida Rosales (Coral Peña), Bill Strausser (Noah Harpster) and Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi) brainstorm a solution to find the survivors.

Karen goes to visit Danny’s wife, Amber (Madeline Bertani), and brother, Jimmy (David Chandler). Because Jimmy’s been hanging out with Sunny (Taylor Dearden) and her lunatic anti-government friends, he immediately thinks there’s some kind of conspiracy cover-up going on.

“You came all the way over here to spout the same bull crap they’re saying on TV?!?” Jimmy whines. What do you think is happening on Mars, young man? They found aliens or more communists or something? (Again it’s not unbelievable that there are people who think this, but the show does need to interrogate his belief system soon.)

A crazy idea that just might work

Helios’ head Dev comes up with a solution, wherein they drill under the lander where Ed and Danny are trapped, then blow up the foundation below them so they can get access to them from below.

Unfortunately, Danny and Ed are coming apart — having fistfights and trading barbs. They might not even make it to the rescue mission at this rate. And since Alexei is suffering from a subdural hematoma and puking, they have to attempt to drill a hole in his head to release pressure or he’ll die. (That’s actual science but sounds like pure witchcraft.)

The team rescues Ed and Danny seconds before Danny confesses to sleeping with Karen. When they wake up, Alexei’s dead — and Kelly’s pregnant with his baby.

The unavoidable problem with Ed Baldwin

This week’s episode of For All Mankind is mostly pretty alright. The show always functions best in crisis mode, because you’re not worrying about the miserable interpersonal stuff too much.

That’s why the worst of the week’s conflict is Danny and Ed in the lander together. Ed Baldwin mentions, because again they can’t help themselves on this show, that he was in a M*A*S*H* unit in Korea when he’s trying to focus Danny and help him not give in to despair.

However you look at it, Ed’s gotta be almost 70, and actor Joel Kinneman looks like a robust 50 at the oldest. But they still have him punching Danny and stuff. It just doesn’t make any sense. With the season finale in sight, I have to wonder if they aren’t going to kill Ed to spare us the sight of him in Benjamin Button-style old man makeup, going to Jupiter in his 90s or whatever next season.

The idea that Ed Baldwin was an interesting enough character to serve as the focus of three seasons of television was ludicrous before we leapt three decades into his remarkably repetitive career. Can’t imagine what’s in store for us in the next two episodes, but it’s gonna be goofy, of that you can be certain.

This Week in Alternate History

They’re selling Viagra-style male libido pills on TV and Jimmy calls them “dick pills,” which feels a bit modern, but whatever. That’s what they are.

★★★☆☆

Watch For All Mankind on Apple TV+

New episodes of For All Mankind arrive on Apple TV+ every Friday.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.

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