‘For all Mankind’ Ends Its Greediest Season

‘For all Mankind’ Ends Its Greediest Season

This interview includes spoilers for Season 4 of “For All Mankind.”

After beginning its story in 1969 and working its way through the following decades, “For All Mankind” reached the year 2003 in its fourth season. At one point, President Al Gore is …

Wait, what?

Set in an alternate universe, this Apple TV+ series is predicated on the idea that a Soviet cosmonaut became the first man on the moon. The event had a butterfly effect with consequences that included an accelerated conquest of space, the continued existence of the Soviet Union and, yes, a President Gore.

Season 4, which concluded last week, toggled between Happy Valley, a Mars base dedicated largely to mining, and Earth, where Americans and Soviets enjoy a distrustful relationship despite being partners in space ventures. The oldest survivors of the previous seasons are Ed (Joel Kinnaman), now an astronaut elder working on Mars for the private company Helios; his former colleague Danielle (Krys Marshall), who leads Happy Valley; and Margo (Wrenn Schmidt), a high-ranking NASA administrator who ended up in the Soviet Union and is roped into that country’s space program.

The major question of Season 4 is: What happens when exploitation, in every sense of the word, replaces exploration as a motivation? “To me there’s a little bit of greed that came in this season,” the showrunner and executive producer Ben Nedivi said. “Mars is no longer just about astronauts and engineers anymore — we need labor, people who build things.”

His fellow showrunner and executive producer Matt Wolpert emphasized that a different type of character was being thrust into space. “We wanted someone who hadn’t dreamed from early childhood of being an astronaut, someone who was looking to make a living,” he said of the newcomer Miles (Toby Kebbell), a wily mechanic always trying to make an extra buck. “There would be conflict,” Wolpert added, “between the way different people define their jobs in this very cramped environment.”

In a joint video call, Nedivi and Wolpert talked about the season’s main story lines, Danielle’s fate and the importance of realistic science-fiction aesthetics. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

This season, Ed stirred up the Happy Valley worker bees into a strike, seemingly out of spite toward Danielle. Then he helped the Helios head, Dev (Edi Gathegi), try to steal an asteroid filled with $20 trillion worth of iridium. Is it me or has Ed turned into a petty jerk?

MATT WOLPERT He’s like a lot of men we both know who, as they get older, become more like the worst version of themselves. It felt like a guy like Ed, who was sort of grasping onto relevance with both hands, white-knuckled, would make decisions based solely on that at the expense of everything else. People may not like him as much as they had previously, but I think they understand him and they empathize at least with where he’s coming from, even if they don’t agree with what he’s doing.

What was Krys Marshall’s reaction when she learned that Dani would be shot in the season finale?

BEN NEDIVI We’d told her she was going to die. But writing it, her dying that way didn’t feel right. With everything that goes on in the finale, you wanted an uplifting moment with her, and it felt right that she would get the opportunity to see her grandchild. Some of the best ideas in the show have come up in the middle of the season while we’re shooting. We always knew Gordo and Tracy were going to be on the moon at the end, but the idea of Gordo going up there to get his wife back was something that came up very late in the process.

Is the strike on Happy Valley meant to reflect conflicts in our world?

WOLPERT We weren’t intending to comment specifically on right now as much talking about the way that throughout history, the tension between labor and management, between people on the bottom and people on the top, has driven social change, politics and so many aspects of our culture.

NEDIVI The writers’ strike wasn’t something that we were aware would happen when we were writing the season. I have to say, when the strike did start happening, we actually were a bit thrown, going, “Oh no, are people going to think we’re writing this because of what’s happening to the writers?” But like many things on the show, it was in the air, maybe. We really were careful that you didn’t know who to root for. It wasn’t necessarily like, “I want the heist to work” or “I want them to stop the heist.” We intentionally put characters on both sides of that equation so that you, as an audience, are conflicted about who you want to succeed.

The season is also about purpose and self-identification. Miles wants to make money for his family. Ed is obsessed with this sense of himself as a space guy. Dani wants things to run smoothly. What does Margo want?

NEDIVI My feeling has always been that her allegiance is to the work, it’s to the science, it’s to the space program. That’s still her guiding light, to the point that she’s had to suffer personally because of that, and she suffers more this season than any before it. One of the things that we really wanted to lean into is when she takes the fall at the end and goes to prison. Not that she’s content with what she’s done, but I think she feels like: “I made the right decision. This feels right to me.”

At the end of Season 3, I was convinced that Season 4 would be about finding some kind of extraterrestrial life. And then we got … mining?

NEDIVI What I think separates our show from a lot of the other sci-fi is that we lean into the grounded nature of sci-fi. We love that challenge of, “How do you make asteroid-mining exciting?” Every time you see asteroids in pop culture, it’s always about it crashing into Earth, and there’s so much more to asteroids than the potential to destroy humanity. The idea of stealing an asteroid also made it into something where it wasn’t just about mining but was also about control, power and greed.

The show’s world is technologically advanced, but it still has a fairly analog feel — the environment reminded me of the gritty transport ship in “Alien.”

WOLPERT That was a huge reference point for us: It feels real because it feels very lived in and used. Even in the design aesthetic, we’re very conscious of that. The design of the SpaceX Dragon capsule and their spacesuits feel very purposely sci-fi, but if that was in our show, you’d be like, “Oh, that feels sci-fi, that doesn’t feel real.” It’s also a deep philosophical difference on the value of having a little bit more analog stuff — software can go wrong, but a switch always works.

Was it deliberate to make the Soviet Union feel almost as airtight as Mars?

WOLPERT We talked about it like the Soviet Union was the new hostile planet of the season.

NEDIVI When we shoot the Mars surface or the moon, we do it in Los Angeles on a soundstage. For the Soviet Union, we went to Bulgaria in winter. It was a bit surreal because we were building out a new world with a different cast and different sets. But we didn’t want to present the Soviet Union just as a hostile world — we wanted a multifaceted portrayal.

The show hasn’t been officially renewed yet, but you must be thinking about the next season. What are you’re considering?

NEDIVI We’ll continue doing what we’ve been doing, which is showing the progress of the space program and kind of pushing forward. Moon and Mars made the most sense as the first two stops, but there are still steps beyond that. Asteroids are one of them. Every season of the show, we try to go a step further, but at the same time we’re just as intrigued by building out the worlds on Mars. What started as a story of just the first people on this new frontier in Season 3, now you’re seeing it as a base with hundreds of workers. So what’s the expansion of that? What happens when there are thousands of people on Mars?

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