Last week’s season 4 opener of Apple TV+ alt-history drama series For all Mankind went necessarily big to catch everyone up and start off with a bang. So it’s not surprising episode 2 establishes a more practical stride, focusing on the realities of life in a working Mars colony.
Turns out life sucks for the working man up there in more ways than just an alarming chance of fatality. Life in Happy Valley, Mars, also tells a deeply unfair tale of haves and have-nots, just like on earth.
For All Mankind season 4, episode 2: ‘Happy Valley’ll kick your ass if you let it’
Season 4, episode 2 — “Have a Nice Sol” — takes it down a few notches from the season opener. It even has a boring tagline on Apple TV+ — “New Helios employees arrive on Mars as NASA undergoes major changes.” Well, that sound awfully … administrative. And it is, but the episode definitely outdoes its description.
Out of the gate — or the space dock, I should say — the episode is full of hope. New employees of private space company Helios are understandably excited as sweeping scenes show a shuttle undocking from a ship and flying down to the surface of Mars. Miles Dale (Toby Kebbell), who we met last week trying to convince his wife his new job is the right thing for the family, can’t wait to start work as a fuel technician on the surface of the red planet after all his training.
Reality checks on Mars and earth
Except that’s no longer his job. As a drill-sergeant-like supervisor curtly explains, Helios no longer prioritizes fueling on the surface, so Miles will be an HVAC technician (an air conditioner guy). He won’t be working on the surface, but in peoples’ quarters and elsewhere in the bowels of the space station.
That’s disappointment number 1 for Miles. It turns out to be a long list. Later he finds out the vid-calls to and from home don’t work for him but they do for astronauts and scientists. The working crew’s food sucks by comparison to theirs. He doesn’t have the job he came for and he won’t be getting bonuses. And then he finds out his first paycheck subtracts all these deductions for clothes, food, toothpaste and more. Helios is starting to seem like one of those old company towns where the boss makes the miners pay for their shovels and headlamps.
And what happens when Miles complains? Base XO Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) yells at him. “Welcome to Happy Valley,” a gray-jumpsuited colleague says, sarcastically. The astronauts get cool blue jumpsuits.
The episode switches between Miles’ fading hope and two other storylines. One focuses on Ed reconnecting with his old colleague and new base commander, Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall). The other follows super-stressed flight engineer Aleida Rosales (Coral Peña) continuing to emotionally self-combust and then commiserating and joining forces with Baldwin’s NASA scientist daughter, Kelly (Cynthy Wu). Then it finishes up with a disturbing visit with Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt), the former NASA director now languishing in Moscow.
‘Hi Bob’ brings back the early days
Ed and Danielle go way back at NASA, before Ed moved on to private company Helios. They used to share the tongue-in-cheek greeting “Hi Bob,” and that’s how the two two wrinked and graying friends start off when Ed reports to her at Happy Valley, with a big hug. She’s the new boss after the old one got axed following the accidental deaths of Grigory “Kuz” Kuznetsov (Lev Gore) and Tom Parker (Mac Brandt) in the season opener.
He leads her on a little tour. Right away things seem off when she spots Lee Jung-Gil (C.S. Lee), the Korean astronaut she befriended after a tense standoff on Mars last season. But he ignores her at first, and the Korean officer with him orders him to “act properly.” So he politely mutters “nice to see you” and walks away.
Ed explains that the Koreans are just being careful to keep Lee in his place. That doesn’t sound good. That along with the supervisor ordering the new workers to never go where the Koreans sleep signals conflict ahead.
Later Danielle gets off to a great start with her senior staff, drawing applause when she talks frankly with them about the loss of Kuz and, like in the season opener, gives them a thematically appropriate “get on with it anyway” speech.
“The last thing he would want is for his sacrifice to be for nothing,” she says. Keep focused on what’s ahead. “Even though you’ll probably be dead soon,” she might’ve added because, c’mon, it’s space. But she didn’t. And hell, some of them might live through the whole season.
Split-screen montage shows haves vs. have-nots
A visit to the Rosales household shows Aleida thoroughly deconstructing a faulty TV in the wee hours, to her husband’s dismay. She hasn’t been to work at NASA in weeks, after suffering some flashbacks to the NASA bombing triggered by episode 1’s fatal accident on Mars. She won’t go back to therapy. The situation’s impossible and hubby’s angry.
And then we get an odd treat. Back on Mars, a split-screen montage launches to a jaunty rap soundtrack. One side shows Miles blundering through a miserable existence as an AC repair guy being treated like a servant while the other shows Danielle mingling happily with productive astronauts and scientists. Every Miles detail shown sucks compared to Danielle’s.
The montage goes on and on, almost too long. At the end, she gets off an elevator and half-smiles at him while he gets on. At that point it seems like the elevator should break loose from its supports and plummet when he presses the button, but it doesn’t.
Women support each other when NASA won’t
In the cuts between storylines, we see NASA director Eli Hobson (Daniel Stern) visiting with Kelly Baldwin and her staff of scientists, whose work involves robotics to find and exploit methane sources on the red planet.
Hobson praises her up and down, but then takes her aside and says all resources must go to asteroid capture until it pays the “major dividends” expected prior to the terrible accident that derailed it. They’d been trying to secure an asteroid to a ship to move it into Mars orbit when cables broke and men died. So now Kelly’s work is on indefinite hold.
Later we see her and Rosales commiserating and drinking tons of tequila in the former Baldwin family bar from past seasons. Aleida went there straight from her own dreadful meeting with Hobson rather than tell her husband she quit her healthcare-providing job. She finds Kelly drinking beer and working on a laptop with a plate of untouched Mexican food in front of her.
Aleida had tried to return to work with apologies for her absence, passing it off a family issue. But when Hobson said great, but you should get some mental health help first, she goes into another flashback to the bombing. As he’s trying another tact, talking about stress and his hard time filling Madison’s shoes, she’s not even listening. When he wraps up and goes to shake her hand in welcome, having said his piece, she surprises him. “I made a mistake coming back here,” she blurts out, making for the door. “I quit.”
As Aleida and Kelly get hammered, Kelly sees in her tequila the hopeful promise of liquid as the ideal medium for life. Then the two agree they should “TP” Hobson’s house. It’s funny, but all the expositional dialogue in the scene isn’t, so much. The two characters do all sorts of recapping about themselves and the bar’s story in case you forgot (stuff normal people probably wouldn’t say).
Barfing on the carpet and finding purpose in life
Next time we see Kelly, she’s waking up in pool of her own drool on the Rosales couch as a little girl informs her she threw up on their carpet last night and it stinks.
But in the kitchen, Aleida — who seems fine despite having replaced most of her blood with tequila the night before — offers a plan to help Kelly raise money for her research without NASA. Kelly complains she can’t leave her dream job at NASA and go begging for money by herself.
“You wouldn’t exactly be doing it alone,” Elena says, implying a partnership. And her previously worried-as-heck husband smiles benignly because his wayward wife has purpose again.
Soccer party celebrates vid-mail’s return
Back in space, Danielle and Ed go to the commissary. She gives him shit for not going home despite Kelly’s protests. But her real purpose for the lunch chat is to take Ed’s temperature regarding worker discontent, which she has quickly understood like the great manager she is.
But Ed shows no sympathy, as he conveyed in the scene where he chewed out Miles for all his perfectly justifiable whining. He also says Helios didn’t build things like the busted satellite (which is hampering video mail and more) to be fixed, and the expected new satellite probably won’t arrive until next year.
That’s when Danielle puts on her NASA commander boots and orders him to get the satellite fixed, superseding Helios guidelines. Ed seems skeptical but kind of impressed. Later, during the fixes that have gone nowhere but finally culminate in working satellite communications for all, he’s thilled along with everyone else. He even puts together a soccer-viewing party for crew.
But life isn’t great for everyone. Miles is still down. He binges on family vid mails and cries, but can’t bring himself to reply about how things are for him.
‘Maggot meat’ and moonshine
Back when Miles took his bunk for the first time, he found a Tom Parker family photo tucked beside the mattress. A female colleague named Samantha (Tyner Rushing) bunking in the same room suddenly snatched it out his hand, giving him a mean look and stalking away. But we get to know her a little bit during the episode, and she provides some of the most important messaging.
“Here’s our reality,” she tells Miles and another guy at one point. “Astronauts and cosmonauts, scientists and pilots, they all work together. But us, down here, at the end of the day we are just … the help.”
And when a colleague calls fallen worker Parker a hero after she points out that no one is honoring him like they are Kuz, she says, “he did it for the bonus. Money for his family. Now he’s maggot meat.”
When Miles later says to her he doubts he can hack 2 years of working on Mars for Helios, she gives him a reason. If he bails, the company will bill him $150,000 to recoup its investment in him.
Now he’s really down, so she helps him out. She leads him to the secret lair of a Russian maintenance guy who earlier offered to get him whatever he can’t from the PX. Turns out he distills moonshine.
Feeling more welcome, Miles tells the woman he’s sorry about her buddy Parker.
“Happy Valley’ll kick your ass if you let it,” she replies.
They toast and drink the homemade hooch. “Shit, that’s strong,” Miles gasps dramatically, provoking some much-needed laughter.
All is not well in Moscow
When it comes to former NASA Director Margo Madison, the show loves to show her waking up in Moscow. It’s almost like a coy nod to Groundhog Day. This time she’s looking even older and slower than usual. After laying in bed awhile, she slowly begins her routine, lightly exercising, making coffee.
She turns on the TV to find nothing but two channels with ballet and one with a test signal. She peers out the window. She dials her phones and seems to find it not working. She is increasingly freaked out. When she walks outside, no man is watching her from a car. An ambulance passes her with sirens blaring. She asks her friendly acquaintance the baker, in his shop, if he knows what’s going on, but he cuts her off.
“It’s fine,” he snaps in Russian. “I have bread in the oven. You should go home.”
She limps (a clue to her poor healthcare in the Soviet state) through the neighborhood and finds a group of people gathered around cops shutting down a news stand. The stand’s owner is outraged. The crowd grows angrier. When the cops start busting heads and arresting people, Margo is hemmed in, so she can’t leave. Then she tries to keep a cop from hitting the news stand owner and gets hit herself. The camera dwells on her broken glasses on the pavement as we hear he pleading that she’s “not part of this” when they take her away.
Makes you wonder. Will she get sent back the States?
Watch For All Mankind on Apple TV+
You can catch up with the first three seasons of the alternative-history series, plus the new season, on Apple TV+. It’s available by subscription for $6.99 with a seven-day free trial. You can also get it via any tier of the Apple One subscription bundle. For a limited time, customers who purchase and activate a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac or iPod touch can enjoy three months of Apple TV+ for free.