“Into the Abyss” takes its time with a tense moon mission that benefits greatly from the show’s anything-can-happen alternate history.
This recap of For All Mankind Season 1, Episode 5, “Into the Abyss”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
For All Mankind Episode 5 is a careful hour of television, fraught with peril and period-detail. In it, Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger), Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) and Sedgewick (Dave Power) land a rickety shuttle on the moon; then they’re forced to move somewhere else. None of this is easy. It’s cramped and unglamorous and slow — not tedious, you understand, but painstaking. The squares at mission control and the loved ones watching on television are hanging on every moment. So, too, are the audience.
At this stage in the reimagined space race, it isn’t enough to land a woman on the moon. The U.S. also needs to find ice, and there isn’t any at the initial landing site. What to do? The mission can continue, much more safely but for no real reason, or it can be radically changed, moved to the much more fruitful setting of Shackleton Crater. If Molly doesn’t find ice there, then not only will the Russians beat America to the construction of a lunar base, but Nixon’s administration and the general public will pin the failure on women.
All of this is tense, interesting stuff, especially when Molly descends into the crater with a dwindling oxygen supply and almost dies before finding a major deposit of ice. It’s where For All Mankind Episode 5 really works, in that fusion of almost documentarian authenticity with genuine dramatic unpredictability. It’s back on Earth where “Into the Abyss” suffers a little.
That isn’t to say it’s bad — as a matter of fact, Karen (Shantel VanSanten) has a dynamite moment of emotional truth that stands out as some of the finest acting the show has produced thus far. But getting there is a bit of a chore. Karen hosts NASA-watch get-togethers so that the astronauts’ loved ones can keep an eye on their progress, but Molly’s pothead psychedelic artist husband Wayne (Lenny Jacobson) isn’t possessed of the same stiff upper lip as the WAGs. He paints his nightmares and then, after that scene in which Karen confesses her profound fear of Ed’s death, paints hers. Beyond the basic level of dramatic acting and the neat inversion of typical gender roles, I’m not sure how much of this really works.
Slightly but not entirely better is a drunken argument between Danielle’s (Krys Marshall) husband Clayton and Gordo (Michael Dorman), mostly about Vietnam. That’s a major subject to unpack, even in this slightly altered timeline, and “Into the Abyss” doesn’t do a particularly thorough job of it. You’d expect it to be left to simmer and then come up again later, but For All Mankind Episode 5 ends with the lunar base landing on the moon… on October 12, 1973. That leaves quite a while unaccounted for, including the Apollo 18 mission that Danielle had been assigned to.
I could be wrong, and the fallout from Vietnam might form a major backbone of characters’ relationships on Earth. Or it might just have been filler, which is certainly what it felt like. It’s difficult to say, but it’s easy enough to pinpoint where the highlights of For All Mankind Season 1, Episode 5 were: On the moon. And if it looks like we’re going to be spending more time there, that’s fine by me.