For All Mankind: Season 4 REVIEW – Too Little For Mankind

For All Mankind loses its sense of wonder.

for all mankind

For All Mankind has a formula. Each season reconstructs history, presenting a different flow of events, and delivering an alternate universe that is intriguing to entertain while thrilling to discover what different from the known universe might have happened. The show asks “what if?” and consistently provides hopeful answers.

Over three seasons, it has charted a bold new course in space drama, achieving something unique. The narrative explores what mankind is capable of, juxtaposed with the shortcomings that sometimes come between us and what’s achievable. The obstacles can be interpersonal relationships, societal division, technology, or geopolitics, where nations would seek to sabotage each other if it gives them a one-up over their competitors.

Season 4 starts with a reconstruction of history to catch us up on what’s transpired since the Houston bombing. The opening montage takes months for the crew to construct, and it’s always intriguing. However, there is something different about this one. It feels like we were watching the best times pass by in seconds. Seconds turn to minutes, and before long, we are in 2003 where the computer monitors are flatscreens, and marriage equality is a thing. As the story progresses in later episodes, it rings true that the best days are past us.

There is a huge resemblance between this new alternate reality and our current reality in 2023. If someone joined you in the middle of an episode of For All Mankind for their first viewing, they could swear it’s set in 2023. This season’s challenge is to capture a valuable asteroid from space whose return on investment is enticing to nations and private companies. The mining operation promises prosperity for Earth, which is part of what’s wrong with the mission for the season.

The focus on the economic potential of the asteroid mining operation feels lacking in terms of its significance for humanity. The metal’s rarity makes it very valuable, and anyone who owns it is bound to rake in cash, but beyond that, there is nothing worth being excited about. It is a stark contrast to the first season, where the promise of what could be on the moon and what it would mean for us was great. It was a feat because no one had ever done it before, but it promised a lot more than that. It promised a new colony for people to settle, new deposits for us to mine (and give Earth a break), and a new travel industry. With Iridium, the promise is mining. Just mining.

Here in season 4, the rate of technological development is almost stagnant. There are no new challenges for engineers to tackle. Space crafts have pretty much peaked, and innovation has flatlined. Part of what made watching the space crews intriguing in earlier seasons was seeing them run into new technological and physical challenges, and they would pool all their resources together to find a solution. This part of For All Mankind was absent in season 4, where the biggest challenge for engineers — and this is not a joke – is pins.

When a show loses an integral plot point, the writers have to come up with something to occupy the runtime, and while they did not come up with anything new in Season 4, they pivoted to exploring characters. Stories need characters, but too many of them bog down the narrative. With decades passing between the first and fourth seasons, the cast had changed considerably as the characters aged and passed away. Margo, Ed, and Danielle seemed like the last of the old guard remaining.

The season sees the introduction of several new ones. Miles is the new character with the biggest screen time, but he is so one-dimensional it becomes tragic. Miles represents the working class in Mars and his story is tied to his struggles. Most of the other characters have a personal stake in seeing Mars prosper, but Miles lacks this drive. He is like a walking ball of troubles that have nothing to do with Mars. New characters deserve room to grow, but Miles is fully formed on introduction. The only thing needed of him is to drive home the struggles of the working class, which gets old quickly.

The focus on the Soviet Union doesn’t add much either. For All Mankind was better when we heard about the Soviet Union in reports or an important phone call. Dedicating whole episodes to their politics and programs felt like a detour no one was interested in. It also added more characters to an overcrowded cast. The season lacks tough challenges to unite the characters, and as a result, most of the season sees many of them spend a lot of time doing their own thing. From Ed growing marijuana to Miles joining the black market trade, the season has too many insignificant arcs.

The show introduced a billionaire in season 3, and while Dev wasn’t that present in the season, I expected his arc to increase in Season 4. If there is anything the writers got right, it was their idea of a billionaire, and many have failed to do so in other shows. In a short time, they gave him a backstory, fleshed out his aspirations, and set up the boundaries he was willing to cross to achieve his goals. Under Dev’s leadership, Helios was the only entity that could give NASA and Roscosmos a run for their money. Yet for half of this season, Dev is almost nonexistent. Dev should have drawn more focus since he was familiar to viewers, and maybe that would have cut down Miles’s screentime so he didn’t have to dominate the season this much.

For All Mankind was an ambitious and exciting endeavor. There was so much stacked against this show, yet the writers rose above all the challenges, just like the engineers. But it reaches a point where the original idea loses appeal, and it seems like we’ve hit that point. I don’t buy that hurling an asteroid to Earth or the moon is a major achievement for mankind when the technology is already at that level, much less that Joel Kinnaman can play an older version of Ed believably.

While the visual and technical aspects of For All Mankind remain impressive, the show is faltering in terms of storytelling and character development. The lack of a compelling central focus, the overcrowding of new characters, and the absence of significant challenges have led to a decline in the show’s appeal. Without a new direction or a renewed sense of purpose, the show isn’t recapturing the excitement and intrigue it once held.

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for all mankind
The story’s selling point was achieving great things for mankind’s benefit, but it seems like it has achieved everything. It’s no longer for mankind but about mankind, and plenty of that exists already.