As "For All Mankind" has moved through the decades, it's evolved from an alternative universe version of the Apollo era to bona fide science fiction territory. Although the show's started to look and feel more like "The Expanse" than "The Right Stuff," however, the shift has allowed the writers to put the spotlight on more contemporary issues – including the polarization of politics, and the rarity of two people with opposing views having a civilized conversation.
A workplace disagreement is the catalyst for most of this week's events, as one small shove turns into a giant headache for mankind. It's enough to create divisions on every level of the Happy Valley base on Mars, and ends up attracting the attention of the leaders of both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
Back on Earth, NASA defector Margo Madison learns that office politics have a whole different meaning in the Soviet Union, while current NASA boss Eli Hobson realizes that international diplomacy is a far cry from running a major car manufacturer – especially when your counterpart is an elite-level politico like Roscosmos head Irina Morozova. In fact, there's so much going on that Aleida Rosales and Kelly Baldwin (newly installed at Helios after episode 3, "The Bear Hug") are given a week off – the world they come back to may feel slightly different…
Spoilers ahead for "For All Mankind" season 4 episode 4: "House Divided"
The new, hardline regime running the Soviet Union was always going to have an impact on Happy Valley, and – in a reflection of our own politically polarized times – the two sides come to blows in "House Divided."
It turns out that bit-part player and Helios staffer Vasily Galkin (Eduard Osipov) is an ardent supporter of the revolution – he's even a bit of a Stalin fanboy – and he isn't afraid to tell Gorbachev-sympathizing cosmonaut Svetlana Zakharova (Masha Mashkova) what he thinks. She's more interested in testing modified anchor clamps than discussing geopolitics, but Vasily just won't let it go, even when the pair are working together on the Martian surface. "You don’t have Gorbachev and his cronies to protect you anymore," he goads, before calling her a traitor and accusing her of "spitting on your own culture, spreading your legs in front of the West."
It all erupts into the sort of minor scuffle that would usually lead to a minor HR disciplinary on Earth, but becomes a matter of life and death when Vasily's suit is punctured and he starts to asphyxiate. "Exhale or your lungs will burst," is not a phrase anyone wants to hear.
In a snowy Moscow, former NASA director Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) arrives at Star City for her new job. She soon overhears new Roscosmos boss Irina Morozova (Svetlana Efremova) discussing the Vasily incident. The key takeaways? He may never regain consciousness and President Korhzenko has demanded that there be repercussions.
With Vasily in a hyperbaric chamber and his chances of recovery up in the air, Happy Valley commander Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) makes the decision to pull Svetlana's flight status and confine her to base without pay. Executive officer Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) protests – no surprise given his extremely close relationship with Svetlana – but Dani tells him her decision is final.
That's all academic, however, because Svetlana's paymasters have already told her she'll be on the next flight back to Earth to "stand trial for assault and crimes against a patriot of the Soviet Union." If the punishment seems a tad disproportionate, it may have something to do with the fact with Vasily isn't just another Helios staffer – his uncle is a high-ranking official in the Politburo, so carries significant clout in the Kremlin.
Concerned by stories of the new Soviet regime's penchant for dishing out political retribution, Dani tells NASA that she won't stand by while Svetlana is shipped off to "some gulag." It's a bold stance, but her hands may be tied by the terms of Mars governance defined by the M7 treaty. In fact, the final decision may actually rest with President Al Gore.
Current NASA head Eli Hobson (Daniel Stern) seems to be relishing the opportunity to negotiate with the "direct" Soviets, and – despite being briefed about Irina's hardline reputation – is treating the whole thing like union negotiations when he was running Chrysler. Sorry, Eli, but we have a feeling the topsy-turvy world of international geopolitics might play by slightly different rules.
Back on Mars, black market business is booming for Miles Dale (Toby Kebbell) and Ilya Breshov (Dimiter D. Marinov), especially now that their eager new North Korean clients are contributing to the coffers. It's still not enough for Miles, who reckons he can make a packet flogging rare Martian rocks back on Earth. But the canny Ilya remains skeptical, reasoning that the extra people they'd have to bring on board to make this new sideline a reality would make the enterprise too risky.
As predicted, Eli's call with Irina doesn't go to plan. His claims that the fight was "just a little dust up" carries little weight with his counterpart opposite number at Roscosmo, who counters that it's not a question of Vasiily's recovery: "This is about enforcement of law, Soviet law…," adding that they have the right to recall any Soviets from Mars, at their discretion. Eli unwisely implies that the Soviet coup might invalidate the M7 agreement, so – quick as a flash – Irina asks if that means treaties signed by Ellen Wilson became null-and-void the day President Gore entered the White House. The meeting ends in a stalemate, with the U.S. refusing to sanction the transfer and the Soviet Union threatening to reconsider their participation in the M7. "Well, that didn't go well, did it?" says Eli, in the biggest understatement of the season so far.
In the austere surroundings of Roscosmos, Margo looks on as Irina heads up a meeting of her senior staff. On the agenda? Announcing that the asteroid program will not be resumed until the Americans play ball and discuss what went wrong on the Kronos asteroid mission. Irina is such a shrewd operator that she turns the report into a kind of passive aggressive weapon, making a powerful statement by giving Margo a copy that should have gone to the official who disagreed with her moments earlier. Margo returns to her office and dives into the dossier, armed with nothing more than a pencil and her trusty slide rule.
Rumors that Vasily might be paralyzed or even brain dead are spreading through the lower decks of Happy Valley, and it's opening up a Martian class divide. They think Svetlana is getting special treatment because she's one of the "anointed ones" up above, while Vasily is simply seen as a "peasant" – in the court of public opinion, Svetlana has already been found guilty.
Meanwhile, Miles asks Samantha Massey (Tyner Rushing) to use her rover access to get him outside to collect some rocks to sell. She has no hesitation in saying no, despite his offer of a cut of the profits.
In the Roscosmos cafeteria – an eatery that's unlikely to be winning Michelin stars anytime soon – Margo befriends Tatyana (Ania Bukstein), a co-worker who shows Margo how to use a washer to buy coffee from the vending machine. It's a significant moment for Margo who's so far been ignored by the Star City staff – apparently Irina has ordered everyone to keep their distance. Margo repays the favor by helping Tatyana with some equations for the next asteroid capture mission (assuming it ever happens…).
With NASA refusing to hand Svetlana over, the Soviet Union is no longer respecting Dani's command on Mars, and several other M7 nations are backing their stance. Al Gore – whose soundbite about the Cold War being over is starting to look a tad premature – is particularly unhappy about the situation, and makes that fact clear to Eli. In fact, relations between East and West are at their frostiest since the early-1990s, though Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi) seems to believe that Helios can keep making money whatever the two superpowers get up to.
Miles bribes his way into an outdated spacesuit and heads out onto the Martian surface. Doing his best John Wayne impression – those Martian vistas could be lifted straight out of a John Ford Western – he eventually finds the treasure he seeks. Alas, greed gets the better of him and Miles winds up tumbling down a hillside when he overreaches for a precious piece of Mars rock.
Having passed up the opportunity to join Mars's supposed answer to a gold rush, Samantha confronts Dani about the Vasily/Svetlana situation and her belief that the punishment might not be as severe as it should be. Dani tells her she has no idea how complicated the situation is, but Samantha maintains that it's "not right."
Samantha and Rich Waters (Moses Jones) realize that Miles hasn't come back, so Samantha drives out onto the surface to find him. Following his trail in the Martian dirt, she finds Miles sitting at the bottom of the ravine, staring at his oxygen meter. Miles radio is broken, so she attracts his attention by throwing stones in his direction. He can't understand why she's so angry with him, though once they're back on the rover and she's patched up the gash on his arm, they share a long, lingering glance that – in Hollywood, at least – tends to culminate in a kiss. The moment is ruined by Rich checking their status on the radio. "Great news, Rover 7," he responds when Samantha gives him the A-OK. "Please smack [Miles] in the head for me."
Margo presents her asteroid disaster findings to Irina, who calls team leader Kirill Semenov (Gediminas Adomaitis) into her office to respond. Margo is ordered to stay behind to tell Kirill that she's spotted a manufacturing error in anchor bolts designed by Roscosmos. So, even if everything had gone according to plan on the mission, the bolts would have failed eventually.
Kirill tries to dismiss the matter, but Margo explains that NASA will spot the error in the math. This, Irina reiterates, will cause significant embarrassment to Korhzenko's new government. Irina suggests that Kirill knew of the mistake, but intentionally left it out of the report. He comes clean, explaining that the issue was caused by an error converting torque measurements supplied by NASA in pound-feet into the metric Newton-meters used by the Soviet Space Agency – surely a nod to the real-life unmanned Mars Climate Orbiter mission, whose failure was blamed on a similar issue with units back in 1999.
Margo is told to stay behind after Kirill's dismissal. Apparently, she has done a great service to the Soviet Union so, as a reward, Irina presents her with an old photo of her friend and confidant Sergei Nikulov – the reason for her sudden departure from the U.S. She also makes the ominous promise that, "the work we do together will take us deep into the cosmos." As for Kirill? "He will find new employment."
Eli hasn't taken his presidential dressing down well, and is taking his frustration out on an exercise bike. His wife points out that he could have been enjoying his retirement now, before an idle remark about a city in India gives him a "Eureka!" moment. India is the only neutral country in the M7, making it the logical location for Svetlana's trial.
Ed tells Dani to refuse this new order from Earth, but she's already agreed to the transfer. He goes into his default mode of belligerence (it's truly remarkable his career has lasted so long), but Ed can't – and won't – think of an alternative. The disagreement quickly erupts into a full-on argument, with Dani pointing out that – from Gordo Stevens to Danny Stevens and now Svetlana – Ed has always bent the rules for people he cares about. Indeed, we get tantalizingly close to finding out what ultimately happened to Danny after his exile on Mars. It remains a question to be answered another day, but when the revelation eventually comes, it's bound to be explosive.
At Star City, Margo finds Tatyana in tears. Kirill was her mentor, and he's been taken by the KGB – in the new-look Soviet Union, "finding new employment" is actually an extremely sinister euphemism. Meanwhile, Irina puts her own spin on Svetlana's impending trip to India, telling her staff that "the Americans have folded." Margo, however, can't look away from Kirill's empty chair, and the sense that she's walked into something bigger than she can handle.
Ed makes a last gasp attempt to save Svetlana, offering to smuggle her down to the unoccupied sub-level 4. She won't let him ruin his career to protect hers, however they still find time to go one small step further than Miles and Samantha, with a very brief kiss. Ed walks her down to her ride home on Unity, past an angry mob eager to see the back of her. "Goodbye, Edward," she says, as he struggles to hold back the tears.
So, while there are no insects on Mars, "House Divided" is the butterfly effect in action, showing how tiny, seemingly insignificant events can have major ramifications further down the line. In most T.V. shows, a mathematical error and a workplace disagreement wouldn't feel like the most pivotal moments in a season, yet in "For All Mankind"'s the politically charged arena may just have shifted the trajectory of the series.
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Richard's love affair with outer space started when he saw the original "Star Wars" on TV aged four, and he spent much of the ’90s watching "Star Trek”, "Babylon 5” and “The X-Files" with his mum. After studying physics at university, he became a journalist, swapped science fact for science fiction, and hit the jackpot when he joined the team at SFX, the UK's biggest sci-fi and fantasy magazine. He liked it so much he stayed there for 12 years, four of them as editor.
He's since gone freelance and passes his time writing about "Star Wars", "Star Trek" and superheroes for the likes of SFX, Total Film, TechRadar and GamesRadar+. He has met five Doctors, two Starfleet captains and one Luke Skywalker, and once sat in the cockpit of "Red Dwarf"'s Starbug.