Arguably the most famous asteroid in popular culture was named Dottie, and it threatened to wipe out all life on Earth in "Armageddon" (sadly not recognized as one of the best space movies). "For All Mankind" has always aspired to be a little more cerebral, however, so it's no surprise that Goldilocks, a new body heading for the inner Solar System, isn't just primed for blockbuster thrills and spills – though Bruce Willis and his team of rough-and-ready oil drillers might have fancied a crack at plundering its $20 trillion spoils.
The asteroid's arrival is one of the biggest things to happen to season 4, and it puts both governments and space farers on high alert as Mars becomes the economic center of the Solar System. It also prompts many of the lead characters – most notably Kelly Baldwin (Cynthy Wu) – to weigh up their priorities when it comes to space travel and family. This also helps drive an even bigger wedge between Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) and Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) on Mars. This asteroid may not be on a collision course with Earth, but it's already having a very deep impact.
Spoilers ahead for "For All Mankind" season 4 episode 5: "Goldilocks"
What an audacious way to kick off an episode. We're effectively given a photon-eye view as the camera takes a journey through the Paine Space Telescope (named after Thomas Paine, a former head of NASA in the show delivering crucial data back to Earth. The scientist watching her screen initially suspects she's found a speck of dust, but it's something much more important – big enough, in fact, to warrant a three-way split screen in which NASA's Eli Hobson (Daniel Stern), Roscosmos's Irina Morozova (Svetlana Efremova), and Helios's Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi) all simultaneously receive massive news from outer space.
It turns out they've spotted an asteroid whose close encounter with Jupiter has altered its trajectory, meaning it'll soon be passing near to Mars. And while it's only about 1.1 km in diameter, it's the motherlode when it comes to rare metals, believed to contain – and this is the conservative estimate – 70,000 tons of iridium. That means it's worth more than $20 trillion, containing more iridium than has been mined in the history of forever, and enough to trigger a technological revolution – though the Soviet government are quick to remind everyone else that "the U.S.S.R. remains the only reliable supplier" of the metal.
Unfortunately, there's another, potentially larger problem – in six months, the asteroid's new trajectory will send it completely out of reach, so the clock is well and truly ticking…
It's a hell of a cold open that sets the scene for what should be an exciting, and intense, back end of the season. Indeed, if ever there was a reason for a crewmate to wake Happy Valley base commander Danielle Poole at 1 a.m. in the morning, this is the sort of "something incredible" to do it. In her dreams, however, Dani's flashing back to 1995 and humanity's early days on Mars, when food was in short supply and she was taking rations to Danny Stevens (Casey W. Johnson), exiled in solitary confinement in the North Korean space capsule. After several teases earlier in the season, this is a big hint that the mystery of Danny's absence is about to be explained.
President Al Gore conference calls the NASA senior staff to tell them that failure to secure the asteroid – officially known as 2003LC, but colloquially referred to as Goldilocks – will not only be a black mark on his administration, but on the country as a whole. Although the commander-in-chief says he has every faith in Eli, the pressure is ramped up a notch when White House liaison Ron Klain (Jon Levine) reminds Eli that Gore is doing everything he can to be re-elected in 2004 – not that America's partners in the M7 (and particularly the Soviet Union) are going to be particularly bothered about U.S. party politics.
Dani tells an audience at Happy Valley that they need to design and launch an asteroid capture mission inside the next 10 weeks, and as it's such a tight timeframe all personal matters will have to take a back seat. Department heads calmly outline the resources they'll need to get the job done, but Ed Baldwin – clearly spoiling for a fight – thinks they need to go further by curtailing all but essential operations. He quickly oversteps the mark, prompting Dani to call out her surly executive officer for a private chat.
He's still smarting about friend/love interest Svetlana being sent home, and has been so deliberately obstructive over the last few months that Dani believes base operations have slowed to a crawl. "We don't have to see eye-to-eye on this to get this thing done," she tells him, "but we need to get this thing done." He insists he wants to get "this rock" as much as Dani does, and they shake hands – although there's still something simmering beneath the surface. (Perhaps Dani could have calmed him down by pointing out that he'll soon be able to see Masha Mashkova – who plays Svetlana in "For All Mankind" – starring as another cosmonaut in upcoming movie "ISS"?).
In the below decks speakeasy, Miles (Toby Kebbell) looks annoyed as another guy flirts with Samantha (Tyner Rushing). Miles asks Ilya (Dimiter D. Marinov) how plans to smuggle the wife of North Korean Lieutenant Colonel Lee (C. S. Lee) are progressing. Ilya tells him it's not going to happen and that they should wait for the right moment to deliver the potentially crushing news to Lee.
At Helios, Kelly and Aleida (Coral Peña) – who both sat out last week's episode – confront Dev about his decision to tell the press he's heading up to Mars, before he's told them. He explains that it was a spontaneous decision, and that he wants to supervise the Goldilocks operations himself. The bombshells don't end there either, because he wants Aleida to handle negotiations over mining rights with the M7, and for Kelly to travel to Mars to run her S.E.E.K.E.R. robots, training her team en route. Needless to say, this isn't how either of them planned to spend the next few months.
Ed continues his strategy of extreme passive aggression by picking the Ranger 2 crew for the asteroid capture mission without clearing it with Dani. When she reminds him that she's responsible for ensuring Goldilocks makes it into Mars' orbit and that "this isn't NASA in the '70s, Ed" – ouch – he sets sarcasm parameters to maximum. The crew he's selected features some newbies, some returnees from the failed Kronos mission, and – of course – himself as commander: "Sounded like a goddamn winner to me." She allows his picks to stand, but asks to get more of a heads-up next time. As Ed puts his hand back on the spaceship's control, Baldwin loyalist Palmer (Myk Watford) notices the tremor that has been troubling the XO since the start of the season.
At The Outpost Julio's Tex-Mex, Aleida tells a skeptical Kelly that she shouldn't use her son, Alex, as a reason not to go to Mars: "You think guys ever have to do that?" Kelly says she can't risk Alex believing she's abandoned him, before giving a nervous Aleida a pep talk of her own ahead of the upcoming Goldilocks negotiations. Kelly effectively counters her own doubts, recalling words of wisdom from her late mother, Karen (Shantal VanSanten): "There are always a million reasons not to do something. You have to find the reason to do it."
President Gore puts his foot in his mouth in spectacular style, implying that he was responsible for discovering Goldilocks. As well as making himself an easy target for David Letterman's gag writers, the international backlash could evaporate all the goodwill NASA have built up with their Soviet counterparts at Roscosmos. Unfortunately for a seething Eli, he's just a pawn in the Democratic Party efforts to kickstart Gore's campaign to stay in the White House.
Dani hears that Ranger 2's ion engines lack the thrust to de-spin Goldilocks, yet that's the least of her worries. Palmer stays behind after the meeting to blow the whistle on Ed's hand issues. Hiding a serious medical condition is a big no-no and the last thing that Dani needs right now. It's clearly a day for delivering bad news, as Kelly tells Alex she's going to be away for a year on her trip to Mars – and that, no, he can't come. The boy is unsurprisingly distraught and runs off into his grandmother's arms.
As Sam reveals that she's been chosen for the retooled asteroid capture mission, Miles tunes into a video his wife, Amanda (Shannon Lucio), has made of the house she's planning to buy with the profits from their Martian rock venture. The days of the lucrative scheme may be numbered, however, as Ilya has just spotted a newspaper ad for Mars jewelry. He's kinda miffed.
Dev, taking a brief leave of absence from Helios, arrives at a Kenyan Community Center, where he meets his mum, apparently for the first time in ages. It's revealed that they haven't always seen eye-to-eye – in short, his late father encouraged him to dream big and think of space, while she's always felt he should help people closer to home. He tells her that he's going to Mars to make a difference, and that he's not planning on coming back to Earth. It's a fractious farewell, and when he hands her a number to call if she ever needs anything, she dismisses it, telling him that she never wanted his money. "I just want my son."
Eli goes on the defensive with Irina as he backpedals to clean up the President's diplomatic mess. The Soviet politburo is urging President Korhzenko to go solo on the asteroid capture mission, but Eli points out that none of the M7 partners have the resources to do this one alone. Irina suggests negotiating a new agreement for allocating the Goldilocks spoils, and railroads Eli into agreeing that the summit should take place in the Soviet Union. As Aleida takes a call telling her she's going to Russia to head up negotiations for Helios, it's as if the storytelling gods are conspiring to get her back in a room with former mentor and current Roscosmos employee Margo Madison…
Kelly looks back on a video message her late mom, Karen sent when she was pregnant on Mars in 1995. It's one hell of a motivational speech, telling Kelly she's going to be a hell of a mom, and that she's already going out buying stuff for the baby. It's also a moment loaded with emotion, particularly with the hindsight of knowing that Karen died before she was able to meet her grandson.
With the weight of Mars on her shoulders, Dani struggles to record a blessing for stepson Isaiah's wedding. Her thoughts return once again to the fledgling Happy Valley in 1995, when rations on base had almost reached zero. "After this, there's nothing left," she said. "I have to tell [Danny]." Ed joined her on the trip, but when they reached the North Korean capsule, they found a lonely figure outside in a spacesuit. When Danny didn't respond to their radio messages, they looked a little closer and realized he was dead, sitting alone on the Martian surface with a photo of his wife and daughter. The big mystery of season 4 has been resolved, and it's every bit as tragic as we suspected.
Back at Helios, Kelly approaches Dev with an unusual proposal – she wants to take Alex with her to Mars. Dev is silent – and tearful – as she explains how she'd look after and tutor him in addition to her Helios duties, and that Mars' reduced gravity will probably be good for his health issues. He tells her the boy will be welcome on Mars, presumably as a response to his own estrangement from his mother. Besides, Alex was born in space – and hails from NASA's first family – so surely it was written in the stars.
But what state will Mars be in when they get there? While Ilya is putting on a friendly face in front of Miles, their partnership surely doesn't have long to run – and where will Happy Valley residents get their Odor Eaters then?
More importantly, Dani tells Ed that he should take a break from flight duty. He explodes, firing back that her decision is totally out of line, and that he's fine to stay in the cockpit. She points out that he should have gone home years ago to be with his family – ironic, perhaps, seeing as they're due on the next flight to Mars – but Ed just can't back off. He challenges Dani further, asking if she's going to banish him to a North Korean capsule armed only with a bible, as she did with Danny. That's the last straw for Dani, who revokes Ed's flight status and removes him from his role as Happy Valley XO.
"Come on, Danielle. Don't do anything you're gonna regret," he says.
"I've got a lot of regrets in my life, Ed," she replies, "but this ain't gonna be one of them." The question is, how much damage can an embittered Ed Baldwin do from outside the usual chain of command? And will Kelly and Alex's imminent arrival be enough to calm him down?
In a season that's been surprisingly light on orbital action up until now, emotional fireworks like these have been propelling the story. But with the mission to capture Goldilocks sure to dominate proceedings from now on, it looks like "For All Mankind"'s showrunners might have been holding back a lot of their budget for a spectacular second half of the season. Fingers crossed…
New episodes of "For All Mankind" debut on Apple TV Plus on Fridays.
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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.