When Helios boss Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi) announced last week that he planned to steal an asteroid, it conjured up images of the sort of interstellar-action you'd usually associate with "Star Wars" or "Star Trek." This is "For All Mankind", however, and — even though this season has considerably upped the sci-fi quotient on its more grounded predecessors — his audacious plan has at least one foot in reality (and astrophysics).
It's also an excuse for a fun, old-school heist plot that runs in parallel with the return of Margo Madison's (Wrenn Schmidt) former Roscosmos contact, Sergei Nikulov (Piotr Adamczyk). He wants to talk about more than the good old days, as the Cold War/espionage plot that's been one of the pillars of season 4 takes a chilling new turn.
As has become the norm this year, this is an episode light on bona fide action, but "Legacy" does contain at least one spectacular VFX shot, as a camera sweeps seamlessly between the Happy Valley base and the Korolev Crater thousands of miles away. It also puts all the pieces in place for a spectacular endgame — indeed, after a long, drawn-out build-up that's started to drag somewhat, it really is time to deliver on the promise of that eagerly anticipated mission to capture the Goldilocks asteroid.
Spoilers ahead for "For All Mankind" season 4 episode 8: "Legacy"
There's some major déjà-vu at the start of this week's episode. Just as season opener "Glasnost" showcased Margo Madison's monotonous morning Moscow routine, "Legacy" reveals how her old friend from the Soviet space program, Sergei Nikulov has acclimatized to life in the U.S. following his defection to the West. In another of "For All Mankind"'s brilliant music-backed montages, we take a trip inside his new home in Iowa, meet his new American partner, and see him at work as a high school science teacher. He even listens to country and western.
It's an eloquent piece of storytelling, a twisted mirror image of Margo's experience that highlights the contrast between the fellow defectors' new lives. On the surface, he appears to be fairly content living as Sergei Bezukhov, but when Margo's defection to go public makes the headlines, he's suddenly distracted, unable to concentrate on anything else — so much so that his uneventful daily commute takes an unexpected detour, taking him on the interstate in the direction of Houston and his former confidante.
In Miles' bar on Mars, Sam Massey (Tyner Rushing) is somewhat perplexed by Ed Baldwin's (Joel Kinnaman) request that she meet up with Dev Ayesa, the Helios CEO who ended their strike action in definitive style in last week's episode "Crossing the Line." She's understandably skeptical about Ed's motives, but he assures her that the fight isn't over — and that, while Dev is undoubtedly "an asshole," he's also brilliant. Their meeting is interrupted when Happy Valley second-in-command Palmer James (Myk Watford) — making a serious bid to become the least popular man on the red planet — arrives with orders to shut the speakeasy down.
It's just one of many draconian measures introduced in the wake of the Helios industrial action and the subsequent fatal explosion at the liquid argon plant — including (but not limited to) extra security and ID checks, and the decision to seal off access to the unoccupied levels four and five. This new police state atmosphere is enough to persuade Sam to hear Dev out.
However, Ed's not going to be able to devote all his time to helping Dev turn his pipe dream of stealing an asteroid into an asteroid. He's forgotten that he agreed to look after grandson Alex (Ezrah Lin) while daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu) heads out on a three-day mission to get her S.E.E.K.E.R. probes up and running. He's not best pleased when she hands over a schedule and a list of family rules.
"Jesus, Kell, no crusts?" he complains. "This is crazy. No wonder the kid's afraid of his own shadow."
"Really? You're going to chime in on parenting techniques at this point?" comes her biting response. Ed tries to persuade Kelly to take Alex with her to the Korolev crater, but she points out it's no place for a seven-year-old. "We're going to need a babysitter," a conspiratorial Ed tells Dev.
At the Molly Cobb Space Center in Houston, the door to Margo's office is flanked by both American and Soviet guards. "Got one of each, huh?" laughs Eli Hobson (Daniel Stern). As he escorts Margo to a Goldilocks planning meeting, she's somewhat taken aback when former assistant Nuri Prabakar (Sahana Srinivasan) — now a project manager — effectively blanks her in the corridor. She encounters even more extreme levels of hostility when she asks Aleida Rosales (Coral Peña) about her son, Javier, and is cut brutally short: "I will support you when I think you're right, and I will disagree with you when I think you're wrong," says Aleida. "But you don't get to ask me about my family or my son again. Understand?" Point taken… Hopefully the all-American burger Margo enjoys when she gets back to her hotel room — rather better than the accommodation Aleida was given in "Leningrad" — serves as a minor consolation.
With the Goldilocks asteroid capture mission now just days away, it's time for a comprehensive briefing on how things are going to play out — from three distinct points of view. Teams at the Molly Cobb Space Center and Happy Valley explain how NASA and Roscosmos computers will perform the complex calculations necessary for success, before relaying them back to Mars. But the more intriguing schemes emerge from Dev's clandestine meeting with Ed, Sam, and the other strike leaders.
Using the tried-and-tested medium of blackboard and chalk to communicate his plan, Dev explains that transferring Goldilocks to Mars' orbit (rather than sending it back to Earth) will require a slightly longer burn of Ranger's engines. Sounds simple? Not really, seeing as getting access to NASA's encoded communication systems — including a "discriminator box" on Ranger's bridge — will require a heist of "Ocean's Eleven"-level ingenuity. Not only will they need to bring a load of heavily protected computer equipment down from Phoenix (the Helios ship in orbit around Mars), Sam — hardly flavor of the month with the Happy Valley top brass — also needs to secure herself a place on board Ranger as an "inside woman" if they're going to have any chance of success.
Unsurprisingly, professional fly-in-the-ointment Palmer tries to veto the presence of an agitator like Sam, but Dev counters that removing someone from a job because of their involvement in a trade union will open him up to all sorts of lawsuits. Ever the diplomat, commander Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) puts the decision in the hands of mission commander Ravi Vaswani (Vinny Chhibber) who concedes that Sam's Kronos experience could come in handy. Dani also points out that putting Sam on the mission could be seen as an olive branch to disillusioned Helios staffers… although she's concerned enough to send Palmer along as an enforcer.
It turns out that Ed did manage to find a babysitter, in the form of British officer Joanna Chapman (Rhian Rees), but when he tries to collect Alex from a Martian gardening lesson, the boy is nowhere to be seen. Unsurprisingly, Ed panics and nearly loses his temper with his grandson when he eventually turns up — though he cools down when Alex tells him, "I was looking for you." After more than three decades, are we finally going to see Admiral Baldwin's softer side?
Realizing that they'll need the red planet's number one smuggler on board if their audacious plan is going to succeed, Ed and Dev pay Miles Dale (Toby Kebbell) a visit. With his Martian tour nearly over, Miles is reluctant to commit to such a risky plan — especially as he'll be bringing a "nice little nest egg" back to his family. Dev accuses Miles of "thinking small," however, and recounts a story about his ex-business partner's lack of ambition. "So, I ask you, Miles, do you want to be a millionaire or a billionaire?"
And that's not the last of the inspirational Dev talks, because he's also got some grandparenting advice for Ed. Recalling his own fond memories of building model spaceships with his dad, he tells Ed to "Share your passion. It's the greatest gift I ever got."
Aleida leaves the house and sees an unexpected face. She recognizes Sergei but tells him he shouldn't be there. "Please, give me a minute," he pleads. "You are the only person who might understand."
He recalls how, back in the '90s (aka "For All Mankind" season 3), Margo refused to share the designs for NASA's groundbreaking N.E.R.V.A. engines required to carry a ship to Mars. The KGB, of course, wouldn't take no for an answer, and pressured him to do whatever he could to get the intel. When Sergei refused, his handler sent heavies to Margo's room, threatening to report her to the FBI if she didn't play ball, and still she kept quiet — indeed, it was only when they began to strangle Sergei that she agreed to supply the information. "Margo didn't tell you about this?" he asks Aleida. "She sacrificed everything, along with her honor, to save my life."
Even in the wake of these revelations — and Sergei pointing out that, in the Soviet Union, a defector is a "glorified prisoner" — Aleida says she doesn't know how to forgive Margo. Sergei understands, but asks her to find a way for him to speak with his friend. Perhaps inevitably, Aleida relents and meets Margo in the viewing gallery of Mission Control. She claims she's handing over some updated vectors from their tracking stations, but Margo's watchers don't realize that Aleida's also included a Post-It note featuring a seemingly innocuous equation…
Miles puts his scheme to smuggle the computers down to Mars into action, using his team to perform a series of cunning switcheroos to fool the guards into thinking that crates containing sophisticated hardware are actually full of corn flakes. Even that's not enough to divert the attentions of an overzealous security guard, but Miles has been playing this game long enough to cover his bases by concealing computers in cereal packaging.
But even the best laid plans can be prone to human error, and the all-important discriminator unit has inadvertently found its way to a secure lock-up. Aside from the heavily protected front door, the only way in is via a vent that's just 12 inches in diameter. In other words, it's way too small for a grown-up, so you don't win any prizes for guessing what Ed and Dev decide to do next.
"It's okay if you don't want to do this," says Ed, but Alex — keen to bond further with his stern grandfather — says he's happy to become an (albeit-unwitting) accomplice to the heist of the millennium. It's a brilliantly played scene, delivered entirely via the medium of sound, as Alex provides a running commentary, does a spot of improvised climbing, and creates enough of a commotion to attract the attention of a guard. After a brief moment of suspense, he makes it out in time to deliver the unit, and — perhaps misguidedly — nobody's thinking about how they're going to explain this to his mom when she gets back from enjoying views of the spectacular Korolev crater.
Back in Margo's hotel room, it's clear that there's more to Sergei's equation than flight paths. It also contains cleverly concealed coordinates and a meeting time of 10 p.m. — the location is an ordinary diner, where Sergei sits alone, reading a copy of Scientific Review. It looks like Margo is going to be a no-show but as a dejected Sergei returns to his car, he's greeted by a familiar face.
Margo reminds him that that he has a life in the U.S. and she has a life in the U.S.S.R. However, Sergei has come with a powerful warning. He says that the woman she knows as Irina Morozova, the head of Roscosmos, was his KGB handler — the one who sent him to the U.S. and ruined both their lives. "You cannot go back there."
In Mars' orbit, Ranger sets off for its rendezvous with the Goldilocks asteroid. Sam, floating in zero-g as a suspicious Palmer looks on, finds the communication stack she needs to replace — and it's in plain sight of everybody. "F**k me," she whispers to herself — this isn't going to be easy.
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.