'For All Mankind' season 4 episode 9 review: The race for Goldilocks is well and truly on

Close up of a female astronaut on Mars. In the background there are several containers and a white building.
Screenshot from season 4 of "For All Mankind." (Image credit: Apple TV+)

Just like Terry Gilliam's classic dystopian movie of the same name, "Brazil" (the latest episode of "For All Mankind") isn't really about South America. The country is relevant, sure, but here Brazil refers to escaping from your humdrum, everyday existence, the idea of hope when things seem hopeless. Not that such idealistic visions provide any guarantees that good things will come to pass…

The unexpected reunion of space race veterans and long-time friends Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmitt) and Sergei Nikulov (Piotr Adamczyk) has been one of the highlights of the season, and this episode makes the most of their stolen moments together under the glare of the CIA and KGB. But they're not the only ones dreaming of a brighter future. Up on Mars, Ed (Joel Kinnaman) finally comes clean about his motivations for living out his days on the red planet, while North Korean Lieutenant Colonel Lee (C. S. Lee) makes a decision that could shape the rest of his life.

It's one of the standout episodes of the season, perfectly balanced between subtle character beats, and ratcheting up the tension ahead of next week's finale. With two rival factions in play, it's unclear how the mission to capture Goldilocks is going to play out, but if "For All Mankind" has taught us anything, it's to expect the unexpected.

Related: 'For All Mankind' season 4 episode 1 review: Lots of moving parts but light on plot

Spoilers ahead for "For All Mankind" season 4 episode 9: "Brazil"

We're on an elevator ride into the depths of Mars, where the aspiring asteroid heisters are holed up in their "Ghost Ops" base on Sub-Level 4. "I feel good about this one," says Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi) as they send an encrypted test ping up to the Ranger spacecraft that's now moored to Goldilocks, but – for the 19th time – there's no response. Samantha Massey (Tyner Rushing) has been on board for a month, but with only 48 hours until the asteroid capture window closes, she's running out of time to swap in their rogue discriminator unit.

There's no such trouble at Happy Valley's actual Ops-Com, where everything is working just fine ahead of the big engine burn – until Sam sneakily sends a drop of liquid floating into the unit. Sophisticated computer equipment isn't supposed to start smoking, making it the perfect opportunity to switch in the hacked discriminator that will allow the conspirators to take control of the ship's engines when they need to.

Back at Happy Valley, Dev is more interested in playing with Alex (Ezrah Lin) than listening to Kelly Baldwin (Cynthy Wu)'s debrief on her expedition to the Korolev crater. She's discovered methane in places so unlikely that the explanation is either sub-surface volcanoes or the holy grail – (bacterial) life on Mars. Kelly's got plenty more data to show him, but Dev has bigger fish to fry with her dad, Ed. Kelly is extremely suspicious – didn't Dev and Ed hate each other five minutes ago? – and also sad that she hasn't had a chance to reconcile with her old man. Of course, Dev rarely passes up the opportunity to play agony uncle and offers some sage advice about patching things up before she regrets it.

Elsewhere on the base, Ed and Miles Dale (Toby Kebbell) pay Lieutenant Colonel Lee a visit at the North Korean compound. They want access to the Koreans' surveillance feed so they can stay one step ahead of the authorities – a request that Lee (a man who managed to survive seven months alone on the Martian surface, don't forget) sees as "very dangerous." Lee asks Miles for a status report on smuggling his wife to Mars. Miles reckons he's sorted getting her out of North Korea, but figuring out how to put her on a Helios transport to Mars is proving a tad trickier. Ed reminds Lee, however, that stealing the asteroid is going to secure a bright future for Mars, Lee, and his wife. It's enough to bring Lee on board with the plan. "I never thought I'd say this," states Ed, as the video feed goes online, "but God bless North Korea."

At NASA, Aleida Rosales (Coral Peña) is briefing the assembled decision makers on risk assessments that will slow down the mining schedule on Goldilocks when it arrives in Earth's orbit. The only way around it is sending more machinery up to its surface, but NASA boss Eli Hobson (Daniel Stern) knows that President Gore isn't going to be happy about increasing a budget that's already spiraling past the $1 trillion mark. "Just imagine what we could accomplish if these f**cking politicians got out of our way," Aleida utters to Margo Madison, who tells her that "their great skill is putting off decisions until absolutely necessary."

Margo also asks Aleida to pass a note to her old friend Sergei Nikulov, as she's been doing for the last month. Aleida wants to stop being the go-between, but Margo explains that they need Sergei's knowledge of "translunar trajectories" if the mission is going to be a success. Aleida agrees on the condition that the meeting is face-to-face, suggesting her own house as the venue.

In the North Korean compound, Commander Cho (Charles Kim) notices some telltale static on his computer monitor. He doesn't need to be Hercule Poirot to discover a NASA-branded transmitter among the mass of computer cables, and he storms into Happy Valley's base of operations to demand an explanation. Commander Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) quickly realizes that the device was hooked up to the system North Korea uses to spy on the rest of Happy Valley, but even so, Cho's quite insistent that she take immediate action – not that he'll countenance allowing NASA onto North Korean territory to investigate. Although he's speaking Korean (with Lee as a translator), Dani picks up Miles Dale's name during Cho's rant. As the only American who's set foot on North Korean soil, he's a prime suspect.

As fraught as the exchange is, it's an excuse for old friends Dani and Lee to catch up and talk family. She's clearly missing home, and sends a heartfelt video message to stepson Isaiah, whose first child is due in three months. She also threatens to turn her grandchild into a "full-blown Trekkie," promising to watch "all three" of the series. This poses a significant question: which of "Star Trek" spin-offs "The Next Generation," "Deep Space Nine," "Voyager," and "Enterprise" don't exist in this parallel 2003?

Margo arrives at Aleida's house, where Sergei – who's parked four blocks away to keep himself hidden – is waiting for her. As they discuss complex orbital mathematics over dinner, Sergei laments what bringing Goldilocks back to Earth could mean for Mars. Sure, it's a good thing on many levels, but it's also a shame that it will draw investment away from Mars. He reasons that Soviet premier Korzhenko is only bothered about lining the pockets of his cronies, and that as soon as the U.S.S.R. loses interest in Mars, the U.S. will too. "Without competition there is no progress."

Aleida and husband Vic (Jorge Diaz) putting their kids to bed gives Margo and Sergei some long-awaited alone time. He gives her a CD (remember those?) of her beloved Duke Ellington, and asks if she's thought about his idea to run away together. She says she hasn't had time, so he reminds her that, as soon as Goldilocks is safely on its way to Earth, she'll be on a plane back to Moscow and they'll never see each other again.

However, Sergei has a plan. He has a contact in Brazil's space program, and he believes that if they offer their combined services to turn the country into a major power, they'll be able to claim asylum: "Together we will finish what we started." Margo tells him she needs to see through the asteroid capture mission before coming to any decisions as he puts his hand on hers.

Close up of an older woman wearing a suit and glasses. She is sitting down and behind her you can see two men also sitting down and wearing suits. In the background there is a whiteboard with equations on it.

Screenshot from season 4 of "For All Mankind." (Image credit: Apple TV+)

Dani tells Eli that the mysterious component arrived on Phoenix but there's no record of it ever making it to Mars. Further inquiries have revealed that the contents of numerous boxes were replaced, and that suspicious quantities of computer and communications equipment have gone AWOL. They'd have little value on the black market, raising sufficient alarm bells for Eli to discuss the theft with his Roscosmos counterpart, Irina Morozova (Svetlana Efremova). She suggests it's time to activate their respective CIA and KGB sleeper agents up on Happy Valley.

Dani admits she never suspected that Helios worker (and former strike agitator) Timur Arilov (Nikita Bogolyubov) and NASA staffer Mike Bishop (Billy Lush) have been living a double life, though – as Mike tells her – "I wouldn't be much good at my job if you did." She tells the spy duo – who are surprisingly pally – that she thinks Miles Dale might be involved, so they promise to "interview" him.

As law enforcement operatives swarm through the base looking for missing comms gear, Kelly asks Ed if he knows anything about what's going on, and why – having believed Dev was the "devil incarnate" for years – the pair are now as thick as (literal) thieves. Ed finally comes clean. He tells her that he never used to be afraid of anything, but, as he's gotten older, he's become petrified of ending up in a nursing home "with a diaper." It's the reason he doesn't want to go back to Earth – at least on Mars he feels like he'll be leaving a legacy behind.

It's a powerful scene that belatedly underlines the importance of Ed – who has, at times, felt peripheral this year – to the overall "For All Mankind" story arc. What a shame, though, that Kelly's biggest contribution to the season so far has been as a sounding board for her dad. Presumably the writers are planning to give her a more pivotal role if (and when) the show continues beyond this year.

Meanwhile, a routine repair job for Miles takes an unexpected turn when it turns out the guys who reported a fault in the air-con are actually agents of the CIA and KGB. As expected, Bishop and Arilov's "interview" technique is rather more forceful than it should be. Their questions about tax evasion, smuggling, and missing computers are punctuated with punches. It's far from a friendly chat, but Miles doesn't give anything away. Indeed, he does his best to assure them that – with a family back home – he'd be crazy to do anything that might jeopardize his return.

Cho also finds himself on the wrong end of a fist when his investigations lead him down to Sub-Level 4. Luckily for the conspirators, Lee spots his boss before he can raise any alarms, and he strangles Cho until he passes out. The question is, what will they do with the North Korean Commander while they're waiting for their Goldilocks plan to come to fruition?

Ultimately, "Brazil" comes with a brutal sting in the tail. When the final scene cuts back and forth between Margo and Sergei enjoying burgers in their rooms – Margo reading articles about the Brazilian space program over dinner – it feels like a scene from a movie romance about two lost souls who've reconnected after years apart. Unfortunately, this moment of peace is interrupted in the cruelest way possible, when Sergei is shot in the head by an assassin, who then puts the gun in his victim's hand to make it look like suicide. After all those warnings to Margo that her life was in danger from his former handler Irina, it looks like Sergei should have paid more attention to his own advice.

The final episode of "For All Mankind" season 4 debuts on Apple TV Plus on Friday, Jan. 12.

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Richard Edwards
Space.com Contributor

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.