'For All Mankind' Season 4 explores an asteroid and the lines between science and commerce (video)

NEW YORK – Just like the astronauts it depicts, "For All Mankind" has successfully defied the odds. 

As competition between paid streaming services heats up, it's relatively rare for an original series to get a second season, let alone a third. But at New York Comic Con 2023 here, Apple debuted the first episode of "For All Mankind's" fourth season. The popular sci-fi drama on Apple TV+ depicts a world in which the space race heated up in the 1970s rather than fizzling out, and fans can expect at least another 10 episodes of it over the next few months.

At an evening panel on Oct. 12, Apple showed off the first trailer for the new season. You can check it out above.

The trailer is only about a minute and a half long, but it sets up the season's premise pretty succinctly. As it did in the past two seasons, the series once again jumps ahead about 10 years, this time to 2003. The United States and the (still-extant) USSR have collaborated to make space exploration a reality, establishing a permanent colony on Mars in the process. Now, the two countries have set their sights on mining asteroids for mineral wealth. But that wealth comes with risk and competition, and the factions involved may eventually have to decide whether they're working primarily for scientific or material goals.

Related: 'For All Mankind' needs recruits for Mars in 4th season on Apple TV+ (video)

A new gold rush begins in the fourth season of "For All Mankind" streaming on Apple TV+ beginning on Nov. 10, 2023. (Image credit: Apple TV+)

The season premiere

Before the trailer, Apple screened the entire first episode of the new season. It's called "Glasnost," a reference to the late-Soviet policy of increased government transparency and individual freedom. Fittingly, the primary story in the episode is about a Russian cosmonaut who takes a major risk to accomplish something potentially beneficial for the whole human race.

We won't spoil everything that happens in the episode, particularly because fans will be able to watch it for themselves in just about a month — and they probably won't want the best parts leaked early. But, we can at least say that "Glasnost" follows about half-a-dozen story arcs across various characters, both new and returning.

Familiar faces Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) and Grigory Kuznetsov (Lev Gorn) form the backbone of the story, as they attempt to dock a spaceship with an asteroid and set it up for a mining operation. Back on Earth, Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) debates whether to return to the stars, while Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) adjusts to her new role in the USSR.

It's the new characters who steal the show, though. Daniel Stern gives a spirited performance as Eli Hobson, a former Chrysler executive who now wants to run NASA like a private business. Tony Kebbell, meanwhile, plays Miles, a former oil rig worker who wants to make some real money working off-planet. The show focusing on businessmen and manual laborers rather than scientists and astronauts is a new tack, and both characters seem like they'll play well with the themes that Season 4 aims to explore.

From a review perspective, it's difficult to judge "Glasnost" in a vacuum, particularly since it's only one part of a 10-episode story. The action, dialogue and characters are all solid, as are the acting and production values. However, the pacing is a bit on the lethargic side, as the episode goes on for more than an hour and ends well after its dramatic climax.

There's also a bit of melodrama, complete with over-the-top heroics and big, swelling orchestral music. These moments feel at-odds with what is otherwise a grounded and realistic sci-fi show — although similar things have happened in the first three seasons. By this point, fans probably know what they're in for, although "Glasnost" gives enough exposition for newcomers to follow along without too much trouble.

The asteroid in the fourth season trailer for "For All Mankind" (at left) and the target for NASA's OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission, Bennu (inset) share some similarities. (Image credit: Apple TV+/NASA via collectSPACE.com)

Thoughts from behind the scenes

"For All Mankind's" actors did not attend the show's NYCC 2023 panel, due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike. However, some of the show’s crew attended, including NASA tech advisor Garrett Reisman (who is a real-life astronaut, having spent 95 days aboard the International Space Station).

"This was super fun," Reisman said of working on the show. "I'm an engineer. The likelihood that I would end up in a writers' room, or on a TV show, was nil. To have the opportunity is fantastic."

When the panel's moderator (TV Insider's Damian Holbrook) pointed out that Reissman had actually been to space, the astronaut replied: "That’s OK, too!"

Showrunner Matt Wolpert also fielded an interesting question about how the writers decide who lives and who dies in a show that takes place over such a long time period.

"As the show spans decades, you have to have characters come in, and certain other characters leave," he said. "One of the things we always find holds true is that the more we care about a character, the more we know them, perishing in that horrible way is going to resonate with people and make it really hard on everybody out there. When we feel really reluctant to go down that road, [that's] how everyone’s going to feel."

As to who lives and dies in the Season 4 premiere, Space.com will leave that to eager readers to discover for themselves. The new season debuts Nov. 10 on Apple TV+, which costs $7 per month and is available on a variety of streaming devices, computers, smart TVs and game consoles.

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Marshall Honorof
Tom's Guide senior editor

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.