The following contains spoilers for For All Mankind up to Season 3, Episode 1, “Polaris,” now streaming on Apple TV+.
The space-faring alternate history drama For All Mankind, helmed by Ronald D. Moore, has made a name for itself by dealing with the realities of space travel’s lengthy preparation. While some might see this as a hindrance, Moore and his creative team see it as a tremendous opportunity. They’ve dealt with the details in a very unique manner: each season of Apple+’s sweeping sci-fi epic takes place in a different era.
Through aging make-up, years-long recaps, and the use of archival footage, the show brings the audience along through its expansive timeline. So far, the series has gone from the US failing to land on the moon before the Soviets to their mass implementation of nuclear fusion in 25 years. And while this transition could’ve been totally rushed, For All Mankind has used its 20-plus episodes brilliantly to make everything seem plausible.
Key Events Don’t Always Occur On Screen
One would think that critical events like the invention of the internet, the implementation of clean nuclear energy and the Pathfinder tragedy would need some screen time. However, none of these moments that take place between Seasons 2 and 3 are ever seen in the series proper. To cover these integral developments in For All Mankind‘s fictional history, the creative team implemented a tool that wouldn’t be possible prior to the streaming era.
In order to bridge the gaps between seasons, Apple+ released bonus clips that cover each year between one season’s finale and the next season’s premiere. These clips are often newscasters reporting on major global events that either have massive importance or add some color to the alternate history of the show. Some of them in Season 3’s include the mention of a Beatles reunion tour, Michael Jordan winning the Portland Trail Blazers an NBA championship and the fallout of the Jamestown incident at the end of Season 2. Without these clips filling in the gaps, For All Mankind Season 3 would have had to spend time explaining how the US got to Mars instead of giving fans the true drama surrounding it.
For All Mankind might use more archive material than any other show in the history of narrative television. Every time said footage is used — whether in the background on someone’s TV or overdubbing a political speech — the audience is having some blanks filled in for them. For example, in the series’ timeline, Ronald Regan defeats incumbent Ted Kennedy in the 1976 election. In a clever use of editing, the show subtly presents audiences with clips of Reagan debating Kennedy to provide fans with some idea of the nation’s political leanings in the show’s timeline.
It also isn’t uncommon for the series to alter the footage to widen its distance between its universe and the viewer’s reality. In For All Mankind, John Lennon survives his 1980 assassination attempt. This allows for footage of him taken before his death to be repurposed and utilized to show him protesting the tensions between the US and USSR over space domination.
Smart Casting and Realistic Aging
The best thing about For All Mankind is that it doesn’t mess around with using CGI to alter its actors in an attempt to age them up. It puts faith in its solid cast and the make-up department to create believable aging on screen. Joel Kinnaman was 38 while filming Season 1 but plausibly passed for his character Ed Baldwin being in his late 20s with some make-up and hair dye. In Season 3, Kinnaman captures Baldwin at 60 by carrying himself a little slower and utilizing fake wrinkles and make-up.
In addition, all of the actors playing above their age range whose characters have romantic partners are paired with actors who are actually in their 50s and 60s. The audience is subliminally tricked into accepting the facade because of this casting. For All Mankind Covers a lot of time across a relatively small number of seasons, but it has several different ways that it makes the viewer believe that time has passed and doesn’t let them get lost along the way.
For All Mankind streams Fridays on Apple TV+.