For All Mankind Season 2 (spoiler-free!) review: A darker, more ambitious chapter unfolds

For All Mankind season 2 on Apple TV Plus, photo courtesy Apple TV Plus
For All Mankind season 2 on Apple TV Plus, photo courtesy Apple TV Plus /

For All Mankind Season 2 opens with a heartwarming scene of unfamiliar astronauts lining up on the moon to witness the sunrise. As the light fills the screen, these astronauts hunkering down at the significantly-improved Jamestown base sing about how “every little thing” is going to be alright, courtesy of the Bob Marley classic. And yet, despite their claims, you get an ominous feeling in your gut that every little thing is not going to be alright this season.

As fans know from the trailer, teasers, and the post-credits sequence from the first season finale, For All Mankind Season 2 will skip ten years into the future. It’s now 1983 at the height of the Cold War. The United States and Russia have escalated the battle for the moon and beyond. Now questions are being raised as if — or who — should militarize the moon first. Nuclear war suddenly seems like a real possibility.

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The first episode wastes no time introducing us to the new age these characters inhabit. You’ll quickly get answers to big questions like whether or not Tracy and Gordo are still together, how Ed and Karen have coped with Shane’s loss, what direction NASA is headed, and more.

One of For All Mankind‘s strengths has always been its willingness to move forward instead of hanging back or overexplaining things with lengthy flashbacks as we’ve seen other shows do.

For All Mankind trusts that its audience is smart enough to keep up and slowly fills in the backstory we need to move forward. And trust me, the first episode alone is full of plenty of surprises, and that spills over into Episode 2.

For All Mankind Season 2 gives its actors plenty of complicated material.

Even in its slower moments, what impressed me most about For All Mankind Season 1 was the writing and the performances. This season doubles down on both, with impressive narrative choices and dynamic performances from the show’s main cast. Michael Dorman shined in Season 1, but he acts his heart out in the second episode. Sonya Walger also gives it her all this season. But honestly, everyone is crazy talented. It’s a shame this series got snubbed by the awards.

There are many shifting pieces in these next ten episodes, and as a whole, this is a much darker, more ambitious season. Given the many deaths, we saw last season, from Deke to Shane, we already know this is a show that isn’t afraid to kill a character off in the blink of an eye. It makes the action sequences much more nerve-wracking because it doesn’t feel like anyone really has plot armor.

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In the Season 2 premiere, the characters on the moon and on Earth must contend with a massive solar storm. The storm winds up being the first domino to fall, and the chain reaction it causes is one that echoes throughout the first season.

And Apple TV+ really has given For All Mankind an insane budget. They must have to make the VFX and production design look as stellar as it does. It’s truly remarkable how far we’ve come in terms of our technology.

For All Mankind Season 2 throws everything at the wall to see what sticks.

Season 2 has a lot going on, and unfortunately, some of the most interesting aspects get lost in the clutter. This season spends an intense amount of time on the emotional, romantic, and human elements of the series. Simultaneously, the genuine alternate history and US/Russia conflict are often relegated to the sidelines.

This was a problem in the first season too. But I think I’ve come to accept that at its heart, For All Mankind is really about its characters. They come first, and all of the alternate history stuff comes second, for better or for worse.

As I said, this season is more ambitious than the first outing, but that’s not always a good thing as the narrative focus feels a little clouded at times. The latter half of the season comes in intense, gripping, and thankfully we already know the series is renewed for a third season, so there are no concerns about the cancellation.

I liked how CBR said the show feels more “self-assured and less pretentious than the first season could be at times,” because that feels accurate. The dramatic subplots feel more grounded and compelling this time around, especially thanks to the cast’s sheer abundance of talent.

Overall, even though the show fumbles sometimes and loses its way in some melodramatic subplots, it’s still remarkable, earnest storytelling that deserves more attention.

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For All Mankind Season 2 officially premieres on February 19, with new episodes dropping weekly on Apple TV+.