It might seem like a misnomer for a series as forward-thinking as “For All Mankind” to concern itself so deeply with its own past, but season 4 confidently pays off four years of viewer investment in these characters and almost 40 years of in-universe history. Stacking a web of what might initially seem like disconnected narratives on top of one another, the early episodes get all the necessary table-setting out of the way for the latter half of the season to get in gear. The choice to distance each season with significant time-jumps could’ve been the kiss of death — and it’s certainly done much to both help and hinder the stakes in seasons past — but season 4 takes full advantage of the passage of time by making the weight of history (and, yes, some dicey-looking wigs) keenly felt.
This largely manifests by bringing us up to speed on our new and returning cast of characters alike. Joel Kinnaman reprises his role as grizzled astronaut Ed Baldwin, now old enough to require another heaping coat of old-age makeup and a receding hairline aided by a semi-convincing bald cap — though, unlike past years, this actually juxtaposes nicely with the fiery, almost youthful determination burning in Kinnaman’s eyes as Ed fights against being relegated to the dustbin of history. Meanwhile, we’re quickly introduced to prominent newcomers like Daniel Stern’s NASA administrator Eli Hobson and Toby Kebbell’s Miles Dale, a struggling blue-collar worker who stumbles onto the chance to provide for his family by taking to the stars. In ways too interesting to spoil, his subplot eventually dovetails nicely with the rest of the season and allows a natural way for other figures to join the story, like legendary NASA hero Danielle Poole (the always-reliable Krys Marshall), Soviet-sympathizing defector Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt, easily the biggest casualty of needing to seem older than the actor actually is), Ed’s daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu), the ever-stubborn Aleida Rosales (Coral Peña), hotshot billionaire Dev Ayesa (Edi Gathegi), and even the loose thread regarding the fate of troublesome Danny Stevens (Casey W. Johnson). Every major protagonist we’ve come to know and love gets their moment to shine … or to fail spectacularly.
As easy as it could’ve been to lose track of such a sprawling ensemble, creators Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert, and Ben Nedivi and their writing team constantly find creative solutions. Over the course of the season, far-flung characters are carefully brought together and bitter histories are unearthed for major confrontations — some of which have been 30 years in the making. Whether it’s past-his-prime Ed reverting to his pot-stirring ways or Aleida’s PTSD from last season’s space center bombing or one particular narrative thread that hits particularly hard in light of recent Hollywood events, the past just keeps coming back to haunt the present in a major theme of the season. In so doing, “For All Mankind” continues to have its finger firmly on the pulse.