FOR ALL MANKIND Season 2 Episode 3 Review: Rules Of Engagement - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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FOR ALL MANKIND Season 2 Episode 3 Review: Rules Of Engagement

Matthew Kresal prepares for a return to the Moon.
Someone far wiser than I am once said words to the effect that drama is conflict. What a person or group wants or needs over someone else has or doesn't want them to have, and the tensions that arise out of the situation. That wisdom underpins Rules of Engagement, the third episode of For All Mankind's second season, and one that sees the past coming back to haunt a number of our characters.

The most significant conflict, the Cold War that's now extended to the Moon, makes itself felt in the opening minutes. The Soviets take over a lunar mining site by removing the equipment left there, and their hoisting of the hammer and sickle leads to an order from the White House that, on the surface at least, seems to be playing a cosmic game of King of the Hill. Yet to keep the hill, or capture the flag if one prefers, means having to keep the Soviets at bay. Which means someone has to be armed. Given shots used in the trailers for the season and imagery used in posters, it seems likely that this is the beginning of a plot thread here, even if it becomes temporarily eclipsed by other events closer to home.

It's in those personal stories, rather than in the superpower struggle of the Cold War, that Rules of Engagement's attention is focused. The divorced Stevens couple have a reunion of sorts, and not the happiest of ones, the tensions between them still unresolved despite their separation. And which, thanks to Tracy's (Sarah Jones) recent second marriage and Gordo (Michael Dorman) receiving his first flight assignment in a decade, boil over.

Nor are they alone in past issues revisiting them. Margo (Wrenn Schmidt) gets a blast from the past of her own as the series re-introduces Aleida Rosales. A decade older and now played by Coral Peña (who is perfect casting to take over from Olivia Trujillo in the first season), it's clear that the past decade has not been the kindest to her, despite her former closeness to Margo. Indeed, events a decade ago and a decision that Margo made in the first season finale still troubles them both in quite different ways. Yet the first steps toward warming in their relationship, if not reconciliation, are taken here, giving Schmidt some of her best material of the season thus far and offering a solid introduction for Peña.

The most emotional plot thread has to do with the Baldwins and their adopted daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu). As much as For All Mankind is an ensemble series, Ed (Joel Kinnaman) and Karen (Shantel VanSanten) have always been its heart. As they deal with Kelly getting ready to go off to college, her top choice takes them by surprise and, along with a discovery on the Moon thanks to the Soviets, raises the specter of the son they lost during the first season. These tensions not only reach boiling point but spill over in the emotionally charged penultimate scene of the episode. Those few minutes playing out in the Baldwin household between its members, far away from the surface of the Moon and the tensions of the Cold War may well represent the single best scene of the series. It's one of those perfect combinations of writing, performance, direction, and even Jeff Russo's score. Something that takes a solid episode and gives it a push to being something more.

This episode serves as a reminder that beneath the alternate history and technology, it's the characters and drama that keep For All Mankind compelling. Whether (re)introducing new characters or setting up strands of story to come, Rules of Engagement stands as one of the series best hours to date. And one that promises a lot in the weeks ahead.

Let's see if it can deliver upon them.

For All Mankind is exclusive to Apple TV+.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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