FOR ALL MANKIND Season 2 Episode 4 Review: PATHFINDER - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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FOR ALL MANKIND Season 2 Episode 4 Review: PATHFINDER

Matthew Kresal prepares for the next-generation of space travel.
Following the emotional conclusion of Rules of Engagement, For All Mankind's second season was promising some emotional rollercoasters alongside its alternate history of rising eighties Cold War tensions on the Moon. The question was how the series would start delivering upon those promises. With Pathfinder, the series begins doing so rather neatly.

And it does so from the first scene, set the morning after the Baldwin family's emotional scene in the last episode. Namely, with Karen telling Ed that it's time for him to give up the desk job and get back to flying, albeit on her terms. It's a satisfying coda to those events, as well as being the prologue for the episode's main plot point as Ed, as head of the astronaut office, takes a page from Deke Slayton's book and assigns himself to be the first to fly the next-generation shuttle: the eponymous Pathfinder.

The episode's title also refers to a member of the ensemble cast coming to the fore here: Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall). Recently assigned a return to space, she's also dealing with her husband's recent death. As such, she visits her sister-in-law (Yaani King Mondschein), and it leads to a conversation that features something For All Mankind has previously all but ignored: that dollars launched into space are better off being spent on Earth. Nearly half-way into its second season, it feels odd that the series is just now addressing this, but it's also a welcomed opportunity as For All Mankind reminds viewers that the more things change, the more they stay the same. It also offers both character and performer alike the chance to assert themselves and opens up a plot thread for exploration in future episodes.

Indeed, the episode seems to be picking up on characters overlooked in the last couple of episodes, namely in the form of Jodi Balfour's Ellen and Sonya Walger's Molly. We see Ellen settling into her role behind a desk at NASA HQ and picking up the pieces of her life, including a hint of a re-sparked relationship from last season. Meanwhile, Molly gets an offer she never expected and can't refuse after events in the season opener, again opening the door on a new plot thread. There are also some neat Easter eggs for the space nerds out there, including a scene that addresses the show's portrayal of real-life NASA administrator Thomas Paine and the introduction of a member of the Pathfinder's crew that should make any child of the Shuttle era smile.

If I have a criticism to make, it's one that the episode is guilty of only by its placement and the proceeding couple of episodes before it. Since the middle of The Bleeding Edge, For All Mankind has been very much grounded, something that feels odd for a series based around a space-centric alternate history. While it's true that the first season didn't spend every minute in space, the series's recent episodes seem to be taking after its characters, spending too much away from the high frontier. That seems to be changing with Pathfinder's introduction and an agreed-upon future mission, thankfully, but it is mildly frustrating watching it week after week at present.

All told, though, Pathfinder feels like a stage-setting episode. One that picks up on the promise of its predecessor while also adding onto it. Let's see where the series takes us to next, shall we?

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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