FOR ALL MANKIND Season 2 Episode 7 Review: DON'T BE CRUEL - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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FOR ALL MANKIND Season 2 Episode 7 Review: DON'T BE CRUEL

Matthew Kresal watches as the Cold War heats up.
1983 was one of the most dangerous years of the Cold War, though most people never knew it at the time. And that was without an unending space race giving the superpowers a whole new arena to face off. Given that Apple TV's For All Mankind sets its second season in that year, it has seemed odd that outside of a few references, the series hasn't dealt with it much. Something that the latest episode, Don't Be Cruel, readdresses in spades much to its credit.

Indeed, those who know their Cold War history will be the ones who might get the most out of the episode. Its opening minutes, in particular, are a tour de force for the series, excellently combining tragic history with the fictional drama and characters the series has been developing for a season and a half. The slow build-up, the dawning realization on knowing viewers of the real-life event about to unfold are every bit as tense as anything the show has done to date. It also sets the stage for the dramas that are to follow.

The Cold War is warming up, and the results will change the show forever.

For one thing, the episode sees simmering tensions reach a boiling point thanks to various events. Throughout this season, with an increased military presence at NASA Houston, the line between the civilian space program and the military has been getting thinner all the time. In this episode, the line becomes even narrower as one of NASA's own becomes a casualty of events and our characters face some tough decisions as a result.

Namely, it does so via the show's otherwise underused female leads of the season: Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) and Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt). Don't Be Cruel is their stories in many ways, how they deal with the unfolding crisis in their own ways. Ellen, who was just last episode discussing leaving NASA behind to start a new life, finds herself in an entirely new position that changes everything for her, including her rekindled relationship with Pam (Meghan Leathers). Ultimately, Don't Be Cruel picks up on a conversation Ellen had a couple of episodes ago in a satisfying example of the writers finally harvesting the seeds planted in the season's long build-up and giving Balfour some of her best scenes of the season.

Standing in contrast to her is Margo. Ever the engineer, and having built up a report with her Soviet counterpart Soyuz project director Sergei Nikulov (Piotr Adamczyk) in the last episode, Cold War tensions don't mean as much to her as the chance to right a wrong. Once more, the series takes a page from real-life events, though something which in the series timeline didn't occur, and it creates something of a moral dilemma out of it. Though it's just one of the plots in the episode, Schmidt makes the most of every scene offered to her, and it opens the door for other possibilities in the remaining episodes.

And just as you might think that this was another one of the overly Earthbound episodes that have occupied the majority of the season to date, its closing minutes prove how mistaken an assumption that is. The boiling over of tensions on Earth affects Jamestown base on the Moon, as another plot point set up a few episodes ago finally comes back into play. The sequence that plays out as Don't Be Cruel comes to a close is tense and visually impressive, on a scale we've not seen since early this season. Not to mention giving Tracy (Sarah Jones) a moment in the sun, paying off events with her in the last couple of episodes. It's an impressive and immensely satisfying few minutes, suggesting that the Earthbound nature of much of the season may have been saving up the budget for a grand finale, one perhaps set in motion here.

Combining real-life Cold War events with compelling alternate history drama, Don't Be Cruel joins with its immediate predecessor as a welcome change of pace for the season. Indeed, it feels like this episode could have happened a couple of weeks ago, at minimum. Season two of For All Mankind may be a tad later than we'd like getting into gear, but it looks set to put on a heck of a show now that it has.

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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