FOR ALL MANKIND Season 3 Episode 1 Review: POLARIS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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FOR ALL MANKIND Season 3 Episode 1 Review: POLARIS

Matthew Kresal parties like it's 1990-something with the For All Mankind season premiere.
Last spring, AppleTV+'s For All Mankind took viewers into an alternate 1983. One a decade after the establishment of moonbases in the wake of the Soviet Union placing the first man on the Moon, having a knock-on effect on history and culture that became similar to our own yet different. All building up to the brink of nuclear war in one of the best TV episodes of 2021. Now For All Mankind moves into the 1990s with its season opener, Polaris.

As with season two's opening episode, Every Little Thing, Polaris offers a sense of the familiar while moving forward nearly a decade in time from where the series last left off. The season opens with the now season opener standard stock footage montage setting up the changes to history as we know it as the eighties move into the nineties. These include an American president who never was in our timeline, an event changing the course of British politics (which, depending on our UK reader's political preferences, will likely cause either wry smiles or cringing), and the setting up of plotlines for the season ahead. Other familiar moments play out, including one scene involving Wrenn Schmidt's Margo Madison going through her morning routine. Finally, the back half of the episode builds to a crisis that raises the dramatic stakes sky-high (if you'll pardon the expression). Keeping the formula in place is safe but dangerous, with familiarity likely breeding contempt. Yet it pays dividends for the series time and again, with Polaris once more proving it.

Why? Because of the mix of elements that have served For All Mankind so well. The ensemble cast, for a start, with the opener catching us up on where everyone is now. From Ed and Karen Baldwin, Danielle Poole, the quite different Stevens brothers now in adulthood, to those at NASA such as Margo and Molly Cobb, everyone is a little older if not wiser, dealing with the events of last season to differing degrees of success. The ensemble remains compelling, especially with the secrets simmering under the surface and the changes in relationships along the way. Some of the characters make fleeting appearances, but the setting of the stage here offers plenty of promise for the nine episodes to follow and strong material (some of it wonderfully comedic in places) for the cast.

Then, of course, there's the space setting of the series. In a nod toward current events in the field coming to pass decades ahead of time thanks to the changes in the timeline, private spaceflight and tourism raise their head here. The latter becomes central to the plot, bringing our characters together and helping ferment a crisis that builds both in intensity and threat as the back half of Polaris unfolds. The results are dramatic, to say the least, both from a production standpoint as the series showcases cinema-quality effects work and in-universe tension. After last season, viewers might not think it would be possible for the show to raise a rival in the drama stakes, but Polaris does so in a worthy follow-up to last season's finale. Not to mention helping the series, which suffered from being perhaps too earthbound at times last year, show off its more realistic SF credentials in fine form.

The result, put all together, is the strongest season opener for For All Mankind to date. It's a worthy follow-up to the show's best episode to date, launching it into a new decade and season's worth of storytelling. If what's to follow is even half this good, the next couple of months are going to be thrilling.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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