FOR ALL MANKIND: Season 3 Episode 5 Review: SEVEN MINUTES OF TERROR - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Matthew Kresal counts the minutes to touchdown.
Before this season of For All Mankind kicked off back on the tenth of June, I had every expectation of it focusing on the race to Mars for the length of it. The first landing on the Red Planet would, after all, seem to be an ideal place for a season finale. Instead, to the surprise of not only this reviewer but others, the writers of Apple TV+'s alternate history series have chosen a more audacious path. For it's here, the literal midpoint of the season, the race to Mars reaches its climax in Seven Minutes of Terror.

Before those titular minutes (a reference to NASA's term for the time it takes to get through the Martian atmosphere and to the surface), the episode has to deal with the aftermath of last week. With the dead given a funeral in space, the crews of the American and Soviet legs of the race now have to live together as events send them on their way toward Mars once more. The episode's opening sequence is a moving affair, grounded by the performance of Krys Marshall as commander Danielle Poole in particular. It's a stark reminder of the human cost of space exploration, something that For All Mankind as a series has never shied away from presenting, especially as the two crews now have to grieve and work together.

The two sides brought together have other repercussions, as well. At NASA, Margo (Wrenn Schmidt) now has to work alongside her Soviet counterparts, a sticky proposition given the events of All In. While reviewing that episode, I expressed my hope that the storytelling venue opened for Margo there would be mined later in the season. Seven Minutes of Terror begins delivering on that, highlighting the toll placed on Margo and, thanks to Schmidt's subtle performance, her hopes for a way out of the situation she's placed herself and Sergei (Piotr Adamczy) into. Whether she'll get the chance to is another question, thanks to Aleida (Coral Peña) and her for details. It's an intriguing storyline that seems to be taking shape here, and one this reviewer will be watching intently for in the back half of the season.

Of course, there remains a third party in this race. In keeping with the theme of consequences of the events of Happy Valley, there's time spent in this episode with the aftermath of Helios' Dev Ayesa's (Edi Gathegi) decision to override the Baldwin's feelings about a rescue attempt. In space, it means Ed (Joel Kinnaman) and his crew figuring out how to get control of the Phoenix away from Dev and ground control, this time for good. On Earth, Karen (Shantel VanSanten) carves her own path with choices words for Dev and an encounter with an old friend.

All of which is prologue for those titular minutes. In the three episodes proceeding this, there have been moments when the race to Mars looked set to be won by one side or another, only for something to tip the balance. Seven Minutes of Terror plays out that drama in microcosm and in dramatic fashion, with each time it looks like someone has the lead, the variables change once more. Writer Sabrina Almeida strikes a nice balance in doing so, while keeping an eye on the character stories, such as the subtly rising tensions between Ed and Danny Stevens (Casey W. Johnson), which likewise help feed into the dramatic closing minutes.

And they certainly live up to their name. Like with season two finale The Grey or last week's cliffhanger, the descents to the Martian surface are a masterclass of production elements coming together seamlessly. From the writing and direction to the visual effects and music from Jeff Russo and Paul Doucette, these closing minutes are another triumph for the season and the wider series. It's a race all the way to the end, leading up to the tension releasing final shot, which is likely to solicit some welcome belly laughs after the drama of the proceedings minutes.

In other words, everything that For All Mankind has done so superbly across two and a half seasons. Now, the question is with those minutes conquered, what will happen next to the crews and those they left behind? Viewers will find out as the second half of the season plays out, and if the past is anything to go by, we're in for a ride.

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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