DirectorProduced by Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert, and Ben Nedivi
Release Date(s)2021 (May 1, 2023)
Studio(s)Tall Ship Productions/Sony Pictures Television/Apple TV+ (Dazzler Media)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: N/A
[Editor’s Note: This is a UK-import Blu-ray release that’s coded for Region B only. Multi-region playback capability is required to view this title in North America.]
What if the Cuban Missile Crisis had happened in the 1980s... on the Moon?
The year is 1983. NASA’s Jamestown lunar base has grown from one module to many, supporting up to forty astronauts at a time for mining ops and scientific research. It’s supplied by regular Sea Dragon cargo flights, and a fleet of Moon-capable space shuttles that includes Columbia, Challenger, Atlantis, Discovery, Endeavour, Enterprise, Beagle, Kon-Tiki, Victoria, Constitution, and Vanguard. NASA’s next-generation, nuclear-powered shuttle, Pathfinder, is also about to make its maiden flight. And Skylab is busy around the clock, conducting solar observations in Earth orbit. The Soviets too have made progress in space, expanding their Zvezda base on the Moon, building the Mir space station, and preparing to launch their own Buran shuttle.
But change is afoot on Earth as well. Ed Baldwin has become the chief of NASA’s astronaut office in Houston, while Karen runs the Outpost Tavern, which she and Ed now own. The Baldwins have also adopted a daughter, Kelly, who’s now old enough to begin considering college options. A divorced Gordo Stevens is struggling to recover after his breakdown on the Moon, while Tracy has become a media darling, making regular appearances on The Tonight Show. Meanwhile, Molly Cobb is in her element working at Jamestown, Ellen Wilson is about to become the new deputy administrator of NASA, Danielle Poole is eager to return to space after the death of her husband, and Margo Madison is now the director of the Johnson Space Center.
However all is not well, on Earth or in space. A massive solar storm wreaks havoc at Jamestown and knocks out U.S. and Soviet spy satellites, increasing already heightened Cold War tensions. To gain the moral high ground, President Reagan proposes Apollo/Soyuz—a handshake in space. But when the Soviets occupy one of Jamestown’s mining sites, the president sends Marine astronauts with guns to take it back and pushes to equip Pathfinder with missiles. While many at NASA are uncomfortable with this decision, the Soviet downing of a civilian airliner—and reports that they’re arming Buran—changes the calculus. But when one of those Marines mistakenly shoots an unarmed cosmonaut, the whole world teeters on the brink of nuclear war.
Any doubts that For All Mankind could maintain its high quality in the wake of an excellent first season were surely dispelled by Season Two. Now only did the writers craft a terrific new storyline, they gave each major character a significant arc with real impact on that story’s outcome. This is a true ensemble cast, and every single member of it rose to the challenge here. But special note must surely be given to Michael Dorman and Sarah Jones as Gordo and Tracy Stevens—despite significant character flaws, each gets a genuine shot at redemption over the course of these ten episodes. And the loss of a few beloved cast members from the first season is more than offset by the new contributors, including Cynthy Wu as Kelly and Coral Peña as the now adult Aleida Rosales, a character that’s abrasive and unlikable at first, but grows in appreciation over the course of the season. Also very good in Season Two are Dan Donohue as NASA Administrator Thomas Paine, Noah Harpster as engineer Bill Strausser, and Piotr Adamczyk as Sergei Nikulov, the director of Roscosmos.
Once again, the show’s writers, production designers, and technical advisors manage to nail every aspect of the season’s early 1980s setting, both in terms of cultural events, the ins and outs of daily life at the time, and especially the details of spaceflight. They draw heavily upon real-life NASA missions (including Skylab and Apollo/Soyuz), as well as roads not taken (including the ocean-launched Sea Dragon rocket, the NERVA nuclear-powered engine program, and even the Pathfinder advanced shuttle design, which is based on a number of single-stage-to-orbit rocket plane concepts NASA has developed). And the show’s fictional missions and spacecraft are so well grounded in both, that they’re always highly believable.
The writers also take advantage of a few real life historical details, including Ronald Reagan’s political acumen in the 80s and the tragic Korean Air Lines Flight 007 incident. Clever fictional history is woven in too, including a detail that—as co-creator Ronald D. Moore has revealed in interviews—was the actual event that differentiated For All Mankind’s fictional history from our own. It wasn’t that the Soviets landed on the Moon first, it was the fact that the ‘father’ of their space program, Sergei Korolev (played in this season by Endre Hules), survived to make it possible. (In real life, he died in during a surgery in 1966, a blow from which the Soviet space program was unable to recover.) And I must admit to giving a huge smile when Aleida visits Bill’s house to apologize for offending him in one episode and exclaims, “Is that a real commlock from Space: 1999?” Because of course Bill would have one… and Aleida would recognize it. (Goddammit, I love this show.)
A co-production of Sony Pictures Television and Apple TV, For All Mankind is captured digitally using Sony Venice cameras and is finished in native 4K at the 2.00:1 widescreen aspect ratio. It then appears on Apple TV+ in 4K with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos lossless audio. Sadly, the series not yet available on disc in 4K. However, the good people at Dazzler Media in the UK have licensed the series for Blu-ray Disc and DVD, and Season One, Season Two, and Season Three are all now available there. (Note that Season One is also finally available on Region A Blu-ray from Sony in the States, and subsequent seasons should follow next year.) Note that these Season Two Blu-rays are definitely locked to Region B, so you’ll need a player with multi-region capability to watch them anywhere else. But I’m pleased to say, the episodes look fantastic. All ten are included, spread across four BD-50 discs so they have plenty of room to breathe, with video data rates that average 25-35 Mbps (brighter scenes push the upper limit of that range). Colors are accurate, contrast is as pleasing as it gets for this format, and the image detail is crisp and clean with lovely refined texturing. The episodes also appear to be uncut and uncensored from their streaming versions.
Lossless audio is included in English 5.1 in DTS-HD Master Audio format. The soundstage is nicely wide up front, with clear dialogue and lightly-immersive use of the surround channels for environmental sound effects and especially music, which includes not only composer Jeff Russo’s score, but also a host of period songs from the likes of John Lennon, The Pretenders, The Beatles, AC/DC, The Clash, Ramones, Billy Swan, Sun Ra and His Arkestra, Huey Lewis & The News, Elvis Presley, The Band, Frank Sinatra, Loverboy, Spandau Ballet, Devo, The Alan Parsons Projects, The Specials, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Herbie Hancock, Bob Marley & The Wailers, and Nirvana. And I must say, I will never hear REO Speedwagon’s “Roll with the Changes” again without picturing Gordo Stevens’ smiling face. Bass is pleasing throughout. Optional English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing are also included.
Here’s a breakdown of the episodes included on each disc:
- Every Little Thing (HD – 56:58)
- The Bleeding Edge (HD – 56:08)
- Rules of Engagement (HD – 60:11)
- Pathfinder (HD – 60:42)
- The Weight (HD – 58:17)
- Best-Laid Plans (HD – 59:33)
- Don’t Be Cruel (HD – 62:08)
- And Here’s to You (HD – 69:53)
- Triage (HD – 56:27)
- The Grey (HD – 76:30)
Once again, there are no extras. That’s not surprising, as most of the special features created for this show are likely exclusive to Apple TV+. But the lack of bonus content does at least allow for 100% of the discs’ real estate to be used for the picture and sound. And the cover art for this release is once again a generic Photoshop mash-up instead of the series’ actual marketing imagery. I suspect this is something that Apple mandated—that their own branding not be used on the discs. It’s a shame, but at least the custom imagery used here looks a little like the actual show, as opposed to the Season One Blu-ray release, which looked like something a bad AI art generator might conjure. In any case, I’m still just glad to have these episodes on any physical disc format at all.
Against all odds, the second season of For All Mankind took everything that was great about the first and kicked it into overdrive. The season starts out well, grows more complicated and engaging with every episode, and it ends in a genuinely thrilling and moving finale. Trust me, there’s a reason that so many critics and publications (including Wired, Rolling Stone, Slate, USA Today, and Forbes, to name but a few) have called this series one of the best currently streaming. This show—more than any other right now—is carrying on and sustaining the true spirit of classic Star Trek. And I don’t say that lightly. For All Mankind is worthy of your time and attention, and I can’t recommend it more highly. I do hope the series arrives on physical 4K UHD at some point. But if you love it as much as I do, Dazzler’s Region B Blu-ray release will do nicely in the meantime.
- Bill Hunt