Foundation, For All Mankind. Sounds like a Cosmetics Promotion.

Foundation, Apple TV+

My recent admission into the iPhone collective included a free three-month subscription to Apple TV, which has given me a chance to catch up on a couple of recent sci-fi series I’d not seen. I found Foundation to be a very enjoyable modern re-imagining of Asimov’s epic (we shouldn’t be surprised that a 1953 novel will have some dated cultural and technical language). Seeing how the scriptwriters have taken 30 pages of the novel and turned it into an episode is an interesting study in itself.

The other SF romp which caught my attention was For All Mankind. Kicking off an alternate history with the Soviets landing first on the moon is an interesting hook and provides a decent engine to the series. While the series can’t resist weaving a few 21st century social concerns into its many plot threads, it does so in ways which mostly seem genuine to the alternate timeline it’s created.

That being said, I generally don’t spend a lot of time watching TV – I’d prefer to be either at the computer or reading (or walking) – so it’s very easy for a series to make me grab the loud handles and punch out. And one of season two’s plot threads succeeded very well in getting the whole family to give the plane back to the taxpayers.

Warning: Some spoilers ahead.

In season one’s fictional 1974, Ed and Karen Baldwin lose their son Shane, who has been previously getting up to increasing mischief with Danny Stevens as a reaction to the family’s intense focus on the work. It’s an event which is all the more harrowing for the fact that they can’t support one another: Ed is currently on the moon and, playing into how we got into this problem in the first place, entirely mission focused. It’s a critical turning point for these characters and shapes much of their subsequent journey.

In season two we continue with these characters into the 1980s. They’re ten years older, but maybe no wiser: Danny has joined the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and while on break, works at the Outpost with Karen Baldwin, where he confesses to have feelings for her, and she takes advantage of the situation to remedy the lack of physical intimacy in her otherwise mission-oriented life in an extended on-screen steamy scene which just had me want to turn the TV off right there.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty else going on in season two, and a really great escalation of tension between US and Soviet space endeavours. But if you’re going to thread multiple plot lines into a series, do you really want one that is going to alienate your viewers?

A couple of things really trigger me in here. First is that as a parent, Karen’s loss of her son is not something she’ll ever really put behind her. As his best friend, Danny will automatically be an unofficial stepson in many ways, serving to keep her in touch with that lost aspect of her family, and she has the adopted Kelly, so isn’t disconnected from her role as mentor and nurturer. In short, we’ve seen no reason to break that expectation, so this arc feels contrived, something thrown in to ‘spice it up’ and provide a bit of sauce.

For All Mankind, Apple TV+

But there’s maybe another problem which becomes more apparent if we simply invert the characters’ genders. How would we feel if a young female student character appeared to be seducing her dead best friend’s father? Wouldn’t we see that as perpetuating societal problems around grooming and exploitation? Are we saying that the way towards a society with better gender balance is to perpetuate our very worst mistakes onto the other gender, rather than to perhaps stop propagating them in the first place? And even if there is a good reason to have it as a critical plot point, how much needs to be shown, and how much can be implied?

For All Mankind is a great show with a solid concept driving an excellent platform on which it can raise questions and social commentary like this, particularly if we’re willing to not just stop and question the plot, but what drives the industry, and the audience, towards some of these decisions. And with this property having gone this direction I’ll be very interested to see how Foundation’s second season pans out. Which… will see me having to renew my ‘free’ trial subscription.


Well played, Apple TV.

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