For All Mankind introduced a devastating tragedy with its eighth episode, “Rupture.” It was not the first of the freshman Apple TV+ series – and surely won’t be the last.
Spoiler Alert: The following contains plot points from For All Mankind season 1, episode 8.
The alternate-reality sci-fi series poses the question: “What might have happened if Russia had won the race to the moon?” It stars Joel Kinnaman as NASA astronaut Edward Baldwin and Shantel VanSanten as his homemaker wife Karen Baldwin. An accident strands Ed on the moon, worrying Karen to distraction and leaving his preteen son Shane (Tait Blum) lonely, eager for attention, and rebellious. In one defiant act, Shane disobeys his mother, who has grounded him, and takes off on his bike to play in a basketball game. Karen later finds out that Shane was hit by a car during that ride and must deal with the life-threatening injury without her husband.
The series also stars Michael Dorman as Gordo Stevens, Sarah Jones as Tracy Stevens, Wrenn Schmidt as Margo Madison, Jodi Balfour as Ellen Waverly, Krys Marshall as Danielle Poole, Sonya Walger as Molly Cobb, Chris Bauer as Deke Slayton, Arturo Del Puerto as Octavio Rosales, and Olivia Trujillo as Aleida Rosales.
The death of a child is a particularly heartrending moment in a TV show, so we caught up with series co-creator and executive producer Ronald D. Moore (Outlander, Battlestar Galactica) to hear about Shane’s death and how it folds into his plans for series, which has two more episodes left in its first season, starting with Friday’s “Dangerous Liaisons.”
(Photo by Apple TV+)
Debbie Day for Rotten Tomatoes: “Rupture” was a very emotional episode, and it occurred to me that in your work, you feature extraordinary people in ordinary circumstances. It flips that screenwriting convention – “an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances” – on its head.
Ron Moore: Ed Baldwin is doing this extraordinary thing … He’s on the moon and he’s by himself and he’s in this situation and the Soviets are out there and he has no one else to deal with. And what would be the consequences of something very common … a car accident killing his son back on Earth, and how that would rock his world … In that sense, we were just interested in the human quality of it, that he’s on another planet or he’s on a moon, he’s 200,000 miles away from home, and yet this very pedestrian accident happens and that it would devastate him. And that the entire sort of massive team would have to come together to figure out what to do, and do they tell him and do they not? We just really liked the idea that at the heart of it was something that just happens to people every day, that it’s such an everyday occurrence. And yet to put it in this extraordinary context would be kind of unique and interesting.
I like that the flight director comes up with the brilliant idea of asking his wife whether or not they should tell him.
Moore: Yeah. It says something about the time, and it said something also I think even about our own kind of bias in terms of just watching it. Because you kind of assume all these official people should make that call and you kind of forget the human component of, “Well what about his wife or his spouse? What about his family? How did they feel about it?” Cause they’re the ones going through the tragedy. And then it’s not just about official NASA policy, it’s about these people. And then there’s an underlying current of there were three men standing in that office looking at Margo and not one of the three of them even occurred to them to talk to the wife first. And that was sort of an interesting comment on gender and roles at that time and notions that persist today as well.
(Photo by Apple TV+)
Margo, for me, is a really interesting character. Maybe I just identify with her being kind of a workaholic, but she’s a character out of time in the opportunities that she’s made for herself in that environment. And I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about building those female characters that flout the conventions of that period?
Moore: It goes back to the original concept of the show, which was, “We’re going to do an alternate history, and we’re going to change things. And we’re going to say that by losing the race to the moon, ironically good things happen to the United States and the world, and let’s make it not just technological progress, let’s make it societal change and cultural change and what does that mean?” And he said, “All right, let’s tell the story of this young woman that you meet as a version of Wernher von Braun, and let’s see her climb the ladder in a way that wasn’t possible in that era.” Who would that be? What would the qualities that you would need to thrive in the 1960s and into the ’70s and make that kind of climb? And especially if she was tutored by someone like Wernher von Braun. And we kind of said, well, “She would have to literally be a workaholic.”
Margo said, I think in episode 8 says, “You’ve got to be better than the boys in order to advance the society at the time.” You kind of start with that premise and then you carve out the particular character and you just say, “Who is Margo and where she’s from and what are her values and what are the things that matter to her?” And this program is very important to Margo and she invests a lot of herself and self-worth into the success or failure of the space program. In her opening scene, she’s sleeping in her office, and she’s not just crashing on the couch; she has built an entire structure in that office that allows her to sleep. Mirrors that turn into plaques, and she’s got all her things figured out in a way that they vanish and no one even knows.
And she’s given a lot of thought and time and energy to creating that structure for herself. And that was just an interesting comment to sort of, that’s how we introduce her. And it kind of says almost everything you need to know about Margo in season 1. That’s sort of where it all began.
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There are many extraordinary female characters in the show. Even the journey that Karen Baldwin takes. At the beginning, she embodies that ’50s/’60s housewife model. Can you talk about what showing her path means when you’ve got all these extraordinary, accomplished women around her?
Moore: It was an interesting question we talked about a lot in the room. If you take the stereotypical astronaut wife that we’ve come to know, right? And books and television, even the magazine articles — Time certainly painted a portrait of who that person was. And now we’re going to say, “The world changes radically and it’s going down this other path, and people like Tracy Stevens are going to become astronauts, and Margo Madison is going to ascend the ranks.” OK, what happens to Karen Baldwin? What would she do and what does she hang on to? And you know, how was she forced to change? And you’ll see as we get into the last couple of episodes how the death of Shane really does dynamite that whole world. At first, she was just trying to hold on to what she knew back when at the very beginning Ed’s career’s in trouble, because of what he said to the magazine.
And then Karen clicks into Karen-planning-mode. Well then, you’re going to go back to the Navy and this and this and this and this, because that’s how Karen copes and deals with things. Then when her friend Tracy enters the program, that kind of is the first thing that starts to sort of threaten her worldview: Well, wait a minute, wait a minute. Women are doing this? Because that wasn’t something that I thought was possible and no one told me that that was an option. And you see … she’s somewhat hostile to the idea, but as time passes she gets over that, she copes again, she makes new plans, she figures out how to keep her world intact. She’s helping out with raising the Stevens’ children and her friendship with Tracy survives it all and she’s moving on. She’s a survivor, Karen, she moves on and she’s going to cope.
Now the death of her son really does sort of start a whole new chapter for Karen. So it was really sort of plotting out how do we evolve that character while at the same time being true to her and the women that were like her at that period? It didn’t seem fair to just say that Karen would wake up one day and just be a completely different person or that she would just jettison her entire upbringing and her entire worldview. It felt like that would have to be an evolution. And then you would have to justify how those changes are made for a character like her.
(Photo by Apple TV+)
Can we talk about how 109 deals with grief in all of its forms?
Moore: Yeah. 109, we had to sort of face it directly. Two characters like Karen and Ed dealing with a profound loss and not being able to be there for each other and how they would individually do that. And a lot of us in the writers’ room, we had either gone through similar things or we knew close relatives who had, so we drew on a lot of that, of personal experience of people’s responses to grief. And it did feel like once Karen had gotten over the planning of Shane’s funeral arrangements and all that, that then she would be sort of left at loose ends. Like once that was complete, she had nothing left; there would be an emptiness there and she retreat, would try to retreat as far as she possibly could away from the world and away from everyone else.
And on Ed, lone, isolated, tired, had been told he was being rescued over and over and over again. And had to hear about this over the phone, that he would just shut down. He would just shut down, turn off the phone, refuse to talk, and he would just be alone with his grief. And that each of them in their own way was kind of doing the same thing. That they were both retreating from the world and they both just wanted to be left alone and manage their grief in their own way. And again, it seems like that’s who the characters were in that era, and they weren’t seeking therapy and they weren’t trying to talk through their feelings. They didn’t have any of those skills and those tools, and if they didn’t have each other, if they weren’t able to comfort each other, they didn’t want to be comforted by anybody, and they just started to step back from their lives.
The character of Aleida Rosales she’s the kind of character that, in a big cast like this, could get lost. What was the intention behind making a storyline out of that family’s journey?
Moore: It was an initial impulse at the very creation of the show to have a young character that we could watch grow up over the seasons, because the show is multigenerational. It goes through many decades, and I wanted someone at the outset who was very young and then it became, “Let’s make it an immigrant story. Let’s make it a story of how broad the space program is, that it’s not just inspiring people in the United States. It’s actually inspiring people around the world, and here’s this young girl who comes to the United States from Mexico.” It becomes an immigrant story. Then the challenge became how do you keep her on the show? Because she obviously can’t impact a big story for a very long time. And it was a lot of work, and we did struggle with at times to be honest, to figure out how to keep her relevant to the show when so many of the things were going on.
But we did have a belief that ultimately this is a clearly critical character in the life of the show later on. In a way it’s almost an origin story. It’s an origin story of a superhero or something: start at the beginning, see how she got involved with NASA, see who she knew and what the challenges are and then throw a curve ball in her world towards the end of the first season and then come back second season and see what happened to her a decade or so later.
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For All Mankind, you’re back in space. Was that intentional? Were you’re looking to go back to space?
Moore: Well, I was certainly open to the idea. I mean I do love space and science fiction. It’s just been part of me since I was a child. So you do it for a long time. It’s Star Trek and then Battlestar and you need to get away and not do it continuously. But then I kind of felt sort of ready to come back and there were new things to do and new things to say in the field and so it was really fun to come back and do a space show again. And I hope it won’t be my last.
Yeah, I hope it won’t either. I don’t know if you know, but Battlestar took like top spot in our list of the best sci-fi shows.
Ron Moore: I did see that. I couldn’t believe it. I was very touched by that. It was like, Wow. Really? Yeah, I’m not sure. I’m not sure I would have voted it that high. I don’t know that the child in me can actually put Battlestar above the original Star Trek series, but I do appreciate the honor.
See, I would agree with you if you’d said The Next Generation, but the original Star Trek, really?
Moore: The original, it’s brilliant. It changed the genre.
One of the things that I really liked about Battlestar and one of the things that weighed in its favor for that ranking was just the amount of time spent on developing character, and they’re not just red shirts or blue shirts or yellow shirts. Each character has an intention, and it’s something that I’ve seen more lately. I’d say it shows how influential you’ve been in this medium, that you see, for instance, in The Expanse, this focus on character and a lived-in quality for the show.
Moore: I appreciate that. It’s very kind. I would love to think that we had that kind of influence, and those qualities were very important to us in Battlestar, and we spent a lot of time focusing on them and saying that this is really what matters and this is really what will distinguish the show and this is what you’re capable of doing in science fiction. It’d be great to think that that’s influenced others. And that it continues to go in that direction.
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Now Outlander was a little bit of a detour. I was surprised to see you on that title. Similarly, I think you’ve given the story more heft than some other people might’ve.
Moore: Diana [Gabaldon] had created a great universe in Outlander the books. And I just thought once you translate that to television, one of the first things you have to realize is that, “Yes, you’re going to see the universe” and “Yes, you’re going to see the world, Scotland.” That’s all fascinating stuff, but what the television audience really cares about are the characters because that’s who they get attached to. That’s really what they’re all about. That’s what they want to see. How does this week’s event impact my favorite characters? So again, at Outlander, we also made it a concerted effort to really try to get inside Claire and Jamie and Frank.
We certainly played a lot more of Frank in the show than really the books did, because I kind of felt that there was an opportunity there to really show the triangle and to really get inside Claire a little bit more, to understand who she was, because her whole journey in the first season was about trying to get back to Frank. And so you had to kind of understand and really buy into the notion that Frank was an important character in order to really understand Claire.
Outlander does really well on the Tomatometer, too. Is there anything you can say about the new season that we can look forward to?
Moore: Getting closer to the American Revolution, the split between Jamie and Murtaugh is going to come to a head and be very difficult for both parties. You’re going to see more of Stephen Bonnet, Jocasta, and all the characters who set up season 1, and there’ll be another character returning in the next season that we said goodbye to last season. There’s a lot of fun stuff. It’s just sort of a big, sprawling epic really is what it is —what it always has been.