If, as actor Joel Kinnaman contends, you become a new person every 10 years, that bodes well for his character in “For All Mankind,” a fictionalized look at the space race.
In the first season, Kinnaman’s calculating astronaut Edward Baldwin was hardly a role model. He complained about the United States’ position in the world and wasn’t above sharing his anger.
In the second season – set 10 years later -- “Ed is happier and more content and just seems at peace with life,” Kinnaman says. “At the end of the first season he suffered through the ultimate tragedy: the loss of a child. As an actor, that is the great challenge – to sort of portray that kind of trauma. For me, it was one of the most exciting parts of playing this character.”
In the show’s alternate universe, the Soviet Union beat the United States to the moon. That changed the dynamics at NASA and began a series of moves designed to catch up and move past the rivals.
In season two, both countries have bases on the moon. As in the first season, historic figures weave in and out of the fictional world.
“In the writers’ room, we came up with a lot of ideas and a lot of things that fit into the alternate timeline,” co-creator Ronald D. Moore says. “And then it was about, well, ‘What are the things that fit within the story that are important to know?’ Like the progress of the Cold War.”
“We’re adapting history,” co-creator Ben Nedivi adds. “The fun of that is picking and choosing the things that change but also the things that didn’t change. (We’re) finishing the stories that never got their chance.”
The Mercury astronauts, for example, never got to be a part of the space program. In the revision, that’s not the case. Politicians get a second chance; pop culture takes a hit.
“If you see the first season, you think, ‘OK, a little alternate history but it kind of feels like “Mad Men” in the NASA environment,’” Kinnaman says. “But the vision for this show is so much bigger than that. Now we’re starting to show audiences what that vision is and it’s a lot of fun.”
In the new season, the Jamestown moon base has expanded and Ed is chief of the Astronaut Office.
To make sure audiences aren’t duped into thinking historical figures were actually a part of this world, “we always try to honor who they really were and nogt just change them radically or have them do crazy things just for our story purposes,” Moore says. “They’re usually in the show to serve a specific story function. That also then limits how much you can do with them, so we kind of populate the universe mostly with fictional characters.”
Already renewed for a third season, “For All Mankind” is expected to take even more leaps.
“The longer the show goes, the more we kind of branch off into our own alternate reality anyway and we get further and further from real-life figures that would have meaning in our particular story,” Moore says. “It’s something we’re always mindful of and we’re always very careful about.”
“For All Mankind” is streaming on Apple TV+.