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SYFY WIRE For All Mankind

'For All Mankind' showrunners unpack the intense Season 3 premiere

The Apple TV+ series For All Mankind jumps to the '90s in its third season premiere, which the showrunners unpack in our SYFY WIRE exclusive post mortem.

By Tara Bennett
Shantel VanSanten in “For All Mankind”

With a new season of the Apple TV+ series For All Mankind, also comes a brand new alt decade to explore. In the Season 3 premiere episode, "Polaris," the timeline has now shifted into the '90s and a lot has changed for NASA, the astronauts, their families, and the civilians who continue to push the United States to compete with the Soviet Union, China and other countries (and private companies) who are entering the Space Race. 

There's so much to process in "Polaris" that SYFY WIRE went directly to new showrunners Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi, who also wrote the premiere, to get the behind-the-scenes stories on the new documentary montage that starts the season, the surprises regarding some character introductions, and that huge set piece that ends the first episode. 

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Episode 1 of Season 3 of For All Mankind.

Let's start from the very top because I imagine the decade establishing montages that set up the new season must spark the greatest writers' room debates ever about what belongs in there?

Ben Nedivi: Yes. The montage is something we continue to work on throughout the whole year. Whenever there's new ideas, you're writing in your notebook. And by the end, you're kind of formulating together. It's become this ritual of this little mini alt-documentary that's fun to do. One of the differences this year that I really liked is that some of our characters have become part of history. Suddenly, there's a movie made about Gordo (Michael Dorman) and Tracy's (Sarah Jones) experiences, which we felt would be a natural outcome. Or you're seeing Karen Baldwin (Shantel VanSanten) is becoming more and more part of the space program in her own way as an entrepreneur. Those are things I was particularly excited about doing as part of the montage.

Matt Wolper: It's very intensive and the amount of time that we spend on that montage compared with every other thing in the show is kind of mind-boggling. [Laughs.] There definitely were some things that we weren't able to include for certain legal or clearance issues that I wish we had been able to do. But it's such a great way to start off the season and to really plant ourselves in that era. I'm glad that people are responding to it.

With your ever-expanding cast of characters, how do you decide who should open the season and who best lays out the big challenges or themes explored this season?

Wolper: Episode 1 is a is a really fun episode to write for a season because you're establishing all of these things. But it's also very deceptively tricky to write. You have to be so conscious of everything, where you're headed way down the line. We go through a very intensive writers' room process where we just talk everything out ad nauseam until it's just right. For us, the opening on that hotel in space really said everything. There was an element of the 1990s that had this tech and economic boom in real life. And so the idea of a hotel in space, of commercialism making its way into Earth orbit, felt like a great way to plant the flag of what the themes of this season we're going to be. And that Karen is connected to that! Seeing this character, who has been earthbound for two seasons, in space for the first time felt like the right start to let the audience know this is not your average For All Mankind episode.

Let's talk about Margot (Wrenn Schmidt) and how the episode walks us through a very busy, but very lonely day in the life with her.

Nedivi: You saw from last season that she is someone who was so obsessed with work. And her life was for work. Then she finally opened up emotionally to someone and that person isn't there. We really wanted to capture the complexity of her situation in this first episode. And that moment, where it's just her alone, having that drink looking out the window, every time I watch it really impacts me. She's coming out of the Aleida's (Coral Peña) family where it's a loud and noisy dinner. And then that shift, I think it really does capture her state of mind in the first episode, and really what's missing in her life. I think for the first time in her life, I feel like Margo is feeling like maybe work isn't everything?

The wedding in the Polaris is jam-packed with cringe-worthy, awkward moments, including Jimmy Steven's awful speech. 

Wolper: Ben actually wrote most of that Jimmy speech in the first draft of the script. I remember reading it and laughing so hard. There's this moment where David Chandler, the actor who plays Jimmy, where he sighs in the middle of the speech when he realizes it's not going well. It gets me every time I watch it. [Laughs.]

Nedivi: And seeing Ed Baldwin — Mr. Apollo astronaut — having to be a guest in a hotel. The way Joel (Kinnaman) played it was so perfect. Just the way he's looking around at things when he's walking around, the dismissiveness of it all. That on top of his marriage being not in the best situation. We love filling in the gaps without filling in the gaps. We're not telling you what happened, but you're seeing the story of what happened between seasons. Ed captures it so well in just that awkward interaction with Karen that worked so well. They have so much history, it's sort of like you bump into your ex and your ex is succeeding beyond your dreams. You're in her business! That was so much fun to write. We've reached this point in the show, where we've all been through the journey of what they've been through. It's all there so we don't have to set anything up. You can just have fun with it. And it really came through and I think the actors really did a great job.

For All Mankind Season 3 Episode 1

Let's pivot to the last act of the episode where just a tiny piece of debris almost brings down the entire Polaris. And then Danny of all people saves everyone with that space walk!

Wolpert: From really early on, we had this crazy idea of what if we did The Towering Inferno in space? That was the big idea of the episode going into it. Then we started to unpack it. And then it was what if gravity is the monster? There's too much gravity is really the issue and that felt really unique to us. Seeing all of these characters, being pinned to the floor and not being able to move ,was really dramatic. For us, with Danny, with some of the more complicated decisions that he made in Season 2, one of the things we really want to do is give him this moment of heroism. He's a complicated character but he saved so many people's lives by really putting himself on the line, and rising to the challenge of the heroism that his parents made an example of at the end of Season 2.

Tipping up the rest of the season to come, what were you guys most excited to explore?

Nedivi: Going into this year, this idea of doing a race to Mars was fascinating. Our idea of "race to the moon" or "race to space" is usually the Russians do something, and then five months later, the Americans do something. With Mars, there's a specific, limited window in which you can launch to Mars and get there that makes the most sense to launch in those periods. As soon as we heard the science of that, that basically you have these windows once or twice a year on a two week window, we felt like that was it for the dramatic potential. It was kind of that lightbulb moment in the room. We can do a real time race? We can actually have all these ships leaving from Mars at the same time and racing at the same time towards there? There's never been anything like that. And the fact that it's actually based in science, reality made it even more appropriate for For All Mankind. Especially as we go deeper and deeper into our alt future, we try to ground the show in science as much as possible. I think for me moving into the next few episodes, just seeing that race play out in real time is is gonna be thrilling for the audience.

New episodes of For All Mankind premiere on Fridays on Apple TV+.

Check out the adventures of someone who does not represent the interests of "all mankind" in Resident Alien, which you can stream here