For All Mankind: Nixon's Women
November 3, 2019 7:56 AM - Season 1, Episode 3 - Subscribe

After the USSR lands the the first woman on the Moon, NASA scrambles to assemble a crop of women astronaut candidates, known as ASCANs. The candidates endure months of extremely difficult training, steadily winnowing their number. Women around the world are inspired by the Soviet cosmonaut and the NASA ASCANs.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich (14 comments total)
 
I took a look at the early critical reviews before I decided to watch the show, and so far the reviews have been middling. Watching the first three episodes with my expectations thusly set, I've found them greatly surpassed and I'm puzzled why critics are, in my strong opinion, underrating this show.

It's got pacing like a miniseries; it's slow and deliberate with a big cast, attention to detail, and a lot of characterization. I think this is a good thing.

It's hard not to root for Tracy, even though she's taken the places of more qualified women. It's entirely unreasonable to expect her to give up just because Deke can't cut her. Good for her for refusing to quit. She's in a no-win situation -- if she becomes an astronaut, there will still be an implicit asterisk by her name in the minds of her peers and her own. It's unfair to the other candidates but it's unfair to her, too, and for that reason I'm rooting for her to succeed.

The candidate who crashed at the end was Patty, the affable Mercury 13 vet, just recently out of Molly's shadow. That makes me sad. Where was she in the flight order? If it was reverse ranking order, placing Tracy first, then I guess Patty might have been the final pilot and the others were successful. I hope.

It makes me happy that Gwen Schmidt is in this ("Margo"). She keeps showing up on shows I watch and I'm very fond of her.

I thought Karen's meltdown about Tracy was a nice touch -- she's so invested in the status quo of the helpmate role (which she takes very seriously and, indeed, is a true partner in her husband's career) that this new development is naturally very threatening to her. This sort of dynamic is usually ignored in feel-good stories of empowerment, but it's common and we should be generous to Karen about it.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:32 AM on November 3 [5 favorites]


The best episode so far and a promising sign for the rest of the series. It shows they're capable of doing more than the repeating usual NASA cliches and it solidifies the ensemble nature not just of the cast but also the writers (this ep was by Nichole Beattie).

To be honest, I was surprised they burned through this much plot in a single ep. You can imagine other shows spinning it out over an entire season, but it had much more impact in a single hour. As Ivan mentions, the dynamics of all the different women ASCANs and Karen's reaction was really well done; everyone knows this is a PR move, but it's also still really important.

I don't know whether I need to give them props for mentioning the Mercury 13, anyone writing this show knows about them, but I'm still glad to see them in a prestige TV drama.

On a wider note, I think all the Apple TV shows have been judged quite critically. I don't think that's a terrible thing – when you're Apple, you're going to draw that kind of attention, especially when you hype it up so much – but it would be a shame if the early critic reactions put people off shows entirely. DIckinson has also been much better than I expected from reviews.
posted by adrianhon at 9:46 AM on November 3 [5 favorites]


Something I noticed whilst watching this episode: it covers the first half of 1970, but there's no mention of the Apollo 13 accident. That seems too big an omission not to be deliberate, so perhaps it didn't happen the same way in this timeline, in which case I wonder if we're being set up for a different spaceflight crisis?
posted by Major Clanger at 1:19 PM on November 3


I think they didn’t do 13’s issue because of presumed care post 11 near miss.
posted by tilde at 11:58 AM on November 4 [1 favorite]


Another very nice bit of attention to both space history and how it might have developed differently is the scene where evidence of ice is discovered.

The space probe we see* is a Lunar Orbiter, five of which flew 1966-7 to map potential Apollo landing sites and do general lunar survey. I was delighted at the internal zoom into the probe's interior, which showed how the Lunar Orbiters really worked - yes, without good enough TV cameras for high-resolution images, and with no way to easily return film, they developed film on board and electronically scanned for transmission back to Earth. A few years ago the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project reprocessed image data from the original 2" analog tapes (which meant rebuilding tape players!) using modern techniques to produce images that, for the first time, reflected the original camera quality and avoid the very 'stripey' look of the images as originally seen.

Now, I can well imagine that with a refocus to establishing a permanent lunar base NASA might have launched a second round of Lunar Orbiter probes, this time focussing on areas that were not looked at in our timeline, where Apollo landing sites were chosen initially for ease of landing and then for scientific and geological interest. Although lunar ice might not have been as easy to spot as the episode suggested (in reality, it's only in the last few years that reasonably firm evidence has emerged) I still think it's valid and interesting story-telling in the context of FAM's scenario to show some discoveries happening earlier with a different scientific focus driven by different goals.

*By the way, the whole reframe-and-zoom-in, as if there was actually a camera in space filming the scene, was a staple of Battlestar Galactica. Nice to see Ron Moore referencing his earlier shows.
posted by Major Clanger at 12:21 PM on November 4 [4 favorites]


Oh, reminds me, nice deepfake of Bewitched talking about female astronaut
S... and I’m glad they put in other broadcasters besides their Cronkite.
posted by tilde at 2:59 PM on November 4 [1 favorite]


I Dream of Jeannie, but you probably made the mistake because it followed Bewitched, which itself followed Gilligan’s Island, on the TV every afternoon when you got home from school.

Then you switched channels and watched an episode of Star Trek.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:51 PM on November 4 [4 favorites]


Vulture says that was a real episode of I Dream of Jeannie:
Were you impressed by how the For All Mankind production team was able to doctor an old episode of I Dream of Jeannie to make it seem like Barbara Eden was talking about lady astronauts? Well, be impressed the opposite way — instead it appears to be a clip from the 1968 episode “Operation: First Couple on the Moon” (clearly a rerun), a real episode in which Jeannie’s astronaut husband gets sent into space with Jeannie’s evil twin sister.
posted by adrianhon at 1:59 AM on November 5 [5 favorites]


This episode is the all women reboot of The Right Stuff that we've been waiting for! The acceptance of the old-school astronauts of the new candidates is refreshing and I'm really hoping that they aren't running it like a reality show until one ASCAN is left; Deke should know that the program needs backup astronauts as well as filling multiple missions.

I realize that the training montage has to run at the speed of plot, but two things bothered me. Putting novice pilots into a T38 and judging their first landing is a poor way to assess their skills. Strapping non-rotorcraft pilots into the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle and expecting them to last more than a few seconds is negligent homicide.

The LLRV "flying bedstead" was not a tame aircraft and three of the five were destroyed in crashes. LLRV #1 almost killed Armstrong due to loss of steering propellant and gusty winds. After bailing out and walking away from the flaming wreckage, he went back to the office to fill out paperwork. The other two were fly-by-wire failures and both pilots ejected safely.
posted by autopilot at 6:39 AM on November 5 [4 favorites]


The film cameras and onboard developing that Major Clanger mentioned is such an amazing bit of tech. Since the Lunar Orbiter had no delta-V for a return mission, it had to do it all onboard and send the scans back. Earth observation satellites of the era (KEYHOLE, GABMIT and HEXAGON) had an even hackier solution: eject the film spools to deorbit them and catch the canisters out of the air with an airplane before they fell into the ocean.
posted by autopilot at 6:47 AM on November 5 [1 favorite]


Oh heavens I’m getting old ... I can’t belive I got my magical women mixed up
posted by tilde at 9:19 AM on November 5


Ivan Fyodorovich's mention of Star Trek reminds me - those were the Vasquez Rocks that the ASCANs were struggling through, weren't they?

(The linked page agrees, but I can't find any independent corroboration. That said, they're pretty distinctive.)
posted by Major Clanger at 2:18 AM on November 6 [1 favorite]


Ivan Fyodorovich: I thought Karen's meltdown about Tracy was a nice touch -- she's so invested in the status quo of the helpmate role (which she takes very seriously and, indeed, is a true partner in her husband's career) that this new development is naturally very threatening to her.

My reading of that scene was not (only?) that her husband's career was trivialized, but that Tracy was promoted to a place of national attention and possibly for significant advances for the roles of women, where Karen was still the ever-dutiful housewife, doing the emotional labor that supports her husband's career.


Notes on the Mercury 13 (previously) -- this was an actual group of women who had extensive flight history, who were tested by, and passed, the same rigorous criteria that selected the original Mercury Seven, and one of the major reasons why their secret testing and passing of criteria wasn't enough for their further consideration as astronauts was John Glenn's testimony. He believed that "The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order," but this sounds like sour grapes, because John Glenn conceded that he had been assigned to NASA's Mercury Project without having earned the required college degree. NASA also required all astronauts to be graduates of military jet test piloting programs, which prohibited women pilots at this time, so they could never qualify. The Air Force didn't open Undergraduate Pilot Training to women until 1976.

Jerrie (not Molly) Cobb was a very real (and very badass) pilot, an aviation pioneer and advocate for women in space who passed away in April of this year. And I realize her show-name might also be a nod to Wally Funk, another of the Mercury 13, and she's still alive. But Patty Doyle's name doesn't appear to be a tribute to any of the Mercury 13.


Ivan Fyodorovich: The candidate who crashed at the end was Patty, the affable Mercury 13 vet, just recently out of Molly's shadow. That makes me sad. Where was she in the flight order?

Flight order. Tracy, Patty, Ellen, Dani, Molly. (source: rough transcript)
posted by filthy light thief at 11:31 AM on November 8


On a wider note, I think all the Apple TV shows have been judged quite critically. I don't think that's a terrible thing – when you're Apple, you're going to draw that kind of attention, especially when you hype it up so much – but it would be a shame if the early critic reactions put people off shows entirely. DIckinson has also been much better than I expected from reviews.

I'm enjoying this show more than a number of programs I've seen on TV in the recent years, and Dickenson is fascinating and fun, also better than many things on broadcast or cable TV.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:33 AM on November 8 [1 favorite]


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