The Apple TV+ alternate history space drama is "stronger and more confident overall than it was in its first year," says Alan Sepinwall. "Still, as the show gets farther into its alternate history — where Russia beats America to the first moon landing, inspiring an endless Cold War in space — there are draggy moments that represent the more frustrating parts of the streaming era’s 'a series is just a 10-hour movie' syndrome. But then it all somehow comes together, in two of the most thrilling and poignant episodes of television I’ve watched in a long time." He adds: "Where Season One kept skipping forward in time from 1969 through 1974, these new episodes chronicle only a few months in a parallel version of 1983, where Ronald Reagan is midway through his second term in the White House, John Lennon is still alive, and Prince Charles got to marry Camilla Parker-Bowles instead of Diana Spencer. The tiny moon base where Gordo had his freakout has expanded into a huge complex staffed by a few dozen astronauts. There’s constant gamesmanship between the American and Soviet space programs, which leads to tension between civilian NASA manager Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) and the Johnson Space Center’s top-ranking military officer, Nelson Bradford (John Marshall Jones), about whether the space program is primarily about scientific exploration or defense strategy."
For All Mankind might well be the most confounding show on television: "Part of that comes from a Season 2 time-jump, when this alternate-history look at a space race that never really ended leaps into the 1980s," says Steve Greene. "Plenty has changed and a surprising amount has stayed largely the same. But confusion also stems from more than just the newfangled timeline. Apple TV+’s most ambitious series in its fledgling originals library wavers between operatic lunar exploration saga and small-scale family drama in the decision-making rooms of the Johnson Space Center and the houses within driving distance. The show, as it’s structured, can’t exist without both. The sweeping vistas near the moon’s Shackleton crater are relatively inert without an appreciation of what gets the fictional astronauts to its doorstep. The organizational power struggles back at Houston are just set-dressed board meetings unless the show can deliver on what all that planning is leading toward."
For All Mankind tries to illustrate how individual decisions can and can't influence history. “Our show is both of those concepts meshed together,” says co-creator Matt Wolpert. “It’s about how much impact individuals can have and the structural, societal forces that are not going to change.” Fellow co-creator Ronald D. Moore adds: “It didn’t feel like suddenly, everything would be different. That didn’t seem real. We’re proceeding from one specific event and watching how the angle changes and changes and changes because of that one event. But most of the historical forces and most of the geopolitics are already happening, and already set in motion.”