‘For All Mankind’ Co-Creator Ronald D. Moore On Climatic Season 2 Finale, Ronald Reagan, Disney Deal & What’s Next
SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details of the For All Mankind Season 2 finale
“Four patriots of different nations coming together …it was just inspirational,” says Ronald Reagan in For All Mankind’s Season 2 finale, as crews from Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft defy orders and dock to shake hands in space. “There might be a way out of this yet, if we have enough time,” the fictional voice of the 39th POTUS tells NASA boss Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) in “The Grey” as the US and the USSR careen towards nuclear conflict in the 1980s of the alternate history AppleTV+ series.
There is a way out indeed, as astronaut Dani Poole decision to meet with her Soviet counterpart diffuses the showdown with a gesture greatly appreciated by the Great Communicator as Reagan heads to a sudden peace summit in Moscow. Yes, the reunited astronaut couple Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman) and Tracey Stevens (Sarah Jones) die after saving the besieged Jamestown Moon base from a meltdown of its own and Admiral Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) makes the call not to launch nukes in space against the Communists who have taken over the American base.
However, in well-crafted end to an intricately constructed season, the Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi created FAM blasted forward figuratively and literally towards even greater horizons.
On a clear trajectory deeper into our own solar system in the upcoming Season 3 and beyond, the series that premiered in November 2019 with the premise of what would the world be like if the Soviet had reached the Moon first has created new history but with a booster rocket full of heart.
Correspondingly, having inked a big bucks deal with Disney’s 20th Television, Moore is moving on too, to some extent. The EP chatted with me about the Wolpert and Nedivi penned “The Grey”, the evolution of For All Mankind, real world connections and where’s it’s all going next season and further.
DEADLINE: It seems pretty evident with that footprint at the end and the time jump, but I got to check, is Season 3 really going to Mars?
MOORE: (LAUGHS) I mean that’s the promise of the tease at the end. Yeah, Mars will be a big part of Season 3.
DEADLINE: I know it seems self-evident, but with NASA’s Perseverance success in recent months, Mars exploration has come back into the fore. If you were pulling on historical threads for the alternate America of Seasons 1 and 2, you are getting in front of them with Season 3 and beyond, no?
MOORE: I mean the further we go along the diverging timeline, the more events start to separate themselves more, further and further away from reality. So, yes, we’re moving, events moving more quickly. Technology is changing. The footprint of the space program grows bigger than it ever did in reality. So, yeah, it felt like it’s time to go to Mars.
DEADLINE: So, with some Nirvana as our lead-out on the soundtrack here taking us to 1995, it’s always going to be 10-year jumps. So, is it fair to say that in Season 3, we’re going to see Bill Clinton as president?
MOORE: We’ll see, you know? It’s like we…I won’t give that away. We talk every season about who are the historical figures to play, and who do we not? And the same with pop culture and so on. So, all that’s sort of in the mix.
DEADLINE: To that, you have Ellen Wroe as Sally Ride and Ronald Reagan in real footage, manipulated footage and voiceover, is very much in the mix this season, very much so in the finale which lifts some of the Great Communicator’s appreciation of the dramatic moment and the real life 1986 Reykjavik Summit that almost saw he and Mikhail Gorbachev shuttered their nuclear arsenals…
MOORE: Well, that’s exactly right, and it came from that historical event. You know, I wasn’t a fan of Ronald Reagan back in the day. Let’s just be clear, I’m kind of a classic liberal Democrat, but it’s hard to say that he didn’t have a vision, as well, that he did reach out ahead to Gorbachev. He was willing to consider taking all nuclear weapons off the table at a certain point, and he was able to seize the moment of history when it was presented to him, and so, we decided let’s lean into that version of Ronald Reagan.
DEADLINE: In a deepflake way?
MOORE: Sort of. Let’s lean into the version of Reagan that was willing to look to a world that would be safer, denuclearized, and would do a dramatic move. You know flying Air Force One to Moscow is something that I think the old actor with a sense of the moment and a sense of drama would do. I can see him doing that because he could seize the stage and do some big, dramatic move like that to sort of strike a chord for peace.
DEADLINE: In this version of the 1980s, with the weaponization of space and your version of the Star Wars program, was there anything you had to cut to make it work and set up the stakes for next season?
MOORE: No. I think we pretty much hit the big target.
I mean we wanted to do a Cold War piece, and we wanted to build towards a Cuban Missile Crisis in space kind of climax that would resolve itself. The idea of the two superpowers getting to a point where the nuclear apocalypse was in the offing and that it would be resolved by the actions of the people in the space program.
I think we hit that mark pretty successfully, but there’s little things along the way that we wanted to do in the background. There’s always more Easter eggs and historical references that you never get a chance to do, but I’d, say by and large, we pretty much accomplished what we set out to do.
DEADLINE: At the set visit a few years back, you talked about how you had For All Mankind planned out and where it was going. Are you still on track?
MOORE: I think so. Like I did say, we have this overall framework for the series, and we’re still on that general track.
DEADLINE: No speed bumps?
MOORE: Well, every season, we’ve stopped at the beginning and said, all right, this is where we thought we were going to be in Season 2 or Season 3, is that still where we want to be? What are the lessons we learned on the previous season? You know some characters have changed in ways we didn’t anticipate, or events like Perseverance, for that matter.
So, we’ve moved some story elements around because we always kind of reset. Hopefully, it still continues down the road where you want it, where we keep making these jumps, and it just keeps going on into the future, and you move pretty aggressively into much more of a science-fiction universe the further out you go. So, I’m still happy that it seems like the plan is still holding.
DEADLINE: More of a sci-fi universe? That sounds like the Cold War and the Information Superhighway are being left in the dust?
MOORE: When I say a traditional sci-fi, I mean, when you say a science fiction space show, you see space ships and colonies and moon bases and so on, and then, that’s really where you’re living, in a world that’s not our own.
The further this show evolves, the closer that kind of future becomes, and the more the story lives in space, either on Mars, or the moons of Saturn, or Venus, or wherever, other than Earth. The Earth-based component, I think, will always be there. It’ll always be important to touch base with it and because Earth will still the home to the vast majority of humanity. Yet, as the show progresses, I think it’s going to feel more science fiction. It’s going to feel more like, okay, here’s a future that we could’ve had, that we still can have, but hasn’t really arrived yet.
DEADLINE: Speaking of futures that have arrived, you and your Tall Ships Productions have this big deal with Disney now via 20th TV and working on Swiss Family Robinson with Jon Chu and exploring the Magic Kingdom universe. So, how are you balancing your time between those projects and your Sony TV produced shows like Outlander and For All Mankind?
MOORE: I mean these are good problems to have, and it’s been kind of a kick because I have been able to a way to balance it all, you know? I check in on Outlander, and then, I’ve had more involvement with Mankind, but at the same time I’m deep in development on the newer stuff.
At this point. I’m really working actively on shows for 20th, and so far, it’s all been kind of, I don’t know, it’s been a little too easy. I’m sure it’s going to get crazy at a certain point, but for the moment, I’ve been able to schedule it accordingly and get the work out accordingly, and it’s been great.
DEADLINE: Matt Roberts’ pretty established as the showrunner on Outlander and Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi on For All Mankind, are you at the point where you have effectively step back and let these self-generating machines run?
MOORE: I mean it’s moving into that point, you know, very soon.
DEADLINE: Kind of already there, my friend…
MOORE: Well, yeah. Matt and Ben really are carrying the lion’s share of the burden in Season 3. I’ve been in the writer’s room. I read the scripts. I will look at cuts, but they’re the guys that are really on the ground and doing the hard lifting, because on any show, no matter what the writer’s room decided and broke and whatever the script was, there’s still a lot of actual changes that happen on the fly, on the day. They’re really the guys that are carrying the load. So, as we get further and further down the line, they’ll just take more and more of that burden in much the same way that Matt Roberts has taken, a lot or most of the burden on Outlander by now.
DEADLINE: A lot different business than when you started or even the Battlestar Galactica era…
MOORE: The marketplace has just expanded, exponentially, since I started in the business in 1989.
I mean, in those days it was the three main networks, plus Fox, and cable was just starting, really, to do original, and then syndication was kind of a niche market, and it was really hard to pitch things.
MOORE: When I went out in the world after Trek and was pitching pilots and things, it was very difficult because you had to pitch to the broadest possible audience Wacky ideas were really frowned on, and everything had to be a copy of something else in one way, shape, or form.
Now, you’ve gotten into this world where whatever idea I’ve got, whether it’s an obscure piece of IP, or it’s a wacky idea of my own, I can feel fairly secure that I’m at least going to be able to pitch it. That someone out there is going to take that pitch. They may not make it, but they’re going to listen to it, and that’s a whole different reality for someone who does what I do because I’ve just seen it grow and grow and grow, where now there really are no limits to what you can make except your imagination, because the marketplace is so broad and the audience is so ravenous for content that you can find a home for anything if it’s good, you know?
DEADLINE: That marketplace took a hit of sorts with Covid this past year. How was it for you guys handling the new reality of production once you were back at work?
MOORE: We were locked into a lot of it because we were so far down the line in the story. We couldn’t really make huge changes. So, it still is pretty much the same story, the same script, but it was difficult to do things like Mission Control scenes.
MOORE: We had to be careful how we shot them. We isolated people. Sometimes, we’d drop in digital people into the background to kind of make it feel more full than it was actually on the day.
You know the funeral at the end of “The Grey,” at Arlington, certainly, what we had planned was that the final beats there at the gravesite would’ve been in front of a big crowd of people…
DEADLINE: Pomp and ceremony …
MOORE: Yeah, lots of uniformed military and dignitaries. This was supposed to be one of those big Arlington state funeral things, and we just couldn’t do it. There was just no way we could handle that, so we opted for what you saw. We altered stock footage to show that Reagan is there and gave a big eulogy with all their coffins lined up, because there were more than just Tracy and Gordo died up there. So, everyone was there, and then, there was this more private moment for just the people of her immediate circle that we shot.
DEADLINE: Michael Dorman and Sarah Jones obviously aren’t coming back for a third season, and Joel Kinnaman and Chantal VanSanten’s Ed Baldwin and Karen Baldwin are in a bad place at the end of the season, literally going different directions after the funeral of two of their closest friends. Similar to The Crown, characters are moving through time in real time, aging out so to speak, and add to that the time jumps. Which is a way of saying, you are going to more places than Mars in Season 3?
MOORE: I think that’s all correct. Part of it is the sort of unique structure of the show, which by jumping these decades, you start forcing the show into more of a generational piece. So, you have to have certain characters are moving out of the story. Other characters are coming up behind them, and that’ll continue as we move into the future …
DEADLINE: Like Ed and Karen’s adopted daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu), now going into the Navy herself?
MOORE: Yeah, and also, because you’re moving ahead a decade at a time, it felt like all the characters should move into different parts of their lives. They shouldn’t just be the same people that you saw in Season 1, which is usually what you’re doing in a TV show. You’re usually sort of extending the story you’ve had, and you’re moving characters. You are evolving them, but you’re not radically evolving them, but when you’re making a 10-year jump, you really want to move them into a completely new chapter of their life.
So, with Margo (Wrenn Schmidt) as an example, you know, she’s had quite a journey from Wernher von Braun’s protégé all the way to director of JSC. She has a certain moral high ground and principled outlook on life that we felt could lead her rather easily into this scenario because it does come from her, you know? They didn’t lay a trap for Margo, per se.
They didn’t set up, a classic kind of honeypot kind of espionage thing, where they sent someone to seduce her, or whatever. Margo reaches out to Sergei (Piotr Adamczyk) and then, they see an opportunity. Then they slowly are starting to reel her in. So, that felt like it came from Margo’s character, and it felt very organic to sort of the character you had seen. The Margo who’s willing to do that is not the same Margo that you saw in Season 1, who was still trying to just get her feet under herself and establish herself and her authority and her position with NASA. In Season 2, she can start saying, you know what, I don’t think this is right, and I’m going to do something about it.
DEADLINE: We’ve spoken many times about different shows and seasons, you sound different this time about this finale…
MOORE: You know I’m very proud of the finale. I’m very proud of the season.
I salute my cast, my ensemble cast that just really takes on this challenge. Season after season of moving characters ahead 10 years at a jump, is, I think, a unique acting challenge that they all have taken on and that they’ve all succeeded at. I’m very, very proud of this cast and sad to see Sarah and Michael go, but they were extraordinary members of the ensemble, and we will miss them always.
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