‘For All Mankind’ Creators Unpack Season 4 Finale and Series’ Future: ‘Is Anything Safe on This Show?’

Plus, learn how Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert settled on that M83 needle drop

For All Mankind
Apple TV+/Sony

Apple TV+’s “For All Mankind” is one of the very best shows on television – a whip-smart, ruthlessly entertaining alternate history take on the space race, where the cosmos are divvied up by countries and corporations and human greed and the spirit of exploration compete for resources and attention. And Season 4, which just concluded, might be the best season yet. It introduced new characters and subplots while retaining what makes “For All Mankind” such a singular, emotional experience.

TheWrap chatted with Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert, who co-created the show with Ron Moore, about where Season 4’s unique structure came from, casting young heartthrob Daniel Stern in a pivotal new role and where the show could be headed from here.

Major spoilers for Season 4 follow.

When did the heist structure of the latter part of this season fall into place?

Ben Nedivi: I think it was early in the writers’ room because it’s when we started. I remember we were talking about the asteroid mining and we wanted the things in the show to play on greed and where do things go when suddenly you introduce the labor force into Mars that aren’t the astronauts and engineers. And I remember as we were breaking out the season, I don’t know who even pitched or how it came up, but I remember when it did, it was that lightning bolt moment in the room that happens every once in a while where we all right away almost fall to the floor of like, “Yes, yes, we have to do that.” And it is funny because it was very exciting. I remember that moment was like, “Oh, we got to do the heist.” But then of course, then saying, “OK, how do we do a heist in the ‘For All Mankind’ grounded way of our show?” That was really one of the big challenges – doing it in a way that felt real. And I think that’s why there’s a build to it that you see in the setup to the season and then you see in episode eight that kind of around the horn that really grounds it in science the way we try to do everything else with the show.

What unlocked it?

Matt Wolpert: Well, it was certainly that grounding it in the character experience and why they’re all doing this, but I think it was also just getting into the nitty gritty of in the “For All Mankind” tradition, what is the trajectory that needs to change? It suddenly felt like “For All Mankind” when we were talking about burn times and orbits and things like that that I think when you’re having fun just brainstorming, you’re like, they’re stealing an asteroid. It sounds really cool but then when characters in “For All Mankind” are talking that way, it doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t feel like it’s a part of the show. It’s really about the science of how you would actually do this that really grounded it.

The miraculous thing about that last episode in particular is how it’s as emotional as it is thrilling. What is it like fashioning those moments and making sure that the emotional beats register with the same force as the big action moments?

Ben Nedivi: Yeah, I think that’s always really the biggest challenge with the finales because for us, they’re always very action packed. But really the DNA of this show is the emotion and the fact that you’ve been with these characters now, not only for four seasons, but for four decades. And I think what that gives you is the weight of when these things happen to these characters, you feel like you’ve been with them almost their whole lives. It just carries so much weight.

And I think not only for the audience, but honestly for us as the writers working on it, we feel the responsibility to do right by them and their story arc. In that finale, I think a lot of what made it really work for us was it allowed us to tie all the different story threads together, even Margo and Aleida being on earth. One of the challenges was how do you tie earth to Mars now that there’s that five-minute communication delay? It was easy because in season one and two, that delay wasn’t as much of a factor, and now it is. We thought instead of forcing it or breaking the reality, embrace the delay a little bit.

And I think that’s what makes the show so unique in a way. We’re science fiction, but we really try to both maintain that level of realism and also really it’s a story about characters and characters’ lives. I think that’s what I’m most gratified with – the way that finale ended up. That for all the talk of the heist and the riots and the big explosions and the action sequences, I think one of the things I’m most proud of is kind of the character story in that episode and how those come about.

You guys having second thoughts about the whole jumping-forward-a-decade-each-season thing?

Matt Wolpert: We started questioning that in season two. We’re like, man, this is harder than we thought. What were we thinking? But yeah, it’s definitely a double-edged sword because it’s very difficult to pull off and there’s a lot of thinking that goes into building of the world each season, like more than in a normal television show where you’re just picking up where you left off. We have to fully build out what happened in those 10 years and what happened in those characters’ lives, putting aside all the makeup and period changes.

But on the flip side is moments like between Margo and Aleida in the finale where there’s four decades of emotion packed into looks and lines of dialogue that you’ve seen how they’ve gotten there over time and evolved over time. And it’s really the promise of the premise of the show is season four, seeing how much the world has changed that you couldn’t do if those time jumps weren’t a part of the show. And seeing these characters’ lives unfold before you. As hard as it is, I’m so grateful for that construct.

It’s great that you said, “We need some fresh energy, we need to get the kids excited, let’s hire Daniel Stern.”

Ben Nedivi: Yeah, it’s so funny because when his name came up, it was almost undeniable. We had to make that work somehow. But it’s interesting that the instinct of… We didn’t want it to be, as the show evolved, I think something we talked about a lot is not doing that like “90210: College Years” change, where suddenly the whole cast changes and it’s the next generation. I think we really intentionally wanted the evolution to be gradual. And I think part of that is honestly just practical. It’s screen time. And I think in that way, it doesn’t feel like you’re handing off the whole show. It feels like certain characters are staying with us and we’re introducing one or two new major characters every season and bringing them into the fold in connection with our other characters, or in the case this season, in connection with a broader theme or a new story area with what we do with Miles.

And I think that’s something that I like how that’s opened up the possibility of storytelling for us as well, because the space program season one and where we’re at evolves as well with those time jumps. In season one, it was about hot shot pilots and engineers, and as space travel becomes more normalized, the types of people who go to space aren’t going to just be hot shot pilots and engineers. I think it allows us to not only be able to tell the storytelling of characters over lives, but it also allows us to tell the story of other types of people who go to space.

The show has this great subplot about unionization and workers’ rights and it’s so serendipitous that it came out when it did. Was that something that was already in the air?

Ben Nedivi: It’s very odd on some level. Because we write the season way before we even shoot the season and even further before it comes out. It was written before a lot of this labor unrest, especially the Writers Guild. When it started happening, we were actually worried that people were going to think, “Oh, of course these writers are just talking about their own issues.” But no, it must’ve been in the air, but I think also it was a natural extension of the storyline we were telling. If you’re going to send up labor to Mars, it almost feels, especially with the labor being out there and leaving their families behind, it was almost that classic story of not only labor, but the cost of leaving your families behind and the immigration story from time immemorial of having to make a living, having to make a better life because you can’t any longer on earth. I think it naturally led to that kind of tension we had this season. It really came naturally. It wasn’t something we necessarily even set out to do early on.

One of the hallmarks for the season finale has been the needle drop and the tease of the following season. How did M83 come about and how early do you start thinking about this?

Ben Nedivi: Yeah, in fact our music supervisor, Christine Green, she actually sends us music early on, even while we’re writing, to listen as we’re writing, to get in our head from the era. I think Matt and I, in the past, we kind of would wait until we did the finale probably to start thinking about it. Now we know to get ahead of it because you need to get the rights and everything. But it’s funny how the pressure on that song has grown now that there’s so much attention on it compared to early on.

It was interesting, not to age ourselves here, but I feel like in Season 3 and Season 3, we were more in our wheelhouse in terms of the music of the era and what we wanted. We knew “Come as You Are,” we knew that very early on. We knew the Radiohead song very early on and this was the first time I think we were searching. We wanted to hear more and more, and she did such an amazing job giving us those selections that we found throughout the season. I think for that finale, that final image, that final scene, it was really tricky to be honest, to find a song that captured [everything]. Because what we’re trying to do there is not only capture the feeling of the moment, but also capture the flash forward and idea of where the show is going in many ways.

And I remember when we heard that one on a gut… And usually the gut is what you go with when it comes with music. It felt right. It just felt connecting Dev, the shot going up the asteroid, it felt like the appropriate song for that moment. And anything we heard other than that, while we heard some amazing options, didn’t quite live up to that song.

So yeah, it is something we take really seriously. It’s maybe the most fun element of the show is really being able to find these needle drops that capture the era, but also help tell the story of that specific moment.

What do we know about Season 5? How are you both feeling about it?

Ben Nedivi: Exhausted? No, we are hopeful. I think it’s not official yet, but I feel we’re feeling optimistic. The reaction to the show has been incredible. And honestly, from what we’re told, the viewership keeps growing season after season. And we can even feel it tangentially, the amount of people following the show and the kind of fans we have, it grows. And I think if it keeps growing the way it has, there’s no reason it can’t continue.

In terms of Season 5, I think we always know we had this road map early on of where we go season to season and we’ve always had it in the back of our minds, kind of a six- to seven-season arc that at least gets us to where we are. And that last image definitely reflects a little bit of where we think we are in that world. And I’ll just throw out there, there’s a little Easter egg in that last shot, too, that even further hints at what we may want to explore in a Season 5. I think it’s always the little we know we kind of set up there, but we also are hoping we can really build on what we’ve already done.

Is there an approach you have in mind for the characters? There’s a very scary idea that some of our favorites could die in between seasons.

Ben Nedivi: Is anything safe on this show?

Matt Wolpert: Yeah, it’s “For All Mankind,” you can’t assume anything. But look, we always want to, as we begin to start talking about the next season, leave ourselves flexibility because we do have this arc that we mapped out early on, but we like to leave space within that to be creative and find the best idea. We’re definitely conscious of the fact that there are many characters in the show who are approaching very old age, but how each of them might stay or leave the show I think is up in the air. I think there are certain characters that are more likely than not to see less of. I think when we talk about Danielle for example, I think this was sort of the end of that character’s arc in a big way. Like with other characters, you might see them again at some point in the future, but with other characters, I don’t know. It’s kind of to be determined.

All four seasons of “For All Mankind” are streaming now on Apple TV+.

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