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For All Mankind is the unofficial Star Trek origin story we've always wanted

No, the show isn't part of Trek canon; it does share Trek's spirit, however

For All Mankind
Image credit: Apple TV+

Space, as we all know, is the final frontier of human exploration. It’s an idea that hasn't just been the guiding principle of Star Trek for the past 50+ years, but also of what was once called the Space Race: an eager acceptance of the fact that the world is not enough, and that there’s a whole infinite void out there to discover.

The thing is, by the era that Star Trek takes place in (or eras, given that the franchise takes place across multiple timeframes) space exploration has become almost second nature to humanity; the technology has been mostly worked out, and everything works as well as could be expected barring whatever problem is necessary for any given episode. This isn’t a problem, per se; I still love Star Trek very deeply, after all… but humanity as seen in those franchises is, for the most part, so significantly removed from the world as we know it today as to be almost unrecognizable. Occasionally, there might be a time travel episode that teases how we got from here to there, but the full story — the struggle, mistakes, sacrifices, and just the overwhelming effort required — is something that Star Trek has never seemed particularly in exploring.

Thankfully, another show is interested in that.

There’s a clear connection between Star Trek and Apple TV+’s For All Mankind in the presence of Ron D. Moore, who co-created the latter show alongside Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi and wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and a handful of Star Trek movies in the 1990s. What might be obvious but arguably more important is the way that For All Mankind approaches the same spirit of exploration and combining human drama and science-fictional elements to create something that feels, as much as anything else, like the Star Trek origin story that we’ve always wanted.

That’s not what it is, of course; ignoring the inherent legal implications — Star Trek is owned by CBS, For All Mankind by Apple — there are significant differences that would prevent FAM from fitting into the Star Trek chronology, not least of which being the establishment of a Mars colony by the mid-1990s… or, for that matter, the extension of the Cold War into that period, as well.

For those unfamiliar with For All Mankind, it’s an alternate history show that moves forward from one simple change to our timeline: the Russians landed on the Moon first, making the space race the next big frontier in the Cold War between the United States and the USSR. As the series progresses — each season jumps roughly a decade into the future of the last, meaning that by the upcoming fourth season, we’ve gone from the moon landing through to the early 21st century. The show has built up its own continuity and political reality that is at once recognizable as almost our world, even as the technology makes leaps into something that is, if not Star Trek-ready, then at least laying the groundwork for that kind of scenario.

Most important, however, is the human element to the show: for all the political divisions and maneuvering, For All Mankind is as much a show about overcoming artificial divisions and the need to see past our limited worldviews as Star Trek ever was… it’s just that For All Mankind is told from the point of view of those living with those limited worldviews, as opposed to our future selves, who have already evolved into better people.

For All Mankind shares Star Trek’s values, but uses them for different reasons — it’s as much a political show as Deep Space Nine, a far more daring (and deadly) show than Enterprise, and funnier than the original Star Trek while maintaining its own identity despite all those comparisons. At its best, it’s arguably the most effective science fiction drama on television in the current era and perhaps even one of television's most effective dramas, genre aside. It’s a show that more people should be watching, but especially Star Trek fans because it is, however unofficially and removed from actual Trek canon, the story about the journey to becoming the people Trek always wanted us to be, in the first place.

For All Mankind returns to Apple TV+ November 10. The first three seasons are already available to stream on the service.

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