For All Mankind’s Showrunners Explain Why Episode 4’s Emotional Ending Needed That Song
The early aughts nostalgia is strong in space.
Throughout For All Mankind, the pop music used has always represented the era the show was covering. Season 1 moved through 1960s and ’70s hits, while Season 2 delved into ’80s bangers like “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics. The alternate 1990s of Season 3 blasted Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” in the first trailer, which meant Season 4’s music cuts are all about the early 2000s. And in the startling ending of Episode 4, “House Divided,” a deep cut from 2003 punctuates a pivotal moment for the series.
Inverse asked showrunners Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert why this song was used, and how they make the call about which pop music is featured in an alternate timeline. Spoilers for “House Divided” ahead.
As we’ve come to expect from the series, “House Divided” brings the massive geopolitical and interplanetary stakes down to a very human level. After Svetlana Zakharova (Masha Mashkova) shoves a Soviet loyalist on Mars, the powers that be decide she’ll be yanked from the Happy Valley Mars Base and sent back to Earth to stand trial. This hits hard for Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman), not only because he’s relying on her for co-piloting help, but because the two are clearly in love.
While the audience is on Ed and Svetlana’s side, we also know that Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) is making the right call by sending her back. Vasily, the man she shoved, is a Helios worker, who are being exploited by class divisions on the base. So much of the base has turned on Svetlana, and you can see why; she’s seen as part of the elite class of astronauts and cosmonauts. But we, as the audience, know Svetlana is a good person and Vasily is backing an authoritarian regime, so having her kicked out is a gut punch. It also represents the first domino to fall for Ed Baldwin’s seemingly inevitable crack-up.
But the real reason the ending is so perfect is because of the song used to punctuate the moment when Ed walks Svetlana to the airlock to say goodbye. As they make their way through the base and Svetlana fights back tears, we hear the 2003 Cat Power track “Maybe Not.” It’s not one of her famous songs, and almost never appears on best-of lists. So why it?
“We like deeper cuts,” Ben Nedivi says. “And when that song was suggested, we felt like it was perfect for this moment. Everything the song represents is what the characters are feeling.”
Nedivi and Wolpert credit music supervisor Christine Greene Roe, saying she brings several options to the table each season to help with the song selection process. “We like finding songs that maybe, oh, I know the artist, but I’m not familiar with that song,” Nedivi says. “We don’t want to necessarily put the top pop songs of the time in the show.” Proof? Later in the season we’ll hear a great Modest Mouse track that’s not “Float On.”
That said, For All Mankind did use the 2003 Franz Ferdinand mega-hit “Take Me Out” in its Season 4 trailer. “That was a genre-defining song,” Wolpert explains. “We had to use that one. It defined an era.”
Nedivi and Wolpert won’t reveal what happens when the series catches up to the present day in hypothetical future seasons. Will we suddenly start hearing Taylor Swift or Billie Eilish? While Season 5 has yet to be confirmed, it would presumably be set sometime in the 2010s, so it seems like a reasonable assumption.
“We definitely have said from the beginning, the intention is to get to the present,” Wolpert says. “Having a season where it’s airing in the time it’s set in would be amazing to us. It really will embody what the show is, look at the world that could have been, as well as the world that is.”