The Best Sci-Fi Show of 2023 Just Dropped a Secretly Brilliant Twist
Who are the secret spies? In real life, you’d never actually know.
In the penultimate episode of For All Mankind Season 4, “Brazil,” the United States and USSR decide the time is right to reveal that there’s an undercover CIA agent and KGB agent working right alongside Helios employees and NASA astronauts at the Happy Valley Mars base. Smack-dab in the middle of the episode, base commander Danielle Poole has to deal with the fact that two people she’s been working with have been spies.
What’s brilliant about this twist lies in the identities of these characters. In blowing the cover of two Martian secret agents, For All Mankind avoided one lazy trope that so many lesser TV shows might have fallen back on. Spoilers ahead.
In “Brazil,” we learn the secret KGB agent is actually Timur Avilov (Nikita Bogolyubov), and the CIA guy is Mike Bishop (Billy Lush). Who? What? Are we supposed to be shocked? Did we even notice these guys before?
As Danielle makes clear, these innocuous characters have been kicking around since the start of the season, saying, “I’m not surprised that there’s intelligence operatives up here, but Mike, I’d never thought you’d be one of them.” Mike Bishop, a character whose name you’ve likely already forgotten, is a NASA team leader who’s been around for several crucial scenes. As he tells Danielle, “I wouldn’t be much good at my job if you did [suspect me].”
Avilov, meanwhile, was part of the big Helios workers’ strike earlier in the season, which he tells Danielle was part of his cover. He’s also hung around the scenes set in the base’s secret speakeasy. But, cleverly, we never noticed either of them. And with this revelation, For All Mankind reaffirmed its commitment to realism, and dodged an annoying spy trope in the process.
Why For All Mankind’s latest spy trick works
When the idea of undercover agents was broached earlier in the season, viewers probably assumed the CIA and KBG operatives would be characters we’d gotten to know well. Was Sam (Tyner Rushing) really CIA? Could Ed’s beloved Svetlana (Masha Mashkova)have been KGB? Was that the real reason the USSR wanted her recalled to Earth?
But no. The deep-cover agents in For All Mankind aren’t beloved main characters we’re now forced to see in a different light, and so this twist is nothing like something from The Americans or Battlestar Galactica. And that’s because, crucially, these two spies aren’t even close to being main characters. They didn’t behave suspiciously in previous episodes, the camera doesn’t linger on them, and there’s almost zero indication we’re even supposed to care about them. And that’s because they’re good at their jobs as spies.
Dramatically, one could argue For All Mankind is pulling its punch. It would have been a game-changer if, say, Sam Massey revealed she’s CIA. Having someone at the heart of the asteroid heist plot secretly working against the conspiracy would have been shocking, but it also would have undercut Sam’s sincerity and idealism. If she or Svetlana had been a spy, we would have needlessly lost our affection for them.
Having the two spies be overlooked C-squad characters is one of the show’s best twists, because it feels close to how this would happen in real life. It doesn’t alter our feelings about the spies, because we were never invested in them. But it does dramatically up the stakes for the characters we do care about. By the end of the episode, Avilov and Bishop aren’t playing good-cop, bad cop with Miles Dale. They’re both unhinged space cops, and now the finale of Season 4 feels tenser than ever.