Living in an alternate dimension without the science fiction television created by Ronald D. Moore would be the worst possible timeline.
As the co-creator of the alternate history spaceflight series For All Mankind, Moore’s spent the past few years thinking hard about alternate universes, but we’re all lucky to live in the one where he became such a dynamic and thoughtful influence on sci-fi TV.
In 1989, Moore sold a spec script to Star Trek: The Next Generation and rapidly become an integral part of the writers’ room on that groundbreaking series. He went on to write and produce Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as well as co-write the screenplays for two Trek feature films, including the beloved 1996 modern classic First Contact.
In the 2000s, Moore co-created the rebooted Battlestar Galactica with David Eick. Since then, he’s lent his talents to the super-popular time travel drama Outlander, and most recently, the mega-ambitious alternate history spaceflight series, For All Mankind, which he co-created with Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi.
“Everything is still on the table.”
Although Moore is leaving Sony for a larger deal with Disney, he's gone on record saying he will still be deeply involved with For All Mankind’s upcoming third season, following the explosive just-aired Season 2 finale. Moore also tells Inverse that his vision of For All Mankind extends to at least a “seven-year arc” with the possibility of going even further.
“Each season would go roughly 10 years into the future. So you catch up to the modern-day and go a little bit into the future,” Moore says. “Or you can decide that the show is going gangbusters and you go past the endpoint. Everything is still on the table.”
For those who have slept on For All Mankind, the show premiered in 2019 on Apple TV+ and kicks off an alternate NASA timeline splintering from the moment when USSR lands on the moon before the U.S. in 1969. In Season 1, this event amps up the space program to the point that by the time we get to the show’s the alternate 1973, there’s a NASA moonbase.
In Season 2, which debuted in 2021, we’ve jumped ahead in this timeline to 1983, which has led to a thrilling exploration of what spaceflight would like in this universe, and how political struggles may have played out with weapons on the Moon, and what the world would look like if John Lenon was never killed. For fans of good drama, science fiction, Ron Moore’s writing, or all of the above, For All Mankind is perhaps the best show on TV — mostly because there’s literally nothing quite like it.
Just before the Season 2 finale, Inverse caught up with Moore for a chat about all things For All Mankind, Star Trek Easter eggs, whether or not Gordo is a Cylon, how writing this show was different than Battlestar, and what’s in store for Season 3 after that big time-jump to an alternate 1994.
Something that is so refreshing about For All Mankind is that there are not really season-long mysteries or secrets driving the story. It feels like you and the other writers are avoiding that “mystery box” thing that a lot of other prestige TV relies on. Was that intentional?
A lot of it has to do with the specific structure and format of what we're doing. We were so constantly focused on the alternate history aspect of the show and creating an alternate history that was plausible and tethered to reality but also reminded the audience of the decade that it's in. Even though you're diverging from history in the 1980s, there are still touchstones of eighties culture like The Wrath of Khan and Ronald Reagan and the space shuttle and Michael Jackson.
That lent itself to a more linear process as we move through it, making sure A leads to B leads to C, and not a structure where you’re laying in a deep mystery and unraveling it. That would have been like structure on top of structure, and that’s just too many things for us to try to figure out. I don’t think we were ever tempted to go in that direction. It also just kind of played to my strengths. I grew up in a more episodic format and I’ve very comfortable with that style of storytelling. It seemed the cleanest and best way to tell our kind of story.
Is there a plan for how long this goes on? Without spoiling anything, can you give us an idea of how many decades the show can explore? Are we going into the future at some point? Can you tell us the master plan?
There is a plan. There was generally a seven-year arc of structure that we pitched originally. Each season would go roughly 10 years into the future. So, you catch up to the modern-day and go a little bit into the future. That said, these things are changeable and organic. We approach each season fresh, even though we have a big framework of what the next season’s supposed to be. We always start at the beginning and say, okay this is what we talked about two years ago, let’s make sure this still holds up. Is this still where we want to go?
“That’s one of the tantalizing ideas of the series.”
So you could come to a point where you decide to end the show at a certain point. Or you can decide that the show is going gangbusters and you go past the endpoint. Everything is still on the table. But yeah, the plan was to go into the future to catch up, to see what is the world we would live in today. How would that be different [in this timeline]? That’s one of the tantalizing ideas of the series. And then what would go beyond that. I think that is still the ambition of what we're trying to do.
Let’s talk about the alternate pop culture that’s happening in the background of this 1983. The Real Ghostbusters cartoon is on TV three years early. And the big one is that The Wrath of Khan is out a year late in 1983 instead of 1982, which puts it out the same summer as Return of the Jedi. So, is that like a different movie than the one we got in our timeline?
Well. Yes. Star Trek. Actually, I did spend some time thinking about that and in my head. None of this has been set down, I haven’t talked about this formally. But in my head, The Wrath of Khan is the first Star Trek movie [in the For All Mankind timeline]. They probably did the Star Trek: Phase II show that has always been talked about. The original Star Trek went off the air before the Apollo II landing.
In my version of history, Paramount does make the Phase II show in the mid-seventies. And then they transitioned into Wrath of Khan and not Star Trek: The Motion Picture, because of the run of the lengthy and glorious, and critically acclaimed run of Phase II, it’s a year later that The Wrath of Khan comes out. But it’s still The Wrath of Khan that we know and it was essentially the same story. I love The Wrath of Khan and I couldn’t bear to change that. So it’s the same thing.
Any other ‘80s pop culture zig-zags you were thinking about but didn’t do?
Well, John Lennon is alive in our 1983. And at one point it wasn’t just going to be John Lennon out there doing stuff. There was going to be a whole Beatles reunion tour happening. And then I just realized once that happened, I’m going to start raising flags all over the place and I’m going to be getting calls from lawyers. So, I was like, let’s just do John Lennon. But that was probably the only big thing we talked about like that.
“There was going to be a whole Beatles reunion tour happening.”
I love that Danielle (Krys Marshall) quotes Captain Kirk from “A Taste of Armageddon” this season. Because of your Trek background, were you tempted to have the astronauts on a functional Space Shuttle Enterprise this season? In our timeline, NASA’s Enterprise never went to space...
There is a Space Shuttle Enterprise in this timeline and we referenced it. You know, I was trying not to hit the Trek thing too hard. I mean, I do it. But for the record, I did not write the “Taste of Armageddon” quote. That was David Weddle and Bradley Thompson. [Laughs] But with the Enterprise it’s actually in the first episode of this season [“Every Little Thing”] when Margo (Wrenn Schmidt) is doing the walkthrough of JSC with Emma (Teye Patt) and Emma is catching her up on all the activities in space. She mentions the Space Shuttle Enterprise and where it is. It’s on a mission and the mission patches are on the board.
Can For All Mankind exist in the same timeline as Battlestar Galactica? Could this be the Earth of BSG? I mean, in Season 1 you had people saying “You gotta roll the hard six,” like Adama did in BSG. I’m not saying Gordo is a Cylon. But could there be a shared universe of Ron Moore stuff? Like could Battlestar connect with Outlander and could that connect with For All Mankind?
No, probably not. I mean, if I ever think about that kind of thing, the stray thought is like how could I have crossed certain Battlestar characters in Star Trek. It was something I did think about during Battlestar. But I always thought of it in terms of the multiverse. I don’t think I could put them in the same universe, coherently in my head.
It’s like a Rick and Morty thing. You’d just have to go to the next multiverse for Adama to meet Kirk or something.
In your timeline, Sally Ride [played by Ellen Roe] joins NASA five years earlier. How did you account for that?
Well, with Sally Ride, we just kind of figured because there was a bigger influx of women into the program earlier generally and a much bigger space program. It just felt like Sally Ride would've just come in earlier. She wouldn't have had to wait and it just would have been a different process.
Because you explore LGBTQ themes with the character of Ellen (Jodi Balfour), was there a thought to comment on Ride’s sexuality since — like the fictional Ellen – she was also closeted for most of her life?
No. We briefly talked about Sally Ride in the writers’ room. But I felt quickly that I didn't want to do that because that's not Sally's story. Sally Ride had her own story. She had her own choices that she made and I didn't feel comfortable with writing a different story for her about that.
Warning! Major Spoilers begin here: For All Mankind Season 2 and the finale — “The Grey” — in specific. If you have not seen the show stop reading here. Really!
Going back to the Wrath of Khan; there’s a joke early in Season 2 when Ed has Spock's death spoiled for him. But then, you have this big finale in which Gordo (Michael Dorman) and Tracy (Sarah Jones) die in a way that felt very similar to the Spock sacrifice in The Wrath, insofar as they save everyone’s lives at the cost of their own. Was that conscious or not?
I mean we didn't really talk about that connection where we were working at that storyline. Tracy and Gordo’s story wasn’t influenced by that, no.
In season 3, it looks like that For All Mankind will explore an alternate nineties, complete with landing on MARS in 1994. Does that mean we’ll be dealing with an alternate version of you in the nineties, like writing for TNG?
[Laughs] Yeah, I suppose that's true. I hadn't really thought about that. I guess that is true. Yeah.
Two major characters died this season; Tracy and Gordo. Three counting Tom. We’re jumping ahead to 1994 and Mars. How many new characters are we going to see in For All Mankind Season 3?
There's definitely an influx of new characters and you're going to see a fair number of people from this season mixed with the new characters coming in. This will be part of the structure of the show that we’re just really starting to grapple with for the first time.
It’s a unique structure because it’s a generational tale and characters are going to have to kind of cycle in and cycle out. There is a fair number of brand-new characters as well as existing ones. Some will die and some will just sort of leave the story. And we have to start making those decisions now.
I can’t wait to see the show on Mars
For All Mankind Seasons 1 and 2 are streaming now on Apple TV+