What becomes of the brokenhearted?
I'm all in for FOR ALL MANKIND
A few weeks ago I started watching FOR ALL MANKIND, the Apple TV+ show that imagines an alternate reality in which the USSR beat America and became the first to land on the moon. I don’t usually binge-watch television shows - partly because I like to savor my entertainment and partly because I don’t have the time to watch more than an hour of television a day. A show has to really sink its hooks into me in order for me to break my “no binge-watching” rule.
FOR ALL MANKIND has sunk its hooks into me.
I’m only halfway through the second season of the show - so please no spoilers on what’s to come. I’ll repay the favor by not going into too much detail beyond the show’s first episode and its general concept and themes.
FOR ALL MANKIND begins with a simple conceit - what if Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov was the first man to step foot on the moon instead of American astronaut Neil Armstrong? As the beginning moments of FOR ALL MANKIND play out, we watch as America reacts as the nation’s Space Race dreams lie shattered. The first words spoken on the moon and broadcast over the world are not “That's one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.” Instead, the crew at Johnson Space Center watch in stunned silence as Lenov plants a Soviet flag on the lunar surface and proclaims, “I take this step for my country, for my people and for the Marxist-Leninist way of life.”
After the opening credits, audiences are brought back into the depths of the Johnson Space Center and are introduced to the astronauts and engineers that have spent years of their lives preparing to make history only to have their moment snatched away by their dreaded enemy, the Russians. The mood is somber, full of regret and - more than anything - hopelessness. America’s heroes look shell-shocked, unsure of what, exactly, is supposed to happen next. And then Deke Slayton, real-life Chief of the Astronaut Office for NASA played by Chris Bauer on the show, walks into the room and makes an announcement: It’s OK to be pissed.
Slayton cancels training and orders the room to disperse and get drunk, kick their dogs, howl at the moon, or whatever else suits their purpose. On Monday morning, though, they get back to work. What follows is one of my favorite moments of television:
As Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” plays, the theme of the show is laid out in plain English, as only Motown can deliver: What do you do when you fail? Simple - you pick yourself back up and get back to work. Over the course of the first few seasons of FOR ALL MANKIND, the characters will continue to be met with more failure - both professional and personal. They will experience tragedies big and small but FOR ALL MANKIND is a show about hope. It’s a show about optimism and about striving for something bigger than yourself. It’s a show about reaching for the stars, literally.
In FOR ALL MANKIND, America may have lost the race to the moon but, because of that failure, the space race never ends and humanity achieves greater heights in its exploration of the universe than we have achieved in reality. FOR ALL MANKIND theorizes that, in order for America’s space program to really meet its true potential, it needed to suffer an almost cataclysmic setback. It needed to have its heart broken.
It’s all too easy to just give up when the chips are down - I’ve personally done it more times than I can count. While Ruffin may have been singing about relationships, watching FOR ALL MANKIND has caused me to see his song as an anthem for perseverance in all things.
Getting WHERE WOLF out into the world and finding an audience for it wasn’t as easy as I envisioned it. I got a lot of “no’s” and even more unanswered inquiries when I tried to find a home for the book. I’m not exactly sure how many people have read the comic but I have a strong suspicion (with ample evidence) that the number was nowhere near the number I had hoped for. The opportunities for more comic book work aren’t falling from the sky like mana and I have yet to lock down a plan to get a print version of the book in stores.
It would be all too easy to just call WHERE WOLF a failed experiment and refocus on the other things in my life that I am finding more success with but, like Jimmy Ruffin, I have visions of many things and I’m not ready to give up yet.
Sometimes you find the right art at the right time and I’m glad I started watching FOR ALL MANKIND when I did because it’s the exact show I needed to watch at this moment in my life. I don’t know what’s ahead in the second half of season two or the show’s third season - maybe FOR ALL MANKIND isn’t actually a show about hope and perseverance - but I have to believe that the creators knew what they were doing when they used “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” not once but twice during the show’s first episode.
For much of “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” the lyrics by William Weatherspoon, Paul Riser, and James Dean are pretty pessimistic. Ruffin almost seems resigned to his loneliness and place in life. But then - as the last verse kicks in - he sings:
I'll be searching everywhere
Just to find someone to care
I'll be looking everyday, I know I'm gonna find a way
Nothing's gonna stop me now
I'll find a way somehow
And I'll be searching everywhere
I know I gotta find a way
I'll be looking
And that’s exactly the attitude I want to take into these last few months of 2022 and - beyond that - into 2023. I’ll be looking, I’ll be writing, I’ll be pushing myself further and further. I’ll take the losses and use them as stepping stones to the wins ahead. I’ll reach for the stars.
Just as soon as I finish watching FOR ALL MANKIND.