Warning: The following contains spoilers for For All Mankind‘s Season 3 premiere. Proceed at your own risk!
For All Mankind introduced several big changes as its Season 3 premiere jumped ahead nearly 10 years into the early ’90s, but the most surprising new development might just be Karen’s latest job venture: She and Sam are running space tourism company Polaris, which has launched a space hotel! And what’s more, the episode found Karen in space, hosting the wedding of Danny and his young bride at the hotel.
But of course, this is For All Mankind, and space is a dangerous place, so the nuptials didn’t go entirely smoothly — and we’re not just talking about Karen’s reaction to Danny picking “Don’t Be Cruel” for his first dance with his new wife. Debris from North Korea’s own attempt at a rocket launch struck Polaris, damaging the vessel and taking the lives of two employees, as well as owner Sam, who was killed in an elevator when the artificial gravity within the spacecraft rose to dangerous levels. (Danny was able to repair the ship and save the day before all the wedding guests on board, including Ed and his new wife, and Danielle and her family, died.)
Below, star Shantel VanSanten talks about her reaction to Karen’s new professional path, how her character will handle the fallout of the Polaris disaster, and what Karen thought of Danny’s song choice (which you might recall also played during their dance/kiss last season).
TVLINE | Talk about a different direction for Karen! And that was such a great shot when the camera pulls back and we see that she’s in space. Did you ever imagine that you would get there?
No! There’s no world where I thought this was going to happen! [In Season 1], Karen is a very happy, doting wife, mother, caretaker, part of a pillar of the NASA program, and now I own and run a space hotel. The woman who hates space, by the way, has now capitalized on this whole business adventure. I had much smaller dreams for Karen [laughs], and Matt [Wolpert] and Ben [Nedivi], our creators, are fantastic at making sure that anything we could ever think, dream [or] expect, as an actor or as an audience, we are proven very wrong. I’ve learned to just expect the unexpected with our show.
TVLINE | What was your first reaction when you found out that she has this whole new venture in space and she’s going to be up there?
I actually, out loud, screamed. I remember the very specific moment that was written in the script where I screamed. Me, personally, I have always wanted to go to space. I have been jealous since Season 1, when all the women were putting on those blue flight suits, and when they got pinned and got to go to space, and I was just sitting here making casserole. Shantel, me, was very upset about it, and I told to myself, “There’s no way that some housewife is ever going to, somehow, be involved in NASA. I’ll always be the human on the outside, watching like they’re in an aquarium.” And I just felt like my childhood dreams of being in space were fulfilled, even if it was through this fictitious TV show.
TVLINE | She’s always kind of reinventing herself each season, from housewife in Season 1, to bar owner, and now entrepreneur. What are you enjoying about the journey that she’s on in Season 3?
I enjoy every aspect and iteration of Karen. While I never could have expected this is where we would find her, it makes total sense to me. It makes sense to me that she’s had a best friend in Tracy and a husband in Ed, who’ve taken these risks, and these are the people that she was surrounded by and supported and was inspired by, and she finally had an opportunity in her life to step into the purpose that she’s always wanted, which was to take the risk, to start the business. The bar only ignited a fire within her to do more and expand this business sensibility, and it’s interesting because I always thought of the bar as an extension of her home. It was just another place where she would care for people, but then that sparked something in the business side of her, and she realized that this was what was exciting to her and to be a part of big companies and to be a part of creating kind of global enterprises. I feel so fortunate to have been a part of Karen’s experience, because it’s really, truly taught me to lean into the curiosity we have in our heart and to not be fearful, and to take risks. Each season, I learn so much from playing her and from being a part of our For All Mankind world, and it’s just been beyond rewarding.
TVLINE | This venture, though, ends catastrophically for her in the premiere. How is she dealing with the fallout off what happened at the hotel?
The one thing that Karen knows most is loss. As excited as I was to read the first episode, I was definitely devastated at the end, because here was 10 years of work and passion and love, and we got to, as an audience and as Karen, only see it for a blip on the map before it goes away. Obviously, we don’t get to know and understand the true devastation that 10 years of working toward something and it falling apart would feel like. But if we think of Shane, [he] was 9, and she got to have that experience for nine years and then he passed. She is a woman who is resilient. She’s not afraid to grieve. But she is, if anything else in life, a very resilient woman, and we get to see that, and our show has that theme constantly. The very first episode ever, we lose, if you will, the moon to the Russians. What happens after you lose is what matters, actually. It’s not being first, it’s not winning. It’s how you overcome from loss. On a small character level, we get to see that constantly throughout our show, but especially with Karen.
TVLINE | Where does this Polaris crisis leave Karen, professionally, moving forward? What are her prospects?
Karen is a very business savvy person, and while loss may leave you to feel lost in a moment, that’s where the resiliency comes in. She’s innovative and will figure out how to put one foot in front of the other and keep pursuing her passions. I don’t think she’s somebody who just gives up.
TVLINE | Before everything went to hell, there was a moment at Danny’s wedding when the song “Don’t Be Cruel” comes on during the first dance, and there are so many emotions that flicker across Karen’s face. What’s going through her head in that moment?
Oh, no, no, no, you don’t get to know that! [Laughs] I mean, probably every possible emotion that an audience experiences, from confusion, to regret, to…oh, gosh, memories, to shame, to wanting to escape, to more than anything probably just being curious as to the reasoning. Yeah, that was a very complex moment to play because, obviously, we all know the subtext of why and what happened the first time that song played for her. But later on in the season, it gets answered and divulged more into, and we get to find out the reasoning behind it and get some answers.
TVLINE | I felt like there was also a little bit of hurt there, like, “This is our song. How could you?”
See, this is what’s interesting — I love acting — is that I feel in moments when we don’t have words, people and viewers are going to put on that moment what they want or what they feel, and that’s the beautiful thing. It can be whatever anybody wants it to be.
TVLINE | And was Karen and Sam’s relationship strictly professional?
Yes. Obviously, they had all these business ventures they did for 10 years together, and they had a bond because it was her best friend and his wife who passed away very tragically. For me, it’s another unlikely, beautiful friendship. It was like Wayne and Karen. You have these very unlikely friendships that end up budding and forming and becoming a huge part of Karen’s life. But I do not think anything behind just creating an empire together and supporting one another and having a bond of loss still there was ever between Sam and Karen.
TVLINE | OK, I just wanted to clarify, because I thought it was interesting that she doesn’t appear to have ever remarried.
Yeah. I’m pretty sure they were married over 30 years, the Baldwins, which was more than half of her life, and I think, for once, Karen wants to live for herself. Her child is grown, Kelly is thriving. And for once, she wants to step into her own space, and while maybe it gets lonely sometimes, I think that she’s lived for everybody else for so long that she’s allowing herself to not remarry and just do whatever it is that her heart desires.
For All Mankind fans, what did you think of the show’s return? Grade the episode below, then hit the comments!