Apple TV+‘s For All Mankind inspires an almost cultish level of devotion from its fans, but there’s one storyline that even diehards struggle to get fully behind. I’m talking about Danny Stevens (Casey W. Johnson) and his affair, and now ongoing obsession, with Karen Baldwin (Shantel VanSanten).
In For All Mankind Season 1, Danny was introduced as Tracy (Sarah Jones) and Gordo’s (Michael Dorman) mischievous son. He was besties with Ed (Joel Kinnaman) and Karen’s son Shane and was basically raised by Karen when Tracy entered the astronaut program. When Season 2 jumped ahead to the ’80s, Danny had become a student at Annapolis and started working at the Outpost with Karen. It’s clear that Danny has a crush on the older woman and the two eventually have sex. For Karen, it’s just sex, but for Danny, it’s the culmination of a life-long crush (on his mother figure). Karen’s infidelity leads to the Baldwins’ divorce.
The For All Mankind Season 3 premiere “Polaris” suggests that maybe — just maybe — Danny has gotten over his fixation on Karen and grown up into a stable, successful astronaut. After all, the whole episode is set during his wedding to a nice girl he met at church named Amber. We learn that he’s been sober for years and he even is the one who winds up saving the whole dang day! However in For All Mankind Season 3 Episode 2 “Game Changer,” Danny confesses to Karen that he’s still in love with her (!!!) and this week he is straight up getting drunk, picking up girls at the Outpost, and breaking into his old childhood home. His erratic behavior prompts Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) to boot him off the NASA mission to Mars, but Ed Baldwin still wants Danny for his Helios-funded mission.
Danny Stevens is a fucking mess who causes chaos on a show that is otherwise a perfect piece of competency porn. That’s not to say that everyone on For All Mankind has their shit together. Very few people on this show do! But Danny Stevens’s Oedipal complex (projected upon the Baldwins and not his own dead hero astronaut parents) is next level. So what gives?
“We definitely wanted audiences to have conflicted feelings about him and to really alternate between rooting for him and being repelled by him and just really walk that line,” For All Mankind executive producer Ronald D. Moore revealed to Decider.
Moore added that For All Mankind‘s writers were interested not only in following a character we met as a child all the way back in Season 1, but also looking at someone who wasn’t as deft at handling pressure as many of the other characters on the show.
Moore said, “We didn’t want to just drop the thing with Karen because we thought that would be a fairly enormous moment in his life and a traumatic one in a lot of ways. So what would be the aftermath of that? How would that affect him? Being the son of these two heroes who died in this heroic way, what are the pressures that would put on a young man like that?”
Now that Danny is Ed’s wingman on the journey to Mars, the two are set to share a lot of time together in close, tense quarters. For All Mankind star Joel Kinnaman said it was “really fun” working more with Casey W. Johnson this season.
“I really enjoyed working with Casey. It was great to see him really blossom over the course of this season,” Kinnaman said. “I was so proud of him. He just really came into his own as an actor over the course of this season and just delivered some really beautiful, authentic and raw moments and really brought it home.”
“I think he got further than he thought he would himself and it was great to watch. I took so much satisfaction seeing him really break through and I can’t wait to see people respond to his work over the season because it was really excellent.”
So Danny Stevens? A major mess. Casey W. Johnson? “Really excellent.”