Warning: The following contains spoilers for Friday’s For All Mankind Season 3 finale. Proceed at your own risk!
As far as the For All Mankind showrunners are concerned, the viewer frustration with Danny and Jimmy Stevens is a good thing.
In the second season, the elder brother made his first questionable move, when he had sex with Karen Baldwin, the mother of his childhood best friend and the wife of Danny’s surrogate father figure, Ed. The controversial storyline continued to rear its head as the current third season began this summer. Although nearly 10 years had passed since the tryst and Danny had gotten married to an age-appropriate woman, he was still pining for Karen, who had moved on from her one-time hookup.
As the season progressed, Danny’s troubling behavior grew: he cheated on his wife, got arrested, secretly watched Karen and Ed’s video messages to each other, developed a drug problem, lashed out at his commander, Ed, and caused a catastrophic mining accident on Mars that cost several astronauts their lives.
Meanwhile, Danny’s younger bother Jimmy fell in with a group of conspiracy theorists following his parents’ death on the moon 10 years prior. Convinced that NASA had faked the incident that killed Gordo and Tracy Stevens, the radicals befriended Jimmy and used him to get access to the Johnson Space Center, which they bombed in the Season 3 finale, killing Karen and former astronaut Molly Cobb, among many others. (Get more scoop on those casualties here.)
Not entirely to the surprise of co-showrunners/EPs Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi, both brothers’ arcs this season were met with viewer exasperation over the characters’ increasingly bad choices.
“The reaction to Danny and the Stevens brothers, totally, we knew that that was going to come,” Nedivi tells TVLine, “[but] I don’t think we knew how big a reaction, just like we didn’t know, by the way, how big the reaction to the Danny/Karen thing [would be]. What’s amazing to me, as a writer, is seeing how, now, the reactions to Karen have almost totally died down, and now it’s all about hating Danny. I think there’s something in our nature as viewers that we want to hate someone. We need that villain, and I feel like a lot of that is being put on Danny this season.”
That strong audience response to the Stevens siblings is a welcome one “because to me — and it’s something [co-creator] Ron [D. Moore] actually said early on — passion is passion,” Nedivi says. “When you’re getting passionate reactions from people, you’re doing something good.”
Nedivi also notes that Danny “went through hell” when Gordo and Tracy died, so it’s only natural that he and Jimmy would be messed up. “Just losing your parents at that age, trying to fill in that shadow, trying to live up to their legacy, but also carrying around that ghost… Like, I can’t imagine [how difficult that must be],” Nedivi muses.
Wolpert, meanwhile, praises Danny’s portrayer for taking on the challenge of playing the problematic young astronaut and bringing pathos to his struggles. “I know he’s a controversial character, but I’m really proud of what Casey Johnson did with that role, because it’s sort of a thankless role in some ways,” Wolpert says. “That character is very easy to hate, but he, also, is going through so much, and there’s such pain inside that character that is driving those really negative actions that he does. I thought Casey did a fantastic job bringing that pain to life more and more as the season went on.”
Danny did make one good decision, according to Wolpert: When he and Ed were buried alive in Helios’ Mars habitat in Episode 8, it appeared that Danny was on the brink of confessing about his affair with Karen. But even after they were rescued, Danny never told Ed that he was the one who slept with Karen.
“I don’t want to say [there is] a redemptive quality, but I’m going to anyway,” Wolpert shares. “I think if Danny said [the truth] to Ed, he would really be unredeemable. There is an element [of] he wanted to get everything off of his shoulders, [but] knowing that that would destroy Ed in a further way, he’s keeping it [to] himself almost out of kindness.”
Danny did, however, fess up to being responsible for the mining accident, leading Ed and Danielle to exile him in the finale to an abandoned North Korean spaceship on Mars, where they will bring him monthly supplies. It’s a different fate than maybe viewers expected for Danny, who seemed destined to sacrifice his own life in order to redeem himself. (He certainly attempted to do that when he volunteered for a dangerous mission involving Ed’s pregnant daughter, Kelly). Ultimately, the showrunners chose not to give Danny an obvious redemption arc.
“A tragic story of the character is really what we set out to tell, and that’s why the ending felt fitting for him,” Nedivi explains.