The Mercury Seven cope with Gus' death and the fact that chances of landing a man on moon might have died with him.
Coping with a loss is never easy, but challenging a national department and seeing your loved one’s death splashed across the front page of worldwide newspapers in the process tends to worsen the situation. Gus’s funeral reunites the Mercury Seven, each of whom are experiencing rough times of their own. With Gus possibly being blamed for his own death, Betty attempts to uncover the real cause of the accident, while fellow widowed astronaut wife Pat White struggles to change out of her pajamas most days.
Here’s how the original space families attempt to move past all the tragedy:
Rene & Scott Carpenter
The best looking Mercury Seven couple returns this week, but it seems that the last time we saw Rene and Scott also marks their most recent encounter. Scott, who’s been exploring the sea, suggests visiting Rene and the kids in Houston, and offers to crash with the Glenns since their marriage has taken a nosedive since Scott left NASA. Rene assures Scott he can stay with her—they are still married, after all—but he’ll been sleeping in the den.
During his stay on the sofa, Scott catches up on Rene’s newspaper columns and says he finally understands why she stayed behind. “I wondered if maybe this whole writing thing was just an excuse,” he starts, before admitting to Rene that her writing is “so you.” Of course it is, Scott! How many 1960s housewives took up careers as an excuse to ditch their husbands? Especially since, as Rene puts it, “If careers were easy, we probably wouldn’t be the only ones trying to have them.”
Following Gus’s tragic passing, Betty’s full-time job becomes making sure NASA gets to the bottom of the accident that caused his death. At the end of Gus’s televised funeral—at which President Lyndon B. Johnson (Sean McGraw) tells Betty, “Your husband was a good man”—an alleged coworker of Gus’s (Blake Lee) slips Betty a phone number to call to learn more information about her husband.
Before meeting up with the mystery man, Betty and Deke comb through Gus’ finances and discover a $75 purchase at a jewelry store. Deke assures her it was an anniversary gift, but for a second, Betty seems to think Gus might’ve had a Cape Cookie of his own. Upon retrieving Gus’s gift, she finds it’s a gold pin, which Jo tells her the men receive after going to space. Still filled with questions, Betty meets up with Gus’ “coworker,” who identifies himself only as an engineer with North American, the company responsible for building the capsule in which Gus died. He reveals that he wrote up a memo detailing the issues with the capsule, of which there were many. Betty rushes to tell Deke and Alan of her findings, but without any concrete details, they assure her the truth will come out in the Congressional hearings.
At the hearing in D.C., Betty barges in on a listening of the tapes from Gus’ test launch — his final words. Then a North American exec reveals he knew about the problems with the capsule, but suggests Gus actually caused the accident when he kicked a wire attached to the gas. As a result, NASA reveals it will continue with Apollo as planned. Disappointed that no one actually listened at the hearing, Betty urges Deke and Alan to defend Gus. So at a party honoring the sixth anniversary of Alan’s space launch (“Who’s ever heard of a sixth anniversary party?” Rene exclaims.), Alan turns the podium to Deke, who uses his Chief Astronaut powers to declare that Gus was not in fact responsible for the accident. In fact, he says everyone—NASA, North American, and “anyone so set upon beating the Russians that they lose sight of who and what we can lose at home”—except for Gus, Roger Chaffe, and Ed White are to blame. Even stalwart Duncan got teary-eyed at that one.
Satisfied, Betty finally stops having illusions of Gus and is headed to Paris with fellow space widow Marilyn See, who advised that making new memories without her husband helped her move on.
NEXT: NASA changes its mind
Jo & Wally Schirra
With her husband up next, Jo spends most of “Abort” trying to convince Wally to tell NASA he won’t set foot in space until that lemon of a capsule is fixed. But Wally wants to be optimistic, and says that if they don’t make it to the moon, Gus will have died for nothing. When Jo, Marge, Rene, and Annie surprise Betty with a Bon Voyage party ahead of her European adventure with Marilyn, Jo reveals the good news: The Apollo mission has been delayed.
Jo experiences another big win this week with her discovery of skorts. “It’s a skirt and shorts!” she proclaims. Yes, Jo. Yes it is.
Marge & Deke Slayton
Before NASA delayed Apollo, Deke was convinced the whole program would be shut down if a problem was found with Gus’s spacecraft. Deke handles the work-induced stress how many Americans still do today—with alcohol. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a drunken Deke (remember that poolside verbal fight?), but now he’s vulnerable instead, rather than aggressive. The Astronaut In Charge shows up at the Shepards’ hotel room door and cries to Louise over coffee about how he thinks he could’ve stopped the capsule accident.
Like Betty, Louise urges Deke to make things right for the astronauts who are still around. With his speech at the sixth anniversary party (seriously, why didn’t they celebrate at five years?), he does. And for that, Betty awards him the $75 pin.
Louise & Alan Shepard
Deke taking the blame off of Gus, Roger, and Ed will hopefully ease the mind of Pat White, who Louise attempts to rehabilitate throughout the episode. When Lady Louise brings her spaghetti bake to the Whites’, she finds Pat curled up on the couch, pouring unused cereal milk back into the carton. On her next visit, Louise discovers Pat still in bed in the middle of the day. And when Alice Shepard (Abbie Gayle) shows up with Ed White, Jr. (Mattie Liptak) for some kind of tween date, Pat is unconscious, clutching a pill bottle. Trudy calls Harriet, a nurse, to revive Pat, who didn’t want to go to the hospital and end up in the news.
Once Pat is back on her feet, Louise has another problem to tackle. Her daughter Alice, who is actually her niece Judy, seems to be at that age where she’s interested in boys and pissed that her aunt changed her name after her mom died. (Louise thought Judy sounded too much like Julie, her biological daughter’s name. If Keeping Up With the Kardashians was on TV back then, maybe Louise would have embraced the same-first-initial thing.) Trudy advises Louise to refer to her niece by her given name. In another attempt to make peace with her niece/daughter, Louise has Trudy fly them to her sister’s grave and agrees to answer any of Judy’s questions about her deceased mom. This is really the first time in the series where we’ve see any of the Astrocouples parent, reminding us that in addition to dealing with NASA stress, they did actually take care of children.
And I hope we see Alice/Judy and Ed White, Jr.’s relationship play out in the final two episodes. Among all this space chaos, their budding love gives us something to root for.