As the race to the moon speeds up, the astronauts and their wives struggle to embrace an ever-changing America on the heels of a new decade.
With his thick Boston accent, Robert F. Kennedy kicks off “Dark Side” by reminding America that times are changing. Annie Glenn and Rene Carpenter are hot on his campaign trail, but the wives back in Houston are feeling the wave of change, too. Astronaut Wives Club members new and old continue to crush expectations, from expressing their fears to their husbands as the Apollo missions start back up, to filing for the first space divorce.
And as the journey to the moon resumes, one astronaut decides he wants nothing to do with visiting a hunk of floating cheese, while another hopes to be reconsidered for the role of First Man on the Moon. Let’s check out how each Astro-family deals with the societal shift, including one couple’s visit to a hippie commune:
Rene & Scott Carpenter
Scott and Rene continue living separately, but Rene doesn’t mind, since she feels like she’s impacting the world on RFK’s presidential campaign. But after he gets shot and killed during a stop in California, Annie, who was also along for the ride, and Rene return to Texas for laundry, cocktail parties, and school bake sales. Rene wants more than the life of a housewife though, so Trudy suggests Rene return to writing her newspaper column. Now that she’s gotten a taste of the world, however, Rene doesn’t want to go back to simply writing about it (the life of a journalist…).
Annie being the thoughtful friend that she is coordinates with good ol’ Duncan, who offers Rene a job calling the Apollo 8 mission on live television.
Jo & Wally Schirra
Before Apollo 8 was, of course, Apollo 7, which marked Wally’s last mission. Apollo 7’s success put the journey to the moon back on track, but Wally wanted out, announcing his retirement and taking a job in Denver. Not long before she has her husband back, Jo’s soon-to-be 18-year-old son (Jimmy Deshler) reveals he plans to skip college and enlist so he can give back to his country like his dad. But once the family leaves for Colorado (with the hole from the Schirras’ and Grissoms’ shared fence in tow), plans of heading to Vietnam have been abandoned.
Marge & Deke Slayton
Marge gets involved with a battle at home when she decides to help Harriet Eisele file for divorce from her cheating husband, Donn, who is going up in Apollo 7. Fearing that a space divorce will overshadow NASA’s return to space, Deke wants Marge—who he refers to as “Red” an aggressive amount of times during “Dark Side”—to convince Harriet to stay with Donn despite his taking up with a Cape Cookie. But at the launch party for Apollo 7, Louise and Trudy reveal the findings from their Florida trip to Harriet, and Marge encourages her to “dump that jerk.” “The whole world is changing,” Marge says. “Why don’t we?”
When Deke learns of the legal proceedings, he tells Marge he doesn’t understand why she’d encourage Harriet to go through with a divorce, especially since Harriet’s life won’t be better off as a divorcee. Marge ends the conversation by reminding Deke he married a divorcee. Burn.
The talk of Marge’s previous marriage forces Deke and Marge to discuss her first husband, who Marge reveals she’s never said much about because she didn’t want Deke to see her as damaged goods. Marge says the trunk (presumably her ex-husband’s, filled with the Japanese garb the Shepard kids played with in the premiere) reminds her to stay strong. After he assures Marge she’s the strongest person he knows, the Slaytons dump the trunk into a nearby body of water so they can enter a new phase of their own.
As for Harriet and Donn, the super douche gives into a divorce because he and his Cookie Susie want to get married.
Louise & Alan Shepard
Alan is determined to start a new phase of his life, too, one without Meniere’s disease. So he agrees to an experimental surgery that might allow him to fly again and fulfill his dream of being the first man on the moon. The surgery’s high-risk outcomes have Louise concerned and as their conversation heats up in the car ride home from the doctor visit, all of a sudden a tire blows and leaves them stranded on the side of the road.
Lucky for Louise and Alan, a group of hippies pull up and offer them a ride in none other than a VW van. During dinner at the commune, Alan witnesses some free love, which sparks up another debate with Louise about whether or not he should return to space. The next morning, Louise takes a leap of faith (literally) and rides with Alan on the hippie’s homemade swing. After landing in a stack of hay, she decides Alan should go through with the surgery. Maybe all couples could use a night on a hippie commune?
Susan & Frank Borman
Frank (Jon Abrahams) is all set to partake in NASA’s first lunar mission, Apollo 8, but its 50-50 odds of success have Susan (Antonia Bernath) stationed at the liquor cabinet. She refuses to take anxiety meds, per Marilyn Lovell’s suggestion, so she freezes up on TV when asked about the mission. Despite initially not wanting to give Frank a reason to worry, Susan finally breaks down and tells her husband her fears. He doesn’t do a great job of assuaging them, but assures Susan this is the final step before an American goes to the moon.
The day of the launch, just before Christmas, Susan starts writing Frank’s eulogy. But after a half hour without contact, the Apollo 8 crew report “There is a Santa Claus” and Susan’s panic level returns to semi-normal.
On Christmas Day, Marilyn, whose husband, Jim, is also up in Apollo 8, opens up a fur coat from her astronaut. The guy is in space and managed to deliver a Christmas present to his wife under the tree, officially raising the bar for men throughout the universe forever.