[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the season finale of Space Force.]
The new Netflix comedy series Space Force arrived with a significant degree of anticipation, and that feeling lingers as the credits roll on the final episode of the first season, thanks to that pretty huge cliffhanger.
The show marked a reunion between Steve Carell and The Office showrunner Greg Daniels, who created the Netflix half-hour comedy series together. The story finds Carell playing General Mark R. Naird, who is tasked with running Space Force as its first Chief of Space Operations. Much of the first season found Naird—a hard-nosed military type—butting heads with his chief scientist Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich), who prefers a gentler and more science-driven approach. But in addition to juggling his responsibilities at Space Force, Naird also found himself playing single father to his teenage daughter Erin (Diana Silvers), as his wife Maggie (Lisa Kudrow) is serving out an extremely long prison sentence for reasons that are kept secret (for now).
As the show’s first season neared its finale, Naird was forced to move up the first major Space Force launch to the moon after Chinese scientists not only went to the moon first, but were seen running over the iconic American flag from the Apollo 11 mission, in an act of public embarrassment. Naird assembles a ragtag crew of “spacemen” and sends them to the moon, but faces a dilemma when the over-eager Secretary of Defense (Dan Bakkedahl) orders Naird to take violent action against the Chinese on the surface of the moon—against the wishes of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In the Space Force Season 1 finale, we see Naird have a somewhat change of heart. He’s been portrayed as a man of integrity throughout, but the more pacifist nature of Mallory appears to have rubbed off on Naird (while Naird’s leadership abilities rub off on Mallory). In communication with a Moon-bound Angela (Tawny Newsome), Naird talks about realizing that the real enemy is “arrogance” and orders Angela and her fellow spacemen to disassemble their weapons.
Shortly thereafter, Air Force Chief of Staff General Kick Grabaston (Noah Emmerich) arrives at Space Force, relieves Naird of his duty, and sets about fulfilling the Secretary of Defense’s orders. He arrests Naird and Mallory, but Naird receives a phone call from Erin who has found herself stranded with a group of druggie strangers and in need of rescue.
The spacemen enact Grabaston’s orders by hindering the Chinese space habitat with wrenches, but once they return back they find that the Chinese have also hindered the American space habitat. It now appears as though all astronauts on the moon are without living quarters and, presumably, life-saving equipment.
Meanwhile, Naird flies his helicopter to rescue Erin, and they pick up Maggie as well, who has escaped from prison with her lover Louise to come help rescue Erin. Just when it appears as though Naird is making a getaway with his family intact, he receives a call from Brad (Don Lake) informing him that the spacemen on the moon are in grave danger. He turns the helicopter around, and the season comes to a close.
So what happens next? Is Naird in trouble for evading his own arrest and then picking up his fugitive wife? How much time do the spacemen on the moon have left? These are questions that will be left to be answered in Season 2, should Netflix renew the series for another season—although with a cast this stellar it’s hard to imagine they won’t.
When I spoke with Daniels via phone during the virtual press day, I asked him about the thematic significance of the Space Force ending and how Naird evolves over the course of the first season:
“I think when you create a comedy character you’re trying to create a person, and the person has good qualities and also flaws. The flaws are chosen usually for comedy, and I think a lot of Mark Naird’s flaws are his inflexibility, and his imperfect understanding of science. But he’s got other great qualities such as his integrity, and his ability to lead people, and make good decisions. So what you see over the season is also the influence of the situation, but also John Malkovich who has the opposite set of characteristics, and as they become friends they are rubbing off on each other.”
Daniels pointed out that the helicopter does turn around at the end, meaning that Naird hasn’t entirely turned his back on the military, but also notes two additional relationships that are important to the character:
“I think his relationship with his daughter is very important. Diana Silvers is so good, and just to see him take the responsibility for her more. Then he also is the mentor to Tawny Newsome’s character, Captain Ali, who’s like him. He’s sort of trying to be a good mentor to her. So yeah, he’s got a bunch of different connections to the cast.”
Daniels said that he’s assembled some senior staff to start working on Season 2 storylines should the show be renewed, adding that he hopes Space Force will continue for at least a couple more seasons. So while Season 1 ends on a cliffhanger, there’s hopefully much more where that came from.
For more on Space Force check out my full interview with Daniels.