This article contains spoilers
Danny Stevens (Casey Johnson) has been a controversial character in Apple TV+’s breakout sci-fi series, For All Mankind. At first, the son of famous astronaut couple Gordo and Tracy Stevens cut a glum figure, having lost his childhood best friend in a terrible accident. Danny and his brother Jimmy’s emotional needs were also side-lined as their parents’ careers took increasing priority, and the pair grew up in the shadow of their heroic sacrifice on the moon.
In season two of the popular show, we found out that Danny was following in his parents’ footsteps, attending the Annapolis Naval Academy with an eye to becoming an astronaut himself. He eventually took a part-time job in Karen Baldwin’s bar, the Outpost, and developed a crush on her. Though it seemed unlikely that anything would come of it, Karen threw caution to the wind one day and slept with Danny, who was young enough to be her son.
Karen tried to brush off Danny’s advances after that, treating their tryst as a one night stand, while Danny became more and more infatuated with her. Karen made it clear that Danny had been stalking her, even as he dated and married another woman and started a family. The icky storyline proved to be unpopular with For All Mankind fans, but it was far from over: Ed Baldwin later made a terrible choice to send Danny to the Happy Valley Mars colony, where he would become addicted to painkillers and cause the horrific deaths of several astronauts during a drilling project.
“The reaction to Danny and the Stevens brothers, totally, we knew that that was going to come,” co-showrunner Ben Nedivi told 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.”
At the end of season three, when the other Happy Valley colonists found out about Danny’s involvement in the drilling accident, they made a choice to exile him from the colony, and he was sent to live alone in a crashed North Korean space capsule on Mars.
Speaking after the season three finale revealed Danny’s comeuppance, the showrunners defended his character arc. “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,” Matt Wolpert said. “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.”
Nedivi added, “A tragic story of the character is really what we set out to tell, and that’s why the ending felt fitting for him.”
With Danny left in the crashed North Korean lander and season four now underway on Apple TV+, fans might have expected a pretty solid update on what happened to Danny Stevens. But mysteriously, the season four premiere only mentions Danny enough to deepen the mystery surrounding his fate. The traditional opening montage doesn’t single him out as the show jumps forward a decade, but does reveal a newspaper clipping that doesn’t count Danny amongst the crew who returned to Earth from the Mars mission.
Just two scenes in the season four opener confront Danny’s death. The first is when Commander Danielle Poole visits Danny’s wife Amber at their daughter’s birthday party. The two women spark a conversation about moving on from their husbands’ demise, and Amber says that it gets a little easier to cope with every year. The scene ends with Danielle furrowing her brow while staring at a picture of Danny in happier times. Later, Danielle visits NASA for a meeting, and expresses reluctance to return to Mars after “what happened to Danny”. She doesn’t get into details.
It appears that For All Mankind wants us to kind of just accept that Danny died at some point during his exile on Mars, but the writers seem reticent to provide more information. Unfortunately, this also brings a classic The Simpsons joke to life on the show, where the unpopular character “Poochie” was written out of the show within the show, with the epilogue stating that he “died on the way back” to his home planet.
Perhaps later in season four we’ll discover more about what happened to Danny after his exile, but we can’t really be sure until then. Arguably, even if the show never gets into details about how Danny died, that might be just fine with all those For All Mankind fans who hated him so vocally during seasons two and three.