There’s just 48 hours left until the Trinity Test, and Charlie Isaacs must make a choice: Be a good man, or be a monster, thereby condemning tens of thousands of innocent civilians to a gruesome death. Spies are unveiled, and trusts are betrayed, in the penultimate episode of Manhattan.
The members of the Target Committee arrive at the Trinity Site to decide how and when (and where) they will use their shiny nuclear bombs (Fat Man and Little Boy), should the test be successful. Frank Winter is relying on Charlie to make a strong case for detonating a bomb over a deserted island as a warning shot. Demonstrate our power while showing restraint, and Emperor Hirohito will surrender not to the Allies, but to the power of a “second sun.” He tells Charlie to wait until the very end of the meeting, after the other members have worn themselves out arguing about it, and to make a personal, emotional appeal. Charlie decides to use his son: show mercy to Japan’s children now, so that they will show mercy to future American children in turn should another war transpire.
Unfortunately, Charlie’s world implodes when Abby announces she has sent their son back to her parents in Brooklyn, to protect him from Charlie’s evil influence. She’s found out (because Darrow tapes every conversation in his office) that back when Foppie was considering leaving the project, Charlie had told Darrow to “take care of it” — meaning, remove Jean Tatlock from the equation, the same way Darrow made Frank Winter “disappear.” She calls him a monster. Abby was the one who suggested Charlie turn over the private details of German physicists to the U.S. military, thereby derailing Germany’s bomb project. Yet the possible murder of one innocent woman to salvage the American effort rubs her the wrong way. It’s not exactly consistent—but then, human beings rarely are.
So when the Target Committee convenes, Charlie throws Frank’s playbook out the window. He takes the floor right away, and tells them he’d intended to argue for detonating a bomb on a deserted island, so that “We can be feared and loved, and then be forgiven.” But he has changed his mind: “We can be loved, or we can have peace.”
It’s pretty twisted logic: the world will think we are monsters anyway, he argues, so the committee must embrace that consequence. He advocates targeting a city in the heart of Japan, full of civilians, and detonating the bomb at just the right altitude to ensure maximum destruction. “It has to be catastrophic on a scale no one has ever imagined,” he insists. Only that will prevent another world war from ever happening again. “Fear is the only thing that keeps the peace,” he tells the assembled committee. “We have to be monsters today to stop the monsters of tomorrow.”
His argument is brutal and ruthless—and precisely what happened historically. No wonder a furious Foppie punches Charlie in the face after the meeting adjourns. Charlie makes his monstrous choice and braces himself for the consequences.
But he’s far from the only budding monster on the Hill; nearly all our main characters have been compromised in some way, despite their (usually) good intentions.
We see this most clearly in the spy-centric plot line. This week, one of our spies is caught, thanks to the young Indian boy’s description. Darrow’s minions arrest the Handler, a.k.a. Perseus (real name: Victor Green), before he can take the cyanide pill he keeps on hand. And Darrow invites his new recruit, Crosley, to sit in on the interrogation.
[UPDATE: Several commenters correctly pointed out that the doomed captured spy is not “Perseus”; Victor is sometimes referred to as “Moscow.” Perseus is the patent lawyer who is Helen Prins’ new love interest.]
The agent in charge is the man Frank knew as his fellow inmate, “Joseph Beuker” (played by Justin Kirk)—revealed to be a psychiatrist who now works as an interrogation specialist. It must be said that his approach is a bit more hamfisted than that of the late Avram Fischer, a.k.a. Occam, who opted for an understated, sinister probing via seemingly innocuous questions. He was a scalpel; Beuker’s more of a cudgel. (Darrow proves to be an Uzi.)
He does have some useful information: Victor didn’t completely burn his documents, and Beuker has found reference to an accomplice, code-named “Brooklyn,” and correctly guesses that this person is the key to the sabotage plot. But there are a lot of personnel on the Hill hailing from Brooklyn, so they need more clues. Beuker leaves Crosley alone with him, and the captured spy begs for a razor blade or rat poison so he can kill himself, before he’s subjected to torture. But Victor lets slip that he knows Crosley has a son. Hardly anyone on the Hill knows this, which means “Brooklyn” could be someone Crosley knows.
Victor proves a tough nut to crack, even when Beuker threatens his own daughter (Nora), and the clock is ticking for the Trinity Test. So an impatient Darrow takes over the interrogation. Alone. When he emerges, he simply barks, “Clean it up!” and stalks off. Beuker and Crosley find Victor dead on the floor, the victim of over-zealous water boarding.
Beuker enlists Crosley’s help to stage a suicide by hanging the body in the dead man’s barn. Crosley goes a bit green when they have to pull down on the body’s legs to break the neck, but Beuker is sufficiently impressed with him to invite him to join a “new breed of intelligence organization.” World War II is nearly over; a new, different kind of war is beginning, where it will sometimes be necessary to do secret terrible things (or clean up their aftermath) in the name of world peace and national security. He thinks Crosley would do well in that organization, assuring him he’ll learn to cope with the uglier aspects of the job.
Nora witnesses the removal of a mysterious crate from the interrogation room and realizes it holds her father’s body. She changes the plan: it’s not enough to sabotage the Gadget and foil the test, she tells Meeks, because the scientists will just rebuild it. She tells him to wire the circuits to go off prematurely, before the evacuation of the area is complete — a mass murder of all the key players on the Manhattan Project. Her reasoning is much like Charlie’s: do one terrible thing, and then no one else has to do so ever again.
Meanwhile, the master of the moral compromise, Frank Winter, loses one of his most loyal allies. Helen Prins discovers that he redirected the gun model group’s metallurgy budget to the University of Rochester to fund Liza’s research in the health effects of radiation. She realizes he doesn’t want them to finish their bomb model (Little Boy”) on time, and that he sabotaged the dry run pre-test. Fed up, she reports this to Darrow.
At the same time, Crosley finds Fritz watching the film of his wedding to Jeannie — and there is Jim Meeks, smiling and waving his trademark Brooklyn baseball cap. Eureka! He goes straight to Frank Winter, now Prime Suspect #1 in Darrow’s mind for the identity of “Brooklyn.” Meeks has made it to the Trinity site; only Crosley and Frank know he’s the real spy. Will Darrow listen? If he doesn’t, and nobody stops him time, can Meeks really go through with the plan to murder his friends and colleagues?
Granted, we know the history, but this is still shaping up to be one hell of a season finale.