In This Week's Manhattan, the Most Crucial Bomb Is the One That Doesn't Go Off

The scheming and manipulation on the Hill intensify, just as the end of the war seems to be in sight, on this week’s episode of Manhattan. Various parties are seeking to insure their future prosperity once they return to civilian life, leading to a brilliant unexpected double-cross.


Spoilers below...

It’s a big day at the Trinity site, as the G Group scientists assemble for an explosives pre-test of the model Gadget, and Charlie Isaacs is feeling the heat, especially when the military brass arrives. The countdown reaches 0 — and nothing happens. Then smoke starts pouring out of the model and it catches fire, toppling the entire supporting structure.


It’s a catastrophic failure and Colonel Darrow is not happy. So he goes with Plan B: ordering Frank Winter to work with Charlie to figure out what went wrong. It is, after all, why Frank is still on the Hill instead of rotting in an internment camp after a dishonorable discharge. “I’m your manufacturer’s warranty,” Frank tells him. “You’ve got a confused boy staring into the guts of a monster he will never fully understand.” But he makes a deal with Darrow: he’ll do as asked, if (1) he gets an honorable discharge so he can go back to being a scientist rather than a grunt (and also get out from under Darrow’s thumb); and (2) he gets to see his wife whenever he wants (assuming Liza wants to see him).

Oh yeah — and he also wants a seat on the Target Committee charged with determining how, when, and where the bomb will be used. Darrow grants the first two conditions, but will only promise to put a scientist on the Target Committee. Translation: Anyone but Frank. But at least the scientists will have finally have a voice.

So Frank and Charlie end up working together again to figure out what went wrong. Frank suggests the problem is with the detonators; Charlie glares and says that was the first thing he checked. Their relationship has always been antagonistic at heart, but their respective strengths complement each other — that antagonism seems to drive a mutual creativity. There’s a great shot of the two men hard at work with the bomb schematics traced in chalk on the wooden floor, and Charlie starts to thaw a bit toward Frank.


Then Frank has to go and ruin their fragile bond. He has a flash of insight and refuses to tell Charlie, insisting they can use the solution as leverage to get a scientist on the Target Committee. “You’re going to hold the project hostage?” an incredulous Charlie asks. And then we learn that Charlie has been given that seat — the obvious choice. Frank switches tactics, imploring Charlie to use his influence to ensure the bomb is detonated on an uninhabited island: “Show the world our power and our restraint.”

So what was the problem? The detonators, as Frank suspected all along. Each connection had been color coded by hand in yellow or red paint to indicate positive or negative charge, and someone accidentally used the wrong color on one of the components, so the charges got turned around. Frank has established his brilliance yet again — or maybe just his cunning. He goes straight to his buddy, Lazar (the explosives expert), who asked how long it took Charlie to figure it out. Frank says he had to tell him. Lazar chuckles: “I told you not to bet on that boy.” They conspired to sabotage the test so Frank would have leverage to negotiate. In the end, he decides to bet on Charlie’s personal ethics holding sway when the critical decision is made.


In other developments:

  • Midway through the episode, news breaks that Hitler has committed suicide and Germany will surrender. The soldiers erupt in celebration; those in the know, however, understand that this does not mark the end of the war. Attention will simply now focus on the ongoing conflict with Japan.

Fritz’s wife, Jeannie, was brutally murdered by Nora in last week’s episode, because Jeannie figured out Meeks was a spy. The usually jovial Fritz is so grief-stricken that he can barely leave his tent at the Trinity site, nor can he summon much enthusiasm for the comic books Meeks brings him as a peace offering. Liza Winter befriends him and gets him to help her with her radiation study, assuring him that her work will help a lot of people, particularly the local natives — exactly what Jeannie would have wanted.

  • Meeks is wracked with guilt and confronts Nora, who tells him the end justifies the means, and if he keeps saying it never happened, eventually he’ll believe it. She plays on his ego, calling him the linchpin in their plan to stop the bomb; he will save thousands of lives. And then they have sex so she can seal the deal to keep him loyal. While she sleeps, he finds her journal with a psychological profile of a spy code-named “Perseus.” It’s not a flattering profile. She insists it’s not about him, that there is another spy on the Hill. Great—now he can’t even feel special.
  • Charlie’s estranged father (Brad Garrett) shows up in Santa Fe; if you watched Season 1, you’ll remember Isaacs Senior was a conman and gambler serving several years in prison. Now he’s out and wants to reconcile with his son, claiming to be a changed man. Charlie wants nothing to do with him. But one of Abby’s fellow switchboard operators overhears the call, and spills the beans. Abby convinces Darrow to let her take their son, Joey, into town to see his grandfather.

The meeting starts out well enough, but then Isaacs Senior begins pressing Abby for details about Charlie’s work. He’s figured out they’re building some kind of weapon, and he’s got some hare-brained notion they can start a weapons manufacturing company together (Isaacs and Son!) now that the war is nearly over. Abby catches on: he wants money. She gives him a substantial check (drawn from her trust fund) on the condition that he leave them alone.

  • Isaacs Senior isn’t the only person looking to profit from wartime research. Helen’s new love interest, the patent lawyer, might appreciate her talents in the bedroom, but he’s most impressed with her work on a detonator for the gun model. It might seem useless on the Hill, but he assures her the patent would be worth millions if someone were, say, looking for oil. Sure, technically that research belongs to the government, but “only if I tell them about it.” I think he’s angling for early retirement via a rich wife.
  • Finally, we have the British duo of Hogarth and Crosley, conspiring to funnel information from Site X to make Britain a leader in nuclear energy. Hogarth presents Crosley with his release papers from the Hill — their part of the war is over — and tells him to pack. They’re going home. Except as they drive off, they’re stopped and detained. Darrow presents the iron-clad evidence of Hogarth’s intellectual espionage. Cornered, Hogarth tries to pin it on Crosley — who is then ushered in, to reveal that the whole thing was a sting operation. It’s a brilliant double-cross; I didn’t think Crosley had it in him. He’s chosen a side, and becomes a US citizen.

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Fun fact: the failed test in this episode is similar to real world Manhattan Project tests used to judge the symmetry of the implosion. Know as the RaLa tests, they used an isotope called Radio-Lanthanum (Lanthanum-140), a gamma emitter. Detectors outside the sphere recorded reductions in the gamma flux as the implosion increased the density of metal spheres holding the radioactive sample. Some 250 such tests were conducted, providing data critical to finalizing the design of the bomb.