Manhattan, Season 2, Episode 8, “Human Error”
Written by Mark Lafferty
Directed by Julie Anne Robinson
Airs Tuesdays at 9pm (ET) on WGN
If there’s one thing the inhabitants of the Hill are gifted at, it’s keeping secrets. After all, the very existence of Los Alamos is hush hush, as Charlie’s dad, Eli Isaacs (played by Brad Garrett), finds out when he ambles to the edge of town looking for his estranged son. He asks a suited government spook about Charlie’s mysterious post office box, but the guy blows him off, pointedly telling him to “fold yourself into a letter and see where the trail leads you. I’ll lick the stamp.” Stonewalled, Eli resorts to dropping his last name, using the only currency he has to get a phone call to the base. In Manhattan, everyone is an experienced information broker by necessity and design, and, in another strong episode, “Human Error” shows how this eats away at everyone’s relationships and also allows them to twist information inequities to their advantage.
While ex-con Eli shows up to make a cash grab and try persuade Charlie to join him in a post-war scheme to sell arms to Jews, it’s actually Frank who’s running the biggest scam in the episode. And like Eli, he picks Charlie as his mark. But, while Charlie knows his old man is bad news without even bothering to lay eyes on him, he gets completely played by Frank because he needs him. In the season premiere, Charlie said he was punching above his weight. Well, that kind of exertion leads to exhaustion and mistakes, like having the Gadget very publicly go up in flames during its first testing. Now desperate, Charlie needs Frank’s brain to help him figure out what went wrong. More importantly, Darrow needs Frank to figure out what went wrong and agrees to nearly all Frank’s demands–an honorable discharge, his old job, the right to see Liza, and a scientist on the Target Committee–in exchange for Frank acting as Darrow’s “manufacturer’s warranty.” Watching Frank not give a shit when Darrow asks him to help Charlie is hilarious. “Maybe God will hand him some kind of miracle, a eureka. Put your faith in that,” he quips. What a difference a few weeks and a smoldering bomb makes.
But if Frank’s work on Darrow is a thing of beauty, his dismantling of Charlie is a bit more chilling. Charlie’s not very likable. He’s an arrogant little kiss ass who ignored Frank’s intelligence about there being no German bomb partly out of ambition. But the wonderful scene where Frank admits his role in Sid Liao’s death and gets Charlie talking about the way the Hill changes a man into thinking “everything’s negotiable” if it serves a greater purpose is like seeing Frank take candy from a baby. Charlie never suspects he’s being played as Frank pretends to figure out the detonator problem and trades the prized information in exchange for Charlie agreeing to sell Frank’s peacenik line to the Target Committee. When it’s later revealed that Frank got Lazar to tamper with the detonators in order to run the table against Darrow and Charlie, Frank proves Charlie’s point that everything is negotiable if it serves a greater good. The scam is so jaw-dropping, it’s hard to know whether to feel impressed or horrified.
As it turns out, Paul ran quite a scam, too. For weeks, it’s appeared that the British cad was spying for king and country, just as Hogarth asked. But instead, he’s been feeding info to Darrow on Hogarth and the Site X spies in exchange for U.S. citizenship. And, apparently, Nora has been lying to Jim about them being the only Soviet spies on the Hill. After a sleep over, he finds her spy notes under the bed and she confesses there is a third spook lurking about. Jim seems to think that lets him off the hook for further skullduggery. If he’d known that tidbit last week, he surely wouldn’t have allowed Nora to smash in Jeannie’s skull. Or, at least, one would hope. In perhaps the show’s most grotesque example of a relationship sullied by secrets, Jim seems unnervingly comfortable lying to Fritz’s face about the fate of his wife, gifting his friend comic books and blandly agreeing that Jeannie was “the best.” It’s not clear if this guy is guilt-stricken or becoming hardened, and Christopher Denham continues to walk an admirably ambiguous line with his performance.
Finally, Abby is left to deal with Eli when Charlie refuses to. She tries to give him the benefit of the doubt and brings little Joey out to meet his grandfather at a dusty nearby restaurant. After listening to Eli outline his nutty business plan, Abby figures out Charlie was right and tries to cut her losses by writing her father-in-law a fat kiss-off check. Eli explodes, following her to the car as he outlines all of Charlie’s sins, including him having a great poker face. “If I was you,” he spits, “I wouldn’t believe anything he says.” As Manhattan‘s marvelous second season winds down, that advice likely applies to every character on the Hill.
- According to Paul, the bar on the Hill started serving a new cocktail to celebrate Hitler’s suicide: Hitler’s Brains, made of schnapps and red grenadine.
- News of Hitler’s death sends the military boys into a frenzy that includes shooting pistols in the air. Haven’t they ever seen the Mythbusters episode showing how dangerous that is?
- Helen’s new casual fling Stan seems like he could be the real thing. If she let’s him be, that is. Manhattan‘s creative team openly salivates over the stories they want to tell after the war. These two could be a fun pair in future seasons.
- The cover story for Jeannie’s death is that she wandered into a construction zone. Meanwhile, Fritz, the most fun character on the Hill, has lost his will to live. The only thing that gives him a modicum of joy is the thought of Liza doing radiation experiments on him. He even shaves off his mustache (presumably because Jeannie once said it was scratchy).