Manhattan, Season 2, Episode 9, “Brooklyn”
Written by Dustin Thomason
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Airs Tuesdays at 9pm (ET) on WGN
“May the Lord forgive us all.” -Colonel Darrow
The devil, they say, is in the details. But in “Brooklyn,” Manhattan‘s penultimate episode of the season, the monster in the minutia. So many secrets are revealed in this (literally) breakneck paced episode that viewers can be forgiven for needing one of the scientist’s blackboards to chart it all out, but every bit of it is earned, and it vigorously shakes the soda can for next week’s explosive season finale.
The heart of the episode is Charlie Isaacs. Or rather, the episode focuses on what lies in the heart of Charlie Isaacs, the man about to unleash the most powerful weapon mankind has ever seen upon the world. And like all things on Manhattan, it’s complicated. As last week’s review pointed out, Charlie is not very likable. He’s an adulterer, a plaigiarist, and an opportunist. And this week, Abby discovers her husband may also be a second-hand murderer, having been caught on tape telling Darrow to put a government hit on Oppenheimer’s mistress, Jean Tatlock. But like Charlie confesssed to Frank last week, the Hill has taken its toll on him, pushing him to make a series of choices that sacrifice the few for the sake of the many, mini litmus tests for his ultimate act of handing a working Gadget over to the Army. At the beginning of the episode, Charlie agrees to Frank’s plan of trying to convince the Targeting Committee to drop the bomb on a deserted island as a show of strength. He decides to use his love of his son Joey to make the pitch, because “if we don’t show mercy with our WAMD in this war, how can we expect anyone to show our children mercy in the next one?” But after Abby finds out about Charlie’s role in Tatlock’s death, she sends Joey back east to protect him from his “monster” of a father. Out of guilt, out of anger, out of resignation to history, Charlie then embraces his inner demons and, in a chillingly eloquent speech (which Ashley Zukerman nails), tells the committee they need to destroy as many lives as possible with the Gadget, reasoning that “we have to be monsters today to stop the monsters of tomorrow.”
And Abby, good god. She can never seem to stop herself from digging into other people’s business. She originally nosed into the Oppenheimer marriage out of boredom and envy, but now she’s acting out of grief over her miscarriage and guilt over Jean Tatlock. Watching her sit down with Oppenheimer to dig for clues into Tatlock’s death is jaw-dropping in its presumptuousness, but in her mind, she’s trying to help. That she does just the opposite is the tragedy. Manhattan excels at using the characters’ inner lives to bring its larger historical canvas to life, and Charlie and Abby’s storyline is one of its best examples. What if Abby hadn’t sent Joey away? What if Abby hadn’t meddled in Oppenheimer’s life to begin with? What if Eli hadn’t shown up to stir the pot last week, making Abby even more suspicious of Charlie? What if Charlie never slept with Helen? Had any of these things played out differently, would Charlie have told the Target Committee to blow a Japanese city off the map? How many of the world’s great historical nightmares have been born from similarly mundane domestic interactions? The monster is in the minutia.
And then there are the episode’s big reveals. First, Justin Kirk’s Bucher is back, this time to help Paul interrogate the freshly captured Victor. This leads to all kinds of intrigue, including the confirmation that Nora is Victor’s adopted daughter (which had been hinted at in “Behold the Lord High Executioner“) and the revelation that Darrow is not as cool under pressure as he seems. Next, Helen’s lawyer fling Stan is shown to be the other Soviet spy on the Hill, driving off with Jim. And speaking of Helen, she figures out that Frank sabotaged the Gadget’s pre-test and reports him to Darrow. Meanwhile, Paul visits Fritz as he’s watching the film taken on his wedding day and notices Jim pulling on his Brooklyn Dodgers cap in the footage, finally putting together that Jim is a spy. The footage was eerie when it was first shown in “The Threshold,” and its reappearance is used to great effect here. This show is meticulous in picking up its story threads, leaving no foreshadowing unfulfilled.
History tells viewers the Gadget will be tested and dropped on Japan. Manhattan‘s writers told viewers back in the premiere that the season would come down to Jim hunkered down with the Gadget, Frank banned from the Trinity test on penalty of death, and Charlie standing in a thunderstorm, gazing up at the Gadget like a mad scientist. But these spoilers have done nothing to ease the tension and excitement viewers feel heading into next week’s finale because Manhattan doesn’t rely on broad strokes for its drama. The monster is in the minutia.
- It figures that Darrow is running his own private NSA operation in the back room of his office.
- After Darrow kills Victor, Bucher and Paul stage his suicide in a barn, completing the act with a tug on his legs to snap his neck. Bucher tells Paul that men like them, scientists and psychologists, will be the new frontline soldiers in a cold war that revolves around central intelligence. Fodder for a future season?
- Justin Kirk makes every series he appears in better. And his casting is on top of the glorious guest stint by Neve Campbell and the canny additions of William Petersen and Mamie Gummer to the main cast. Manhattan is ridiculously blessed with acting talent.
- Oppenheimer lands the best punch of the series when he decks Charlie.
- Paul tells Frank, not Darrow, about Jim. Will that somehow play to Frank’s advantage in the finale?
- WGN America renewed Manhattan for a second season between its penultimate episode and finale last year. Here’s hoping lightning strikes twice.