They’re making a “gadget,” one that they hope will save the world … but fear will actually destroy it someday.
In Manhattan, WGN’s new World War II drama about scientists racing to develop an atomic bomb while grappling with the threat of espionage and the equally undermining power of egos, has just finished its first season, and the network is re-running all 13 episodes this Sunday, Oct. 26, in one marathon showing starting at 11 a.m. ET (8 a.m. PT.)
For those who are already fans, it’s a chance to revisit those earlier episodes and catch little hints and Easter eggs that become much more important as this fictional story of the Manhattan Project progresses. For those who haven’t yet tuned in but are intrigued by the idea of a Mad Men-style story fueled by the nuclear age, it’s the perfect time to devote 13 hours to a Manhattan binge-watch.
Here’s an EW guide to each episode, including commentary from series creator Sam Shaw (Masters of Sex) who has declassified some of the behind-the-scenes trivia.
EPISODE 1 — “You Always Hurt the One You Love.”
The pilot episode introduces us with the Manhattan Project already in full swing, so to speak. Our central character, grizzled scientist Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey), is unleashing some frustration, by teeing off golf balls into the New Mexico desert. That’s when inspiration strikes: the key to unlocking the destructive power of the atom could be compression, not simply a traditional explosion.
From there, we see just how dysfunctional this nuclear family is: two scientific brothers — Winters, and his clean-cut, politically savvy rival Reed Akley (David Harbour) — are competing for their aloof and demanding father-figure, J. Robert Oppenheimer (Daniel London), one of the few true-life figures in the show.
We also meet a character who serves as a sort of kid brother in this family dynamic, a young scientist named Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zukerman) who arrives at Los Alamos, an entire town that is top secret, and is told by one of the guards: “Welcome to nowhere.”
MUSICAL INSPIRATION: “In the script for this first hour of our season, the Mills Brothers’ 1944 recording You Always Hurt the One You Love played over the final sequence; but our fantastic composers Jonsi & Alex (you may know Jonsi better as the front man of the Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros) scored the ending so beautifully we dropped the track that gives the episode its title.”
CREATOR CAMEO: “The Isaacs’s pajama’d neighbor, who appears briefly about halfway through 101, is played by yours truly,” Shaw says. “I tried to leave my Hitchcockian cameo on the cutting room floor; unfortunately, director Tommy Schlamme wouldn’t let me drop that one.”
EPISODE 2 — “The Prisoner’s Dilemma”
This is the tragedy of Sid Liao, a scientist in Winter’s group, and a young Asian-American fighting against the prejudice of a culture burning with hatred for “Japs.” In Los Alamos, he’s fighting for his homeland — the United States — but also hopes that some of the technologies he was developing could make him some money after the war ends and secrecy is lift. So he has taken some documents home with him, and ends up paying a steep price when military brass, fearing espionage, wants to make an example of someone.
RAZOR UNSHEATHED: “Our second hour ends with a bang that upends the tenuous sense of security on the Hill. [It] also introduces a figure who will cast a shadow over the rest of the season: Richard Schiff’s for-now-unnamed inquisitor,” Shaw says. “On the page, he’s called ‘Occam,’ after Occam’s Razor, [a scientific principle] which proposes that, in the absence of conclusive proof, simple solutions should take precedence over complex ones—a lethal proposition in the world of Manhattan.”
EPISODE 3 — “The Hive”
There is a death on The Hill, violent and mysterious, which causes a panic in this tight-knit community of scientists and their families like a rock thrown into a beehive. Kept utterly in the dark by their husbands, who have now seen the cost of breaking their vow of secrecy, the wives of Los Alamos are searching for their own answers, any type they can get. In the case of Winter’s botanist wife Liza (Olivia Williams), she turns to her own research on the environment in their unusual new town, while Isaacs’ wife Abby (Rachel Brosnahan) takes work in the compound’s telephone hub — where she develops an unexpectedly close relationship with an enticing French operator named Elodie (Carole Weyers.)
THINKING INSIDE THE BOX: “We nearly titled this hour ‘Box 1663,’ the Hill’s famously mysterious postal address. The episode is full of boxes, literal and metaphoric, from the cardboard crate full of Sid Liao’s personal effects to Liza’s bee box to the black box of Los Alamos itself. Thematically, its stories revolve around questions of compartmentalization — of information, of grief, of guilt.”
UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE: “The photo of Werner Heisenberg that Charlie tapes to his blackboard was taped to a whiteboard in the Manhattan writers’ office, along with a Heisenberg quote: ‘You just have to be able to drill in very hard wood… and keep on thinking beyond the point at which thinking begins to hurt,'” Shaw says. “He was talking about physics. It’s also a decent description of TV writing.”