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Manhattan recap: The Threshold

Liza Winter’s defiant clash with Col. Darrow makes life worse for Frank.

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TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
Rachel Brosnahan, Michael Chernus, Christopher Denham

January 1939

Seneca Falls Sanatorium

2,381 days to Hiroshima

Episode 3 of Manhattan’s second season opens on a woman standing in the rain, then a naked person underneath a table, and a roomful of slumped, dejected figures as Frank and Liza Winter sit at a table.

We’ve seen evidence of Liza’s emotional volatility in season 1, but here we get a flash back to her time in a mental facility after attempting suicide years before. John Benjamin Hickey’s Frank has convinced himself (and is trying to persuade her) that she simply made a mistake and took too many pills. Neither really buys that.

Last episode belonged to Hickey, but this one is owned by Olivia Williams as Liza, a woman who embodies both delicate vulnerability and a strength and resolve that was ahead of her time. Seeing her in a weakened state at the opening gives us a refreshing perspective on the powerhouse Liza inhabiting Los Alamos in the show’s present.

She can’t have newspapers in the hospital. The one Frank brought was confiscated. She also can’t wear her wedding ring, since they could be choking hazards. Frank hears a distant woman screaming uncontrollably. “Someone must have shown her a newspaper,” he says.

Liza seems content to drift, but Frank vows to bring her home. Before he leaves, he takes a strip of yarn from the scarf his wife is knitting and ties it in a makeshift wedding ring around her finger.

It’s a great moment — not just an example of the tenderness between them, but a metaphor. The string you tie around your finger is supposed to remind you of something, right? This is Frank doing something that, despite all his faults, she will never forget.

As he leaves, a voice on the radio announces that German scientists have split the building blocks of all matter. Atomic energy could become a promising source of fuel in the decades to come.

Frank is blessed and cursed with the ability to see the potential in things. His wife, for one. Atomic energy, another. The latter makes him more afraid than hopeful.

We see Frank and Glen Babbit (Daniel Stern) meeting with a representative from the military to impress upon him the need to start work on a bomb that harnesses this new “fuel.”

“Hitler is already stockpiling uranium,” Frank explains. He knows the scientists who are over there trying to weaponize it. But remember, it’s still only 1939.

“You’re telling me I need a bomb that doesn’t exist to win a war that we won’t be involved in when it starts… if it starts,” the military rep says.

Even Glen isn’t so sure. “Some genies belong in their lamps,” he says.

As the military man leaves, we get the episode’s Sly Gay Joke #1: The military man says he saw Glen’s ex-wife recently and wants to know how “to unload a wife so smoothly.” “It’s all in the wrist,” Glen says, making a sweeping motion to the door.

It turns out Glen, one of the Winters’ best friends, thinks Liza is on a “research sabbatical.” Frank asks him to help talk the government into developing work on the atom bomb. “You must know someone with a line to the president.”

Cut to Glen and Frank walking up to the door of a house. The name on the mailbox: “A. Einstein.”

NEXT: Engagements, Marriages, and Affairs