“It’s all science fiction.”
Episode 5 of this season of Manhattan begins with John Benjamin Hickey’s Frank Winter making this declaration to Ashley Zukerman’s Charlie Isaacs. It’s the first time either has seen each other since Frank was detained, and now he’s back at Los Alamos to tell Isaacs, the current leader of the tech group, that there is no Nazi bomb.
“The Army manipulated us,” Winter explains. But Isaacs, to his horror, is unmoved.
“The gadget’s an inevitability,” the younger scientist says.
“You don’t even care that we’ve been lied to?”
“There’s a war on three continents. And a madman rounding up Jews,” Isaacs says. Then his pregnant wife, Abby (Rachel Brosnahan) comes into the room. She’s pale, sweating. Something is wrong.
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Outside the home, Winter is arrested by military police, and we next see him in the office of Col. Darrow (William Petersen) who is not happy that the White House forced the release of his prisoner. And he’s even less happy that the prisoner is back making trouble on his Hill.
When Winter threatens to tell the world about the Army’s deception, using the threat of a non-existent Nazi bomb to motivate scientists to build one for the U.S., Darrow hands him two folders.
One contains charges of espionage for sharing what he knows with Isaacs. The other is an enlistment form.
“You’re going to send me to the front?” Winter says.
“You’ll stay right here as a private in the Army under my command. Unless you test my patience then you’ll get a one-way ride to the Pacific,” Darrow tells him.
It’s really not much of a choice. “Now go say goodbye to your wife,” Darrow says.
In another act of cruelty, the colonel won’t let Liza Winter (Olivia Williams) leave Los Alamos either, but the husband and wife are forbidden from associating.
Liza is furious at Frank for dragging her back when they were free and clear. “You told me two days,” she says.
NEXT: Six months later…
We then flash forward six months to December 1944.
W.D. Lorentzen, the newspaper reporter (and former flame of Liza’s) who has similarly become stuck in the gravitational pull of Los Alamos, is trying to figure out how Frank went from head of the tech group to buck private. “Best-educated grunt in history of the U.S. military,” says the writer (played by Griffin Dunne). “What do you say we unbury that lead?”
We get a series of flashbacks to June 1944 in a curious structure that makes this feel like a bit of narrative whiplash — leaping ahead six months, then leaping back. We see Frank bond with Private Dunlavey (Jefferson White), who still harbors feelings for his daughter. “Don’t discuss my daughter,” Frank says. “And don’t call me sir. You outrank me.”
Soon, Dunlavey is shipped off to Saipan, the “bloodiest theater in the war,” to punish Frank for sneaking to visit his own wife. Frank confronts Col. Darrow, who makes no apologies. “When I give an order, I expect it to be followed,” he says.
As we snap back to the future of December, we learn that Abby’s feeling ill at the beginning of the episode was something much more serious than anyone realized. She lost her baby. She wants Liza to tell her if the dangerous substances being used on the Hill may have had some cause, but apparently hers was the only late-term miscarriage among the population.
As Lorentzen continues his shoe-leather reporting, we see a story from Fritz and Meeks’ perspective of an encounter in the desert on the site of the coming Trinity test. Frank is out in the brush with blast-cap aficionado Lazar (Peter Stormare) testing ordnance when Fritz, Meeks, and Isaacs show up to examine the site.
When local ranchers ride up on horseback and level a shotgun at Isaacs’ face over the government plans to confiscate the land for a pittance, Frank talks the cowboy down and persuades him to do a mineral survey that might squeeze a richer payout from Uncle Sam.
Isaacs responds with resentment rather than gratitude, and the two men end up throwing punches, then rolling around in the dust. Afterward, Charlie banishes Frank from the tech area. From now on, if Charlie has his way, Frank’s just digging ditches. (But who says Charlie gets everything he wants?)
NEXT: The final moments of 1944
When Lorentzen questions Paul Crosley, he learns that the implosion project known as “Thin Man” is now being called “Little Boy,” which is the real name of one of the two bombs developed at Los Alamos.
Hogarth, the head of implosion, explains why he promoted Paul over Helen Prins. “War is no longer a question of artillery and trenches or how many tank divisions you can martial to outflank your rival. Information is the future.” He’s a Brit, and so is Crosley. He suggests they need to begin compiling information about the bomb not just for the Americans, but for their own country.
We know one reason for bad blood between the two men is a past relationship Crosley had with Hogarth’s daughter. The older man tells him that if he helps spy for Britain, he’ll be welcomed back and can resume his relationship with his daughter. Hogarth also has a photo of a young child on his desk.
Hogarth shows him and says this is Crosley’s chance to “go home to your little boy.”
So, it turns out the name-change has a deeper reason than anyone else realizes.
The episode ends with Lorentzen showing Darrow a report he wants to publish about the secret project being built in Los Alamos. Darrow isn’t interested in pulling back the curtain just yet, but that’s why Lorentzen was looking into Frank’s story — leverage. “Why did you let Frank back onto the Hill? Shut him up or torture him?” he asks, before supplying his own answer.
Frank Winter is Darrow’s insurance policy. He’s keeping him close because Winter can be used as a fail-safe to solve problems Isaacs can’t answer or Oppenheimer can’t focus on.
Frank, we discover, is the one who solved the “Little Boy” uranium problem.
Darrow gives the pages of Lorentzen’s story back to him and agrees to let him publish.
As the show winds to a close, we see the characters celebrating the last moments of 1944 on New Year’s Eve. Abby visits babies in the hospital nursery, and Frank opens a package at his desk. Inside is a lighter he gave to Private Dunlavey before he was shipped off.
Frank takes the package to Liza. Dunlavey is dead. Killed in battle in the Pacific.
Darrow exacts quite a punishment when he wants, but the ones who suffer the worst seem to rarely be the offenders.