“Pearl Harbor was an inside job.”
So begins episode 6 of Manhattan‘s second season, and the line is spoken by one of the conspiracy-minded old timers fishing in a lagoon. Out of nowhere, one of them catches a license plate. In what looked a lot like an homage to the final scene of Psycho, we then see the vehicle belonging to counter intelligence officer Avram Fischer (Richard Schiff) being hoisted from the murky depths.
The show begins with Helen Prins (Katja Herbers) calling for worker and scientist safety, since now they are engaged with highly risky research such as criticality, pushing the core of the gadget to the brink of an uncontrolled chain reaction.
She also urges her collected colleagues to push for scientist representation on the Targeting Committee, which will determine how or when the bomb they make is deployed.
Fritz (Michael Chernus) asks Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zukerman) to consider doing some research on the effect of all this radioactive research on human beings. Charlie agrees, if he can find an expert already on the hill who isn’t otherwise engaged. He goes to Liza Winter (Olivia Williams) who is still furious at Col. Darrow for sending Private Dunlavey to his doom in the South Pacific to punish her husband, Frank, for contacting her.
Darrow (William Petersen) later agrees to give Liza the job, after she scares the hell out of him by pointing out that if a fast neutron chain reaction — known colloquially as “tickling the dragon’s tail” — got out of control in an adjacent building, it would have no problem passing through those walls and giving him a fatal dose of radiation at his desk chair.
Elsewhere, Jim Meeks (Christopher Denham) is in the new lead of a community theater production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Charlie has a tense conversation with his wife, Abby (Rachel Brosnahan), which sends him to the campus watering hole for a drink with Helen. “I would like to address an injustice,” he says — and dumps a drink in her lap.
But really, he wants to invite her to be part of the G group on the primary bomb. “The test is three months off, and we’re shorthanded and under-brained.” FDR’s science adviser, Vannevar Bush, is on his way to Los Alamos to review test preparations, and Charlie needs the program to be firing on all cylinders. Helen accepts.
In the operator room, Abby discovers that Paul Crosley (Harry Lloyd) is using a British phone attendant to send off-the-books updates on Plutonium enrichment to their government — a.k.a. spying, albeit for an ally.
Frank (John Benjamin Hickey) urges Helen to take the opportunity of FDR’s science adviser visit to slip him a letter from the scientists on the hill demanding a place at the table on the Targeting Committee.
Meeks lets his Soviet handler Nora (Mamie Gummer) know about the petition, but she tells him not to stand for anything. She wants him to earn Charlie’s trust, period. So Meeks tips him off about the petition too, and Darrow confronts Winter. Ultimately, he decides to let Winter circulate his letter.
The reason, which isn’t immediately clear to Frank, is that Darrow wants to see who is disloyal enough to sign it. Frank keeps pressuring Helen to give the letter to FDR’s man.
NEXT: A ticking time bomb