It’s the penultimate episode of Manhattan’s second season, but this installment feels like a pretty big chain reaction all by itself.
“Brooklyn” is the title, and like the name of the series itself, it is a New York-themed codename. “Brooklyn” is Jim Meeks (Christopher Denham), an American scientist turned Soviet spy, who thinks creating a nuclear stalemate between the two countries will protect the world once this weapon is deployed.
Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zukerman) leaves home and finds a stick-figure drawing from his son on the windshield. He meets Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey) briefly to talk about the Target Committee, and Frank again urges him to convince the group to drop the bomb on an uninhabited South Pacific island as a show of strength that will make the Japanese surrender without causing mass civilian casualties.
Even if they target a military base, Winter expects there to be 50,000 civilian casualties — about 20,000 of them children.
Charlie seems doubtful that Emperor Hirohito will surrender to a warning shot. “It’s not a warning shot. It’s not even another bomb,” Winter says. “It’s a second sun. The emperor is not surrendering to an army; he’s surrendering to the power of the universe.”
Winter urges him to wait and seize the last word and try to make it personal. Isaacs takes out the drawing, which has a note written on it: GOOD LUCK DADDY. “If we don’t show mercy without WMD in this war, how can we expect anyone to show our kids mercy in the next one.”
Winter thinks that will be persuasive. “Just make sure you get the last word.”
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Meanwhile, at a diner, Victor Green (Victor Talmadge), the Soviet handler, finds himself seized by U.S. agents, including Bucher (Justin Kirk), the character last seen playing mind games with Frank Winter in an offsite U.S. detention camp.
In custody, Kirk’s counter-intelligence agent grills Mr. Green about scraps of partially burned paper they found on his property, referring to “Brooklyn.” The U.S. has determined this is code, but for what? Paul Crosley (Harry Lloyd), who proved his loyalty by revealing the espionage of his fellow Brit William Hogarth in the last episode, is invited to be part of the effort to crack Mr. Green.
Green begs him to help him commit suicide and refers to his son, which makes Crosley aware that someone who knows him well must be “Brooklyn.”
Meeks and his direct handler, Nora (Mamie Gummer), are in crisis mode — preparing to sabotage the upcoming test while simultaneously considering their escape. They have no idea how long Green will hold back what he knows. When his interrogators bring up his daughter, Eleanor (similar name, right?), a student at the University of Pittsburgh who has since disappeared, Green says he’ll talk if they leave her out of this. He offers a name, for the spy on the Hill: Sid Liao, the Asian-American scientist from the first season who was killed after stealing tech, not for another country, but for his own profit after the war.
Crosley doesn’t buy it.
NEXT: What really happened to Jean?
Abby Isaacs (Rachel Brosnahan) has been in touch with John Tatlock, the father of Jean, the mistress of lead scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer. Jean committed suicide sometime after Abby telephoned her to anonymously chastise her for the illicit relationship. She feels responsible for the woman’s death and has reached out to her family to make amends. But…Jean’s father doesn’t believe the suicide note was written by his daughter.
Abby confronts Oppenheimer (Daniel London) with the information. “What business is it of yours?” he asks. When Abby floats the idea that his mistress was murdered and the suicide was staged, he already has his own theory about that. “Do you know the difference between a conjecture and a theorem? I may conjecture that Col. Darrow had Jean murdered to keep me on the project. But I have nothing to test, to prove. Therefore — no theorem. We’ll never know. That’s our world. Uncertainty.”
He tells her she doesn’t need to return to the switchboard. “You’re removed.”
When she has a meeting with Darrow (William Petersen), he decides to reveal the shocking truth, one that plays into longtime, real-life theories about what happened to the real Jean Tatlock. He plays an audio recording of her husband, Charlie, urging him to murder the woman to refocus Oppenheimer on the project. He even offers the colonel some guidance on how to hire a killer, since his father was associated with underworld figures in St. Louis.
In a previous episode, we saw Charlie tell Darrow, “I’m not telling you how to do your job. I’m telling you there’s a job to be done.” But we didn’t see the end of that conversation, and it seemed reasonable to assume that murder was not what Isaacs had in mind. Now, we hear him straight-up advocating for it. “You’re a soldier, right? We’re at war.”
On the Little Boy project, the second bomb in the works, Winter learns the metallurgy budget has been largely spent on a lab in Rochester, N.Y. He seems to know what that is, even if Helen Prins (Katja Herbers) and Theodore Sinclair (Corey Allen) have no idea.
Liza Winter (Olivia Williams) is busy warning about the danger of radioactive particles from the test raining back down to earth. She even coins a term: “fallout,” but no one in the room is listening as they go about their business. She gets their attention by pointing out that the corn muffins they’re munching were baked from corn harvested from another test site. “The extent of the fallout will depend on the weather,” she says. Charlie Isaacs enters and tells them to study her report “chapter and verse” before the test, and her husband, Frank, asks if the muffins were really baked with potentially contaminated ingredients. She smiles. She bought them at the P/X and has no idea.
Fritz (Michael Chernus) decides to step down from the project after the “accidental” death of his wife, Jeannie, who was actually killed by Nora after discovering Jim Meeks is a spy. “I’ve had enough death for a lifetime,” Fritz tells Isaacs.
In the detention area, Darrow comes storming out of the cell containing Green. “Clean it up,” he says, looking urgent and disheveled. Inside the room, Green is lying dead. It doesn’t seem he got the information he was looking for.
NEXT: “You’re a monster”
At the same time, Isaacs goes home for a moment before the big Target Committee meeting. He asks Abby to make him a sandwich for the road, but she tells him, “Have your men do it.”
“Your men, from St. Louis. Your father’s men who took care of Jean Tatlock. Have them do it.”
“It was a bluff,” Charlie says. “To light a fire under Darrow. He took things too far. He did it, not me.”
“You think a jury cares whose hands are dirtier?” she asks.
He starts to give her the old spiel about wartime, loss of life, and how things look from his perspective with so many other lives in the balance. “You let me believe I was responsible for a woman’s death,” she answers. “You’re a monster.”
Suddenly, everything her horrible father-in-law warned her about his son in the last episode seems to be coming true. Charlie has no time for this and asks to see his son. “He’s on his way to Brooklyn,” Abby says — revealing the second reason behind this episode’s title. She has sent him to her parents’ house with their housekeeper.
“Colonel may have me trapped here, but my son will have no part of this,” she says.
Charlie grabs her violently. “You think I won’t get in the car and bring him back?”
“Your test is in 24 hours,” she replies coolly. “You think I don’t know which way you’ll drive?”
Back in Green’s barn, Bucher and Crosley are staging the deceased spy’s hanging suicide. Bucher casually mentions that he prefers to create these scenes in people’s homes. “I prefer bathrooms. It’s a good place to open a wrist — or drown,” he says.
You know what that implies.
Neither believes Green confessed the identity of “Brooklyn.” “Angry man, your colonel,” Bucher says. “He’ll make a hell of a senator some day. You’ll see.”
Each grabs a foot and pulls — cracking the neck of Green’s corpse. “World War II is over,” Bucher says. “The next war has already started. It’s going to be unlike any conflict in history. It’s going to be waged silently by men like you and me. We’re forming a new breed of intelligence operation. One with a more…centralized approach.”
Their Soviet counterparts, Nora and Jim, are busy trying to figure out how to deal with Green’s death. Nora proposes not just sabotaging the test, but also wiring it to go off before the scientists clear the test site. “You want to kill my friends,” Meeks says.
“We do one terrible thing tomorrow,” she says. “But then no one ever has to again.”
It’s an ominous suggestion, especially since we know from the first episode of this season that Meeks ends up in the tower babysitting the bomb on the night of the test.
NEXT: “We have to be monsters today”
Elsewhere, we see Helen and her new boyfriend, Stan (Jason Ralph), the patent lawyer, relaxing in bed while she laments her frustration at not getting to visit the Trinity test. He tells her not to go, and she gripes that even he has a pass to attend.
It’s pretty clear. He’s got to be “Perseus,” the other Soviet spy — right? At the very least, the show clearly wants us to think this.
Bucher shows up on the Hill outside Frank Winter’s office, and the two old prison buddies have an uncomfortable reunion. “I hear you fixed both gadgets inside of six months. Not bad for a conscientious objector,” Bucher says.
“What do you want?”
Bucher tells Winter about a prison camp in Alabama for German POWs, some of them cultural ambassadors, including musicians. Including Frank’s mother. “I thought you might like to know,” Bucher says.
The next day, Helen confronts Frank in his office. She has found out how the metallurgy budget ended up in Rochester. Frank filled out the wrong forms. Liza is collaborating with the University of Rochester on her fallout work, and the money from Little Boy just funded her research and equipment. Quite a coincidence, Helen notes. “It must be really exhausting making sure we don’t finish Little Boy on time,” she says.
Helen feels betrayed. She has backed every move by Frank, even the illegal ones. She suspects Frank may have had a hand in sabotaging earlier tests, only to fix the problem and return to a position of power in the tech group.
At the test site, scientists are busy assembling the big bomb, and Isaacs considers the drawing from his children again. When the Target Committee meets, Charlie doesn’t wait for the last word — he starts the meeting, instead.
He rattles through everything Winter told him to say, about showing mercy and detonating a test on an unpopulated island, but now that his wife has called him a murderer and stolen away his son, the darkest possible version of Charlie Isaacs — a character we once thought of as a hero of this show — emerges from a place within him that we never suspected was there.
Isaacs says we need to show the world unmitigated power. “The truth is, we can be loved — or we can have peace,” he says. “Not both.”
If the bomb is going to change the world, then he tells the Target Committee to embrace the title of “monsters, who erased a city, without warning.”
“You mean a military target,” one of the generals interrupts.
“No, a city. Full of civilians,” Isaacs says. “And we detonate at the altitude that gives us the widest blast radius. Maximum destruction of infrastructure. Homes. Hospitals. Schools. It has to be catastrophic, on a scale that no one has ever imagined.”
He thinks for a moment. “If we detonate our bomb on a desert island, we might stop this war. But we won’t prevent the next one. The weapon we’re testing — Fat Man. It’s nothing. We’ll measure it in kilotons for TNT. But 20 years from now they’ll be counting in megatons. Countries. Continents. So I’m begging you for you kids and grandkids: Show the world what evil looks like — once.… We have to be monsters today to stop the monsters of tomorrow.”
At the same time, we see Jim and Stan (aha, he is Perseus!) driving together to the test site.
Suddenly, they seem like the good guys.
Back at his room, Fritz is watching a home movie of his wedding when Crosley comes to comfort him. He succeeds in boosting Fritz’s spirits a little, but something catches his eye in the movie: Jim Meeks puts on a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap.
After the Target Meeting, Charlie paces around the desert, looking distraught. Oppenheimer walks up to him, and without breaking stride, he punches Isaacs in the face. That’s for Jean. But also, Oppenheimer seems horrified at what Charlie has just proposed.
As night draws near, Helen enters Darrow’s office and says she believes Frank Winter is sabotaging the project, while Crosley enters Winters’s office and says: “We need to talk about Jim.”