Seventy years ago, America did the unthinkable when scientists created the most powerful weapon in the world and used it and ended scores of lives.
The moral justification of using the atomic bombs that were used upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki is moot, but it was the moment in history that redefined our world, for both better and worse. What is often overlooked in history was the team of scientists who were vying to create the aforementioned devices used, that is where WGNA’s Manhattan comes in.
When entering this critically acclaimed series you are given a textured, authentic recreation of a secret town that is built upon subterfuge and compartmentalization. Brilliant scientific minds on the allies side during World War two were corralled to the high desert of New Mexico to develop an instrument of destruction expected to end the war of all wars, and their families brought along remained in the dark, not knowing what was really going in this veritable nowhere-land.
That isn’t even the crux of the series, it’s about the relationships of the characters that are tested by the oppressing weight of secrecy and lies, trust disappears and questions take its place, and the first season both starts and ends with looming questions: where do allegiances begin and end? What does this place do to otherwise honest people when they can’t even talk about what happens at work? And is there a (for real) spy in their midst?
This time around the tension is high and we see characters delve deeper into the dark places of this clandestine world, in the premiere we see Dr. Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey) in absentia, and “where could he be?” Is what is on everyone’s mind: his wife Liza (Olivia Williams) desperately seeking answers on his whereabouts while Charlie Isaacs (Ash Zuckerman) is poised to lead the new main implosion team, riddled with trepidation, taking on Winter’s brainchild.
The estranged core implosion team: Helen Prins (Katja Herbers), Paul Crosley (Harry Lloyd), Louis “Fritz” Fedowitz (Michael Chernus) and Jim Meeks (Christopher Denham) especially want to know where Frank is because they don’t want Isaacs in charge of their work.
New to this season is the god fearing, ruthless Colonel Emmett Darrow (William Petersen), the new military authority on the Manhattan project, who is unafraid to test the loyalty of any denizen under his watch, including the missing Dr. Frank Winter. His presence may represent the stark shift in the second season’s mood, trust is a hard-won commodity when people are disappearing, the government wants only to curtail the project from the lack of results and the enigmatic and perennially smoking Dr. Oppenheimer (Daniel London) weighing the pressure on the implosion team because of this, Abby Isaacs (Rachel Brosnahan) is trying to reconcile with her distant husband Charlie and rebuild the trust they once had, plus on top of all of this anyone can be a spy trying to steal secrets from the project, there is no telling where season two can go.
To kick off the season I got to chat with Chernus and Denham, who play the two friends within the implosion team, Fritz and Meeks from the premiere of the show till now seemed to have the single best rapport out of anyone. From trying to measure out Superman’s superhuman feats with science in the debut, taking magic mushrooms and (attempting to) take on the implosion theory while under the influence of the cubensis, and overall sticking together over any hardship that came their way, especially after the loss of their team member, Sid Liao.
Their bond isn’t comic relief but more so a beacon of hope through all of the bleak, harrowing mistrust that surrounds them, but even that beacon is at jeopardy because in the tail end of the previous season we see it is Meeks who is talking to an outside party, could the timid, detail minded physicist be the spy?
How will the kind hearted, ostensibly naive Fritz stay close to the man who is becoming more and more aloof to the team? Monsters and Critics went to New Mexico and spoke to the cast:
Monsters and Critics: What are you guys excited about going into the second season?
Christopher Denham: The friendship is sort of the heart of the show, it really gets tested in the second season by a series of secrets, betrayals, so that dynamic is really interesting to me to see how we have to intersect and try and keep that lie up.
Michael Chernus: Me too, I mean I think some of the most fun I had this year is working with Chris and finding out more about Fritz and Meeks’ friendship and relationship. And, without giving too much away, a lot of stuff happens between us, including my girlfriend from season one, Jeannie… There’s some great stuff ahead.
CD: The tone is a little more suspenseful this year I want to say, it kind of becomes a Hitchcock thing. So tense, these scripts we’ve been getting, oh my god!
MC: Super tense! And we really didn’t know what was coming, they give us the script for the next episode a week before we shoot it and we’d be getting these episodes and thinking ‘Oh my god.’
M&C: Jim seems reticent going into this season, obviously his allegiances are in question, do you think he is only going to distance himself more and more from the implosion team?
CD: He cares about these people, Fritz particularly, and to lie to them every day is very difficult so I think that it’s not all fun and games for him anymore. He has this double life that he is leading that he can not tell anybody about and he feels like he’s betraying them, he’s betraying his one friend but he is also sort of, in his mind, avenging his other friend Sid. It’s complicated.
M&C: Fritz seems to have the cleanest ledger out of anyone on the Implosion team, is that going to change this season?
MC: I think it does, what’s exciting is everything is changing for everyone! I think Fritz stays true to himself, but he can’t help but be swept up in and affected by everything that is going on this season. Nobody comes out clean at the end of it, unfortunately.
M&C: Do you think there is a bit of narcissism that goes into the physics behind the gadget?
CD: There is an element of Promethean playing god by thinking they can solve the quantum mysteries of this world and then control them… but from their perspective, from some of their perspectives I should say, this is coming out of altruism, this is coming out of saving lives, a lot of us on the show have siblings that are fighting overseas, the sooner we end the war the better. But Oppenheimer probably thought himself somewhat of a deity (laughs).
M&C: Was it surreal to see the replicated gadget at the Trinity set?
MC: Very surreal, we just had the 70th anniversary of the actual Trinity test a couple of days ago and we were out there in the desert at our Trinity set shooting and it’s so weird right now to be here, in New Mexico 70 years later… It’s just so weird and it’s really spooky.
CD: Sort of makes you realized why we’re retelling this story, we need to learn the lessons of it and make sure younger people know this story.
MC: It’s that freaky feeling [like] if you ever see a really accurate fake gun, even if you know it’s fake, there’s still that ‘whoa, holy crap’. It’s a fake recreation of the atomic bomb but still, oh my god.
Be sure to watch the premiere tonight on WGNA 9 pm EST