When we reached the end of the first season of ‘Manhattan’, physicist Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey) had finally confessed to his wife that he had been working on the building of an atom bomb, a complicated game that had led to the release of Charles Isaacs (Ashley Zukerman) as a spy and he being captured in his place. What neither of them knew was that there actually was a spy on the project, and no one even suspected him.
As the second seasons begins, Charlie has assumed command of the project, and a new face for the military has assumed command of him (William Petersen). No one has any idea where Frank is, not even him. As we learned in last night’s episode, he has been shipped to a military prison, being held under charges no one will confirm, and realizing just how much the military has been using him since the project was started. It seems impossible that he will ever return from his location, and yet, as a flash-forward that began the second season premiere reveals, with the testing of the first atomic bomb, it appears that’s exactly what has happened.
Meanwhile, Charlie is trying to rebuild both command of a project that he is no longer trusted with, and trying to rebuild his shattered marriage with Abby (Rachel Brosnahan), who is pregnant with his child after both husband and wife engaged in affairs. There is a certain level of trust as he has taken her into his confidence, but considering the nature of her affair, it is hard to imagine it will last much longer. Then there is the fact that everyone still connected with the project believes more in Frank’s ideas than in Charlie’s, and that the level of mistrust and conspiracy has heightened even more.
‘Manhattan’ has every quality that should make a great show: a fascinating presence, one of the better casts on television (in addition to Petersen, Neve Campbell and Mamie Gummer will make appearances in future episodes), and a new, darker look at what was one of the more important moments in history. Yet it seems to have lost some of its initial spark that made it so intriguing last season: the scientific principles have been replaced with more traditional concerns, including the evil of the American military, and the general distrust of its intelligence. The sad fact is, everybody on this series, even the good guys seem egotistical and self-centered. When an OSS agent, the leading villain for much of season 1, revealed some of the more personal and moving issues that motivated him to Charlie, his only reaction was to find out what the spy knew about Frank’s location. With the level of distrust that seems to fill every element of this show, its hard to feel interest in any of the characters. That’s a major blow for a series that has such potential early on, and unless it changes tack quickly, its hard to imagine ‘Manhattan’ will regain the power it had last season.
My score: 3 stars.