In this new television series set in 1943 New Mexico, fictional main characters work on the Manhattan Project led by J. Robert Oppenheimer to build the world's first atomic bomb. The second episode gets even more intense. There are no major plot spoilers in this review.
The first scene shows a nervous, taciturn young man traveling by taxi through the desert wilderness of New Mexico. He carries a parcel that he never sets down or lets out of his sight. It is a crate formerly used to pack oranges. The abrasive taxi driver is almost going out of his mind with curiosity about it. He keeps making remarks like, "Those must be some oranges!" He and the kid have been traveling for two days together, and the kid won't even hold up his end of the conversation. Finally when they stop in a crummy little diner attached to a gas station out on the mesa, the driver eyes the orange crate on the kid's lap, the parcel about which he's never going to know the full story, and blurts in open resentment, "What kind of grown man doesn't know how to drive a car anyway?" The kid gives him a stressed-out look and says, "I'm from Brooklyn."
But it's not the kid that's important. It's what is in the orange crate – a sample of the newly discovered plutonium-239, which of course is delivered straight to power-hungry scientist Reed Akley on the Hill (what will become Los Alamos National Laboratory). Obsessive scientist Frank Winters learns this only when he bursts into the end of a meeting to which he was not invited. His small team is racing against Akley's larger team with both physicists hoping to persuade Oppenheimer to choose his design. Akley's is a gun-type weapon nicknamed Thin Man. Frank's is an implosion device. In the pilot episode, Frank resorted to some desperate – even ruthless – action that barely managed to keep his little group from being disbanded, but he cannot go forward with his own design unless he claims some of the new plutonium, which is allocated entirely to Akley despite Frank fiercely arguing for his share.
Meanwhile, poor little Abby sets her kitchen on fire, trying to cook with a malfunctioning stove. (She is the wife of Charley Isaacs, hot-shot young physicist newly recruited to Akley's group.) As she tearfully hangs her wet and charred curtains outside on the clothesline, she is befriended by the older and more sophisticated Liza, wife of Frank Winters. Liza has a PhD in botany and is already worried about the changes in the local soil reflected in some unusual plant mutations. Liza tells Abby that the stoves are worthless and she needs a hot-plate, but she shouldn't request it from the commissary or she'll get it after the war ends. Instead, Liza takes her around the Hill, showing Abby how to get several cases of sanitary napkins from the commissary to give to the native ladies in the laundry in exchange for peyote which Abby can then trade to a certain supply sergeant to obtain a hot-plate immediately.
Liza also invites Abby and Charley over to have dinner with her and Frank. This leads to a spectacularly awkward evening as Charley and Frank progress from restrained hostility to open loathing. Frank's final response to Charley is very funny in a shocking way. Abby is mortified by the husbands' inability to make nice, but Liza reassures her that it's normal for the physicists, who insist on sniffing each other over and marking their territory like dogs.
The next day, Frank schedules a small detonation, using dynamite and a pipe, to demonstrate the principle behind his implosion design in the hopes of scoring some of that plutonium. At the last minute, he has to rush to another part of the Hill, leaving his subordinates to carry on in front of a hostile audience. Frank has chosen to try to help someone. It is an unexpectedly moving display of his core of decency, which now overrides his agonizing obsession with ending the war. This second episode of Manhattan was even better than the pilot and had me deeply involved with the characters and storyline. Find it on Amazon.com here for the very low price of $2.99/$1.99: Manhattan [HD]
Note: I purchased this product with my own personal funds. I received no compensation from anyone for this honest review.
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