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Manhattan Episode 4 Review


The beautifully written Manhattan Episode 4 - Last Reasoning of Kings centers on the historic visit of Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr to Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1943. (Note: this review contains plot spoilers, though I try to keep them to a minimum.) Niels Bohr's presence serves as a litmus test, revealing in everyone's reactions to him the meaningless pomp and scheming characteristic of both the military and the scientific communities. These people are so puffed up with the importance of the Manhattan Project that they strut like clockwork figures in a fairy tale landscape, unable to recognize the nightmarish threat of a war that threatens to obliterate humanity. Only two characters have the life experience to see things as they are. One is Bohr, who is still regrets that his research enabled the invention of chlorine gas as a weapon to be used in the trenches of the First World War. And there is Frank, who once served in those trenches, and is now haunted by stress-related hallucinations of his combat experiences. Frank keeps his past secret and it seems that none of his fellow scientists and few of the young soldiers in his immediate environment have had the battlefield experiences that he has.

The episode starts with Frank's group of outcast physicists toiling with him on their much-maligned implosion design. They are the quiet Helen, the stolid Fritz, the high-strung Meeks, and the supercilious Oxford-educated Paul, who is already planning his escape to Akley's project. The only way for Frank's group to receive some of the tiny sample of plutonium that has been entirely allocated to Akley's group is to run a successful detonation of their weapons prototype device in a demonstration scheduled in one week. But Frank is now officially on probation, and they are only given one set of primers for the detonation versus the six given to Akley for testing. As Meeks says, "Don't spend them all in one place."

Meanwhile, the famed Niels Bohr is about to arrive at the Hill after having barely escaped the Nazis in occupied Europe. Everyone assumes that he will replace Oppenheimer as the director of the Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer himself stands with the welcoming committee, looking twitchy and paranoid. (Standing much further back, Meeks says, "Look at Oppenheimer. It's his third cigarette in ten minutes," and Fritz adds, "They should give him a blindfold to go with it.") Oppenheimer has already pulled young Charlie Isaacs from the Thin Man project long enough to make him Bohr's babysitter. Charlie is supposed to escort Bohr around the Hill while only allowing Bohr to interact with Akley's group and to see Akley's project. This is after a pricelessly funny private meeting between Oppenheimer and Charlie in a deserted mess hall where the calculatingly self-serving Charlie stresses what an honor it is to finally meet Oppenheimer, and Oppenheimer ignores him while finishing a few delicate morsels of breakfast and patting his lips fastidiously with a napkin.

Meanwhile, Frank, who couldn't care less who is visiting the Hill, forces a resentful Paul to load a huge metal camera into a jeep so a soldier can drive them to the detonation site thirty miles away for a walk-through exercise. Just as they start to leave, Niels Bohr arrives and greets Frank warmly though Charley tries hard to draw Bohr away as per Oppenheimer's instructions. Bohr turns out to be a plump grandfatherly Dane. He is absent-minded and kindly, but also stubborn and something of a loose cannon not to be easily managed.

Meanwhile, some beautiful character interactions happen off to the side. The luminous Liza Winter (Olivia Williams) has a prickly but poignant exchange with a military doctor. Private Dunlavey has a very funny verbal duel with Frank's rebellious teenage daughter Callie, who has tried to sneak off the Hill. And the physicists' wives swarm a surprised but flattered Abby, eager for gossip she might have heard about Bohr via Charlie. And Frank, Paul, and their gruff young driver Private Watts get to the detonation site for their walk-through exercise. Frank brings out their one set of primers and insists on doing the actual detonation right there to capture photographic evidence of the result. If it works, he might get some plutonium a week early. Paul is horrified because they don't have a detonation expert with them or even a fire extinguisher, and Watts hotly threatens Frank with a write-up.

From there, nothing goes as expected for poor Charlie or Frank. Charlie finds himself reviewing the math of Frank's forbidden project with a determinedly curious Niels Bohr. It is the first time Charlie has paid attention to the implosion theory, and he blurts in fascination, "Jesus, it's like a star swallowing itself." And Frank gets stuck walking home through the desert at night with his stressed-out assistant Paul and the self-righteous Private Watts, bickering like schoolboys over who is more important to the war effort scientists or soldiers. When the dust settles at the end, Charlie may have incurred the venomous disapproval of Oppenheimer, but Frank and Paul have come to a new understanding, and there are still new primers to be pinched from Akley's lab. The Manhattan series continues to outdo itself with this episode (written by Tom Spezialy and Gideon Yago) being the best one so far. You can find it at Amazon.com here: 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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Content copyright © 2014 by Karm Holladay. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Karm Holladay. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Karm Holladay for details.

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