Why the Manhattan Season 2 Premiere Started at the End
The Season 2 premiere of WGN’s Manhattan not only introduced a viable atomic bomb ready for detonation at the Trinity test site, but revealed that scientist Frank Winter (John Benjamin Hickey)—last seen bound, blindfolded and being driven away from Los Alamos, is very much alive; the man who once led the quest to build the bomb is now a potential threat to the project. But the episode then turns the clock back to the chronological beginning of the story, at which point Frank is still missing and Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zukerman) finds himself in charge of the controversial project.
We talked to executive producer Thomas Schlamme about the premiere and the storylines ahead in Season 2 of the historical drama.
We begin the season at the Trinity test site, ready to detonate. Why start at the end?
We wanted to immediately let the audience know this whole season is leading to the Trinity. And also, it’s a wonderful puzzle builder. I’m always interested in peopling leaning in when they watch television and not leaning back. There’s an incredible, wonderful reward by the time you get to [Episode] 10, when you see some of those similar scenes [and] the context now is completely different.
What is Charlie Isaacs’ emotional state at this moment? He now knows Frank threw himself on the sword for him–but he seems a little power hungry.
Charlie, like many brilliant geniuses, has a great deal of ambition and drive. And there is an opportunity here that’s offered to him. There’s a ticking clock and a war going on, [and he needs] to try to figure out, “How did I get to this place? Maybe I didn’t deserve it, and maybe Frank did this for me. What I need to do is, regardless of what happened, seize the opportunity, as well as fill the need for someone to be in control so that this bomb does get built and we win this war.” So there’s always a mix between virtue and opportunity, and it is the place that the show lives.
Charlie started off as this nice kid. Will we see an arc where he realizes he might be more like his incarcerated father than he thinks?
This is a show about secrets. Probably the most powerful secrets of all are the ones that we keep from ourselves. And I think that’s exactly the journey that Charlie is on. The secret that he’s kept from himself is, I am a product of my father. I do have these other elements in me. And rather than run and fight them, maybe I should just embrace them.
Is there hope for Charlie and Abby (Rachel Brosnahan)?
Sure. There’s hope for every relationship. If you think about classic literature, people that you know, or maybe even yourself, the times where you think there is no chance that this could ever be repaired again, there does seem to always be an avenue for one more repair. Whether it’s healthy, whether it’s the right thing to do is a different discussion. And I think we feel it by the end of Episode 1.
Also, we don’t know what decision Abby made in regard to her pregnancy. How does affect her storyline for the rest of the season?
Abby’s tale comes to a very powerful crescendo in Episode 4. All the way to the end of the season are the repercussions of that. All of these events create the chain reaction that leads us to our finale.
Meeks (Christopher Denham), the sweetest spy in the world – when we will find out about his motivation to betray his colleagues and country?
I think it’s the third episode that it’s very clear, due to another character that appears. He explains why, in fact, he has done what he has done.
You seem to have eliminated a big threat by killing Occam (Richard Schiff) at the end of the first episode, but I imagine there are consequences?
[Killing the character] was a painful thing to do, but I think from a storytelling point of view, it was the right thing to do. [Meeks] realizes he is in way over his head. You’re a spy – that is treason. And the penalty of treason is to be shot. So it isn’t just, “Oh, I can sneak a couple of papers around and maybe nobody will notice.” There are consequences to your actions.
And Liza (Olivia Williams) seems to finally understand that she’s being gaslit?
She is very aware, and she is now, first and foremost, on this incredible quest to find her husband. The party line is no longer good enough for her. [But] her trajectory changes rather dramatically by the time she gets to Episode 5.
Manhattan, Tuesdays, 9/8c, WGN America