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Manhattan S01E01: "You Always Hurt the One You Love"


WGN America’s second original series probably should have been its first. While its first original series, the supernatural witch drama Salem, offered a fun and campy (though often 100 percent confusing) ride, it's the World War II-set Manhattan, so named for the Manhattan Project, that stands poised to put a mostly unknown network on the map. Stylish and thought-provoking, the drama might just be WGN's own Mad Men, posing difficult questions of morality while probing the depths of the juncture where science and humanity meet. While it's too early to christen the series the next Game of ThronesBreaking Bad, or [insert your favorite critically acclaimed drama here], I don’t think it’s wrong to say that Manhattan is exactly the type of show that AMC probably wishes it had right now.

The world presented in Manhattan—which films on location in New Mexico, with its ever-present layer of sand and dust—is built on a foundation of secrets and lies. The scientists who spend their days theorizing and strategizing on how best to build the first weapon of mass destruction can’t tell their wives and families what they do all day, which leads to stress and fractured relationships at home.


However, the scientists and their families, are only one of several factions who call Los Alamos home. The United States Army is tasked with keeping order by eliminating potential spies from the super top-secret city (which even the vice president doesn’t know about). But they have little to no information about what they’re actually protecting, adding another layer to the power struggles at the heart of the series. 

As Lord Acton once surmised regarding absolute power and its ability to corrupt, great men are almost always bad men. Does that mean the characters of Manhattan—who will ultimately have a hand in the deaths of thousands of people, but also in ending World War II—are bad men? That’s the question on the minds of the series' protagonists as they leave for work in the morning and return home at night, and of course, the answer is far from simple. As viewers, we have the advantage of knowing how this story ends, but the citizens of Los Alamos will face plenty of uncertainty in the weeks and months ahead.


“You Always Hurt the Ones You Love” opened in July of 1943, some 700 days before the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war in the Pacific and changing the world forever. John Benjamin Hickey’s Frank Winter is a no-bullshit scientist whose most famous contribution to the field remains just a theory; nevertheless, he's respected by his peers, and seemingly worshipped by some members of the younger generation. But he’s not in it for the fame or glory, but because he has the desire to Do the Right Thing (or as right a thing as can be, given the circumstances).  

Together with Daniel Stern’s Glen Babbit—who sports the wizardiest beard a man can sport without actually being a wizard—Frank leads a ragtag team of young, ambitious scientists played by Harry Lloyd, Michael Chernus, Christopher Denham, Eddie Shin, and Katja Herbers. Every day that Winter and his group don’t or can’t produce results is another day in which young soldiers lose their lives, something Winter never lets his colleagues (or Manhattan's viewers) forget as he works tirelessly to come up with a viable design. And it’s Winter’s genuine goal to end the pain and suffering of his fellow men, paired with Hickey’s strong brow and enigmatic onscreen presence, that makes him a compelling lead character that you can’t help but root for.


But Winter and his team are not only racing against Germany to develop the first atomic bomb—they're also competing against a larger, better equipped, better funded, and better stocked (with bourbon, duh) American group led by David Harbour’s smug Reed Akley. Akley has the kind of face that's just begging to be punched, you know? And one of his new recruits appears to be quite a force: The young, impressionable, and extremely bright scientist Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zukerman) was asked to join Akley’s team under the guise that he’d be working in a radar lab. But it wasn't long after his arrival in Los Alamos with his wife, Abby (Rachel Brosnahan), that he recognized the horrific implications of what he'd be working on, and his struggles with with he believes to be morally right—one of Manhattan's recurring themes—began.

Today, we're well aware of the effects of the bomb—not just the death toll, the burn radius, or the lasting consequences of radiation, but also the subsequent Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation. The latter still exists, which allows Manhattan’s story to feel timely and relevant even though it takes place during an era that most of us have only ever read about. In the early 1940s, many of the people who called Los Alamos home had no knowledge of the far-reaching repercussions of the bomb; many of them only realized its true nature after Little Boy and Fat Man were dropped in August of 1945. But the most interesting element of Manhattan isn’t necessarily its theme of morality, its depiction of scientific breakthroughs, or the history lesson at its center, but the fact that its female characters are just as important to the story as its male ones.


The lone woman on Winter's team, Helen Prins (Herbers) is just one example of how Manhattan challenges the stereotypical gender roles of the era. In a way, the ladies of Los Alamos are pioneers, making a life the best way they know how despite less-than-comfortable accommodations and never fully understanding why they’re calling this secluded town home. They’re liberated and they exist outside the social norm because their lives demand it. 

At a time when when most women wouldn't dream of wearing pants or taking on any responsibilities beyond those of a dutiful wife and mother, Winter’s wife Liza (Olivia Williams) has a PhD in botany and doesn’t hide her intelligence. She might have put her career on hold so her husband to chase his dream, but she wears trousers—literally and metaphorically—as she refuses to stand idly by and accept the secrets her husband is keeping. She actively challenges him to open up to her just as fiercely as she investigates why the flowers planted behind her home aren’t the color they’re supposed to be, or why residents of Los Alamos are forbidden from growing food despite New Mexico’s supposedly potassium-rich soil. Williams brings life and strength to a character who would fit right into today’s world, making Manhattan feel less like a boys club than it actually is.


Meanwhile, Manhattan's setting is as much of a character as any of the men and women who call Los Alamos home, which is a totally cliché to say, I know, but it's true. The series benefits greatly from shooting on location in New Mexico and not on a sound stage in Los Angeles, and even though it takes place in a desert, Manhattan is both sleek and stylish. Its backdrop of blue skies and sand recalls the rich landscapes that often made Breaking Bad such a visual delight, and its costumes, vintage cars, and other period details make it feel wholly authentic. 

Created by Sam Shaw (a former writer for Masters of Sex) and directed by Thomas Schlamme (who helmed many episodes of The West Wing and invented the “walk and talk” style), the world of Manhattan might be small in size—Los Alamos doesn’t even register as a city, and not just because it technically doesn’t exist—but its reach, as we now know, spans the globe. The story being told is a familiar one, but the characters are new and their troubles are relatable. With intelligent protagonists and a story that still holds resonance today, Manhattan is absolutely worthy of our attention.


What'd you think of Manhattan's series premiere? Will you be back for Episode 2?


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 12/15/2015

Season 2 : Episode 10

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A great find, I "discovered" this at the exact moment Season 2 starts!
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Oh, dear. Thomas Schlamme no more "invented" the “walk and talk” style than I did. Howard Hawks was doing it in his movies more than a decade before Schlamme was born. PLEASE do your research before you make such sweeping comments; history did not begin with television, you know. (P.S. Just started watching "Manhattan" and love it.)
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This is probably one of the better shows that's on at the moment, so it's a shame it's not being covered weekly.

It could do with moving a bit faster, but it's keeping my interest so far.
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It was interesting, but I was hoping for something that focused more on the actual project itself.

Speaking of the project I was a little disappointed by all the Americans, the Manhattan Project was very much a multi-national effort, including British (who provided a huge leg up when they handed over the Tube Alloy research, their own bomb project), French, German Exiles, and many others all working together, yet I nerry an accent was to be heard.

Granted it's the first episode but the entire thing looks to be like an American only project, when it most definitely was not.

Though I did enjoy the few "easter eggs" for people who know about the history of the project such as "The Vice President doesn't know", which was true, and in 1943 was a very good thing, since the VP at the time was Henry Wallace who... let's just say was friendly to the USSR.

I just hope they don't keep the interesting history to the background.
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I really enjoy what I've seen of this show so far and am really looking forward to the next installment.
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I enjoyed the Pilot, will be checking out next Ep. I think WGN may have a winner here.
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Already can't wait for the next episode. I watched Salem and loved it. I watched Manhattan and loved it. Guess it seems to be a theme with WGN (for now anyway). This seems to be better than Salem but it's a bit early to make a judgement on that.
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Excellent pilot, you have to give WGN credit for offering something a little different. Definitely looking forward to the second episode.
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It was fantastic.
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WHERE THE HELL DID THAT PILOT COME FROM? Thought id give this a try after seeing the review up today and i can honestly say that was the most captivating opening for a show I've seen in ages, maybe since Lost or Mad Men. So refreshing to sit down and discover something new and great without having heard of it before. Everything is so hyped to the max these days by the time a new show or film rolls around I feel I've bloody seen half of it, even if I try to avoid it. Well done WGN I'll be back.
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Loved but I always love period pieces set in the 40s and early 50s. Looking forward to episode 2.
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Fantastic pilot. Right up there with Masters of Sex.
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Just here to admit to my completely schoolboy crush on Olivia WIlliams (in her native accent).
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Judging by this first episode, It looks to be a winner. I hope there are enough comments here to allow you guys at TV.com to continue to review it weekly.

Someone commented during the preview for this if we are just watching scientists making bombs? That would be really boring. I thought so too.

Thus I am glad for the "drama" about the secrecy and the competitions between the two teams. It does looked like a limited series though because there is a timeline. They will have to finish the series when the 700 days are up.

It is good to see Hickley getting his first main lead role. He was very good in The Big C. I love Rachel Brosnahan too. She was wonderful on House of Cards.
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Staff
At a recent panel during the Television Critic Association summer press tour, the producers did say the series had the potential to extend beyond the bombings in 1945 and I'm inclined to believe that's possible as well. But we can cross that bridge when we come to it.
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Thanks. On second thoughts, it would actually be very interesting to see what happens to these scientists after the bombing. I hope they get there.
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You shouldn't be surprised by historical accuracy. Women in war service wore trousers during WWII. Your vision of history seems a bit uninformed. However, if they ake the female characters important to the Los Alamos story, they will do history a disservice. The important work of the Manhattan Project was done by men. Making the women a focus will mean drawing the story I to the family soap opera and away from the science. That would be a shame.

You also seem to imply that the long-term implications of the atomic bomb are bad. Science, history, and fact beg to differ. The Cold War, in fact, is a POSITIVE consequence if the existence of the bomb. Had the US and the Russians fought conventionally, there would have been millions more deaths. Had the US not bombed Hiroshima, the casualties on both sides would have continued to be enormous.
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Do you have something against women?

Including women in the story expands it.

The focus of the show isn't just the building of the bombs. The writers' are interested in capturing the scientists' lives in full -- which includes their relationships and families.

"Women's place" at the time was very clearly shown (as it is in a series like Mad Men) throughout the episode -- the snarky comment the GI makes to Liza Winter about being married to a scientist not making her one, Charlie Isaac's wife's preoccupations, the Latino maids, the welcome wagon, the pantyhose and the "steno girls," etc.

I'm not worried about the show becoming a soap opera. I think instead we'll get taut character studies, moral dilemmas...
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Further, I think if you are expecting a faithful rendering of what happened on the Manhattan Project (a kind of documentary), you'll be disappointed.

I think that instead, the writers are using this particular situation (isolated town controlled by the military, internal and external pressure to produce, secrecy, questions of morality around the project, etc.) as well as the racial, gender, class, sexual and other constraints of the time to explore the characters.
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Staff
I spent four years earning a dual degree in both history and journalism, for what it's worth. But outside of the lone female on Winter's team, the women of Manhattan are wives and mothers unconnected to the goings on of their husbands or the war itself. They are not involved in the Manhattan Project, and I don't think you're going to see them involved in the development of the bomb as time goes on. That being said, allowing the women in the series to be strong characters doesn't mean the series will become a family soap opera. It adds balance. But you shouldn't expect the show to be historically accurate, either.

And I don't think you can say the bomb, or the long-term implications of it were definitively good or bad. It's a double-edged sword. And that's part of what Manhattan explores.
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Re the long-term implications: I can't see myself saying that it was a good thing, but I do get that what it was is a matter of perspective. I often remind myself that although the US lost people to WWII it pales in comparison to the losses suffered in Europe and Asia. And then on the other side, there are the viewpoints from Japan, where the bombs were actually dropped...
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Excuse the typos. I am on an iphone.
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The Cold War did give us The Americans, so there's that!
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It's a well made show but I don't think I'll be back for the 2nd episode. It just didn't grab my interest and I'm not interested in this particular storyline.
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Not to belittle the efforts of the Manhattan project, but the first weapons of mass destruction were disease ridden corpses, that were flung over city walls during sieges. There is some indication that that is how the Black Death flared up in Europe.

By any real-world definition of the word he was a Wizard.

But what I can't get over is how much clothes those guys were wearing.
Los Alamos is hot, and I doubt that they had air-conditioning. They must have been close to heat-stroke most of the time.

And yes, I will be back for ep. 2.
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I watched with my kids and they kept asking about the clothes. All I could say is that they do have cooler fall and winter temperatures (I think it usually doesn't get below 40 F but can get to around 20 F at times). So, there's that and maybe the social need to be more formally dressed.
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I was surprised to see this on KTLA 5.1 (CW) beside WGA America. Was it like other CW channels too or only in Los Angeles (L.A.)? Anyways, as I expected another drama type of show. It was mostly slow, but pretty to look at. I don't think I will watch more episodes after tonight's pilot episode. :/
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Apparently the premiere aired in 33 local Tribune Broadcasting markets on various Tribune stations, too. So that would probably explain it.
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Interesting and thanks. Too bad it was only the pilot. Hey, I have NO problems! I just wished they told us in advanced.
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It's weird, Comcast/ X-Finity in Philly, doesn't have WGNA as a channel. But has its shows on demand. But Manhattan was on a local independent network, MyPhilly17. That used to be the WB. CW kept the local UPN channel. Which is good, because MyPhilly17, kept the Phillies games. So our CW shows, don't get preempted for baseball, as happens in Chicago and other places. :)
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Interesting. I noticed future KTLA 5.1 for that time slot doesn't shw more Manhattan. I guess they agreed to show it OTA. I'd like to see more of this!
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Works for me, i watch most of my shows on demand anyway. Television is turning into an on demand, dvr, and streaming world anyway. But i would of had preferred to watch Salem on Sundays, instead of waiting till Mondays, for it to show up on demand. Oh well can't have everything. :)
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@antdude
Watching commercials sucks, but they pay the bills. The actors, writers, production, sets, special effects, ect. The money they charge for a commercial spot, depends on the ratings a show has. If you fast forward a dvr program, it doesn't count towards the number of viewers. Whereas if you watch on-demand (with commercials), within 3 days, it does count.
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On Demand sucks since you can't fast forward (FF) and skip. :( I prefer to record and watch later.
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i'll be back for episode 2, and beyond, even if Dr. Oppenheimer isn't. great point about the gender roles being challenged, what a great angle for the writers to take on. "i'm not the flower: you are." and how about that scene where the men bribe the "computers" with pantie-hose so they will keep computing? they cut out 12 weeks just like that! amazing. the female characters, both main and background, will be a driving force going forward, no doubt.

the desert setting might make the series for me though: i could watch that scene where Oppenheimer drives away from Winter over and over again. visually stunning and heavy with history. and that Gollum parable is second to none. also the tormented Asian fellow, he's gotta be in for a rough time soon. i feel like a schoolboy again!
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Not panty-hose. Nylon stockings--in short supply during the war and considered a choice prize. Nylon stockings weren't made during the war because the manufacturer, DuPont, was only making nylon for wartime uses, like parachutes. Pantyhose--full leg and torso stockings--were not commercially produced until 1959.
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Just finished watching it. What a well made, beautifully shot show! Already hooked! WGN is looking strong in it's efforts to become the next AMC.
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FYI, it's = it is/has. :D
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Yeah, I know. No edit button. Type so fast sometimes my fingers do the thinking for me.
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Been there, done that. :)
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Looking forward to it.
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