The One Where I Babel About Manhattan (the television show)

For most of us on a daily basis, we have a choice between telling the truth and telling lie.  Most of us choose to tell the truth because we have been taught that it is the right thing to do and it is easier to remember then the lie.  There is a new show this summer that shows the effects of having that choice taken from you and being forced to lie in almost all situations. 

Manh(A)ttan is one of the best new shows of this summer and one of the shows no one knows anything about.  Unlike the best show of the summer, The Honorable Woman, it doesn’t have a movie star as its draw like Maggie Gyllenhaal. The roster of Manhattan is made up of a bunch of “that guys” and role players acting their collective asses off in each scene. It does not have the cache of being on The Sundance Channel. It is the second show produced for WGN, the Chicago superstation. If this show was on HBO, AMC, or even SYFY, it would be the talk of the whole television/entertainment internet. 

What has really drawn me into the show is how the pressures of being part of the Manhattan Project effects the scientists, soldiers, and their wives.  The first thing I noticed was these characters drink a lot.  As the show has gone along, it became obvious the drinking and the sex are “symptoms” of the pressures of the jobs and the pressures of the continuous lies the characters are forced to tell.  Everything about this last episode highlights how in certain situations the greater good is served by lies and not by the truth.  Not only lies to the public, but lies to everyone you know.

Dr. Frank Winter is the main character and the lead scientist of one of the teams working on the project.  In this episode he assigns one of his junior scientists, Fritz Fedowitz, the task involving figuring out the best metal to use for an atomic bomb.  Fritz makes a mistake and basically swallows half of the world’s supply of plutonium.  Because we now know the effects of ingesting the most radioactive substance on Earth means Fritz is going to waste away and die over the course of the rest of the season.  Frank also knows this and in trying to get Fritz the medical help he is going to need, he finds out the medical services they are provided are a sham to keep all of these people from truly knowing how dangerous the things they are doing are.  At the end of the episode, Frank is given a choice, expose the farce of the medical situation or not. The rub is if the exposes the farce, the German atomic bomb project will move even farther ahead of their American counterparts.  What is the right thing? Tell the truth to help your friends or lie to benefit the greater good of the war effort?

It is not only lying to the public that is effecting Frank, it is the fact that he has to lie to his wife Liza who is a brilliant scientist in her own right.  Liza is a botanist who has noticed the flowers and honey bees she has grown dying mysteriously.  Liza is close to figuring out what the scientists are actually working on, but Frank tells her to stop before she figures out the truth.  John Benjamin Hickey and Olivia Williams play the hell out of this scene.  The pain on Frank’s face for not only having to lie to Liza, but to also have to ask her to stop using her brain and her skills to protect the lie, is wrenching.  Equally impressive is the confusion and simmering anger at what Frank is doing on Liza’s face.

The mystery of this show is not how the Manhattan Project ends.  The mystery is how the process effects the people involved.  How does lying to everyone you know and work with at all times change you?  How does working with plutonium and creating atomic explosions effect you? 


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