As the days edge ever closer to Trinity, Manhattan further tightens the vices on its central characters. It’s certainly no coincidence that the show devotes an entire segment of its running time to Liza explaining the notion of radioactive “fallout” to her colleagues. After eight episodes spent populating an environment with double agents, broken relationships and high-stakes espionage, the chickens are coming home to roost.
Every resident of the Hill walks away from “Brooklyn” with their respective conflicts amped up to 11. But let’s begin by talking about Ashley Zukerman’s Charlie. Here’s a character who has spent the majority of the season feeling more and more impotent, even as he rises through the ranks. Along the way, he’s made numerous hard choices, all under the guise of “the greater good.” Early on in the episode, Abby discovers the extent of her husband’s compromised morality when Colonel Darrow plays her a recoding of Charlie pressuring the colonel to eliminate the Jean Tatlock problem. Horrified that 1) her husband might have been involved in a murder conspiracy, and 2) he actively allowed her to go on believing that she was the responsible party, Abby makes the decision to send away the couple’s son to live with her parents.
Emotionally devastated by his wife’s actions, the Charlie Isaacs that attends the testing committee meeting represents a broken, bitter version of the man he was before. Here, Frank’s advice to make his appeal “personal” backfires in the worst way possible. No sooner has the meeting been called to order than Charlie stands up and flat-out states that the bomb must be deployed on a populated city. “We can be loved or we can have peace, not both,” he explains. “So if we want to change the world, then we need to embrace what the world will call us when we finished what we’ve started: monsters… who erased a city without warning.” He continues, “we have to drop our bomb on a city in the heart of Japan. Because people need something to be afraid of. Fear is now and has always been the only thing that keeps the peace, the only thing that changes the world, changes anything or anyone. We have to be monsters today to stop the monsters of tomorrow.”
Besides serving as one of the show’s finest literary moments and an appropriately chilling justification for nuclear holocaust, the speech also puts into focus a much bigger, more thematic issue—the absolute fickle nature of time. Of course, we all know that Frank failed in his attempts to avoid government-sponsored mass genocide. What’s truly compelling here is not necessarily that Charlie’s speech seemed to push history in that direction but that, had this conference occurred days or even hours earlier, he would have gladly gone along with Frank’s original plan. To paraphrase the seminal Batman comic The Killing Joke, sometimes all it takes is one bad day. Charlie Isaacs just had one of the worst days of his life and, due to unfortunate timing, we as a nation are now culpable in one of the largest mass murders in world history.
While Charlie makes his difficult choice, other characters are faced with similar choices of their own. Upon learning that their handler, Victor Green, has been taken into custody, Jim and Nora are left fumbling for what to do. Eventually, Nora settles upon a final, drastic solution. In order to prevent any further advancement of this technology, Jim needs to use his working knowledge of the bomb’s circuitry to make it detonate before the scientists have the chance to evacuate, effectively killing all his friends and colleagues. Nora reasons that this one tragedy must pass so that more don’t follow.
Like Jim and Nora, Frank is also looking towards sabotaging the bomb project, albeit in a less destructive way. As the Little Boy team complains about their funds being diverted, Frank can only shrug his shoulders and play stupid. Only Helen eventually catches on—Frank is reallocating their money to kill two birds with one stone. First, he is subsidizing his wife’s experiments to get back into her favor. Two, he is undermining the construction of Little Boy, the bomb that will obliterate Hiroshima from the face of the Earth. Understandably, Helen feels betrayed on both a personal and professional level. After all, she has been one of Frank’s major supporters from the very beginning. Ironically, while Helen betrays Frank by reporting him to his superiors, she’s allowing an even more destructive subversive to slip in right under her nose: her lawyer boyfriend Stan who turns out to be the “Perseus” figure that Nora discussed in her diary entries.
As the rest of the cast wrestles with what’s been thrust upon them, Paul finds himself facing down his own conscience when he’s brought into the government’s inner circle alongside Justin Kirk’s “Bucher” figure from “Fatherland.” As previously mentioned, the government manages to catch Nora’s superior, Victor Green. For once, Nora’s predictions turn out to be true—Victor doesn’t break; rather, he attempts to divert his interrogators by pointing the figure at the deceased Sid Lau. Armed with intimate knowledge of his deceased work friend, Paul knows better than to believe these claims. These articulated doubts directly lead to Colonel Darrow entering the fray to do his own questioning. After eight episodes of being the intimidating figure behind the desk, we bear witness to the aftermath of his physical brutality. Coupled with Peterson’s casual barking of the line “clean it up,” it’s not hard to share in Paul’s uncertainty about the path he’s chosen. To make things worse, a last-second epiphany has him realizing that the spy (codenamed “Brooklyn”) that they’ve been searching for might be Jim. What he chooses to do with these newfound suspicions is anyone’s guess.
“Brooklyn” finds the show’s proverbial fuse rapidly shrinking down to the final centimeters. It’s an extraordinary hour that expertly cues up the finale, while delivering enough knockout moments to stand on its own as a grand achievement. The pieces are all in place. All that’s left is for someone to yell “checkmate.”