Manhattan follows the residents and scientists at “The Hill” in Los Alamos, New Mexico during World War II. Frank Winter plays the brilliant physicist who designed the A-bomb and “his ambivalence this season comes more into play than ever” said actor John Benjamin Hickey. Season 2 follows the events leading up to the Trinity Test, which was the first detonation of the atomic weapon on July 16, 1945 at the U.S. Air Force base in Alamogordo, New Mexico.
“I think all these characters because of their age and experience find themselves in a crazy, moral quagmire given its breakthrough in the history of science,” added Hickey.
“As zealous as Frank was in the first season, by any means necessary to achieve his end, he’s setting out to prove that closure is the right path. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. At the end of season one, we find him in a heap of trouble…he does a big 180, and finds himself being ruthless, but he’s just seeing that the world is in a different way.” Frank’s botanist wife (Olivia Williams) has been battling with the top-secret compound’s new commanding officer (CSI alum William Petersen who was a no-show at today’s session). In regards to Petersen on the show, Manhattan EP and director Thomas Schlamme equated him to Warren Beatty in Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Like Beatty in that western, Petersen’s aura sends a clear message to the audience, so that the writers don’t have to waste time explaining his character. “We had to feel that there’s a new sheriff in town with Billy’s character,” said Schlamme.
Schlamme also marveled about the creative license that Manhattan has in jumping its timeline around storywise. “Season 2 takes place over 15 months in 10 episodes, and there’s even an episode that jumps ahead 6 months. Who knows if season 3 will take place over 17 days.”
Actress Rachel Brosnahan who plays houswife Abby Isaacs to husband scientist Charlie Isaacs (Ashley Zukerman), explained that in researching her role, she discovered that those who lived in Los Alamos, “had no idea what they were doing there. 70% went from being part of the best kept secret in the country to front page news.” In season 2, Abby vies to have a greater role in the cause, particularly given the fact that she, as a Jewish woman, has family in peril in Europe. Katja Herbers, who plays Helen Prins a female scientist who works alongside Charlie, indicated that her role continues to explore the plight of working women during the 1940s. “She realizes that she might not have gotten this job if it was for the war…she’s more focused in season 2 than ever.”
“In terms of the information (that came out of Los Alamos) only 5% is said to have been revealed…As an actor when I first read the script, it was closer to iconography, but after season 2, what we’re doing intelligently is a possible parallel to history. We don’t know what happened here, but in a meta-storytelling way, it feeds into what we’re telling,” added Zukerman. Like Frank Winter, Zukerman’s Charlie is at a moral crossroads: “We don’t know if he’s going to save the world or end it. We don’t know if he’s doing it for the world or himself.”
Christopher Denham explained that his character of Jim Meeks, a scientist who is also part of Frank Winter’s team, is passing along secrets in season 2: “We don’t know yet to whom he’s passing them to, nor what his motivations are,” but that it’s “linked to the fact that Meeks’ friend was arguably murdered by the government.”
Manhattan creator/writer and EP Sam Shaw was also in attendance at this afternoon’s TCA panel. Dustin Thomason, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Marcy Ross also serve as EPs on Manhattan. The series is produced by Lionsgate Television, Skydance Television and Tribune Studios.