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"Manhattan": Fact Vs. Fiction

"Manhattan": Fact Vs. Fiction

Colonel Darrow on Manhattan

Season two of “Manhattan” on WGN America started with a bang. In the opening scene of the premiere, the show flashes forward to the morning of the Trinity test, an indication of where the season is heading. The show then returns to summer of 1944, where change is afoot at Los Alamos.

In the first three episodes, “Manhattan” continues to emphasize the security situation at Los Alamos and the military’s fear that spies could infiltrate the project. During the Manhattan Project, General Leslie R. Groves ordered that scientists and workers be told information on a need-to-know basis. However, Oppenheimer resisted Groves. In an interview in 1965, he recalled that in his very first meeting with Groves he explained, “’This thing will never get on the rails unless there is a place where people can talk to each other and work together on the problems of the bomb. And this could be at Oak Ridge, it could be some California desert, but someplace, there has got to be a place where people are free to discuss what they know and what they do not know and to find out what they can.’ And that made an impression on him.”

“Manhattan” continues to be a mix of fact and fiction. In the third episode, Albert Einstein briefly is introduced, and his famous letter is mentioned – but in the show, it was Frank Winter, not Leo Szilard, who prevailed on Einstein to write it. But we were impressed by one (albeit minor) accuracy. The third episode introduces a reporter, who will be the counterpart of William Laurence, the NY Times reporter who was allowed exclusive access to the project. When we first meet the reporter, he is wearing a thick, printed tie – much like the one Laurence is wearing in the photo below.

While “Manhattan” takes liberties with the overall story of the Manhattan Project, especially the security situation, it does a great job getting details and attributions correct. Historian Alex Wellerstein, the historical consultant on the show, explains, “As a historian, I have enjoyed watching the show because I can see lots of very subtle references to things that did actually happen, and I find that fun, as opposed to irritating.”

AHF staff are live-tweeting each episode of the show, which airs on Tuesdays at 9 PM EST. We are also writing recaps of each episode. To read the recaps of the first season, please click here; for the second season, click here