In 1943, Los Alamos, New Mexico didn't exit. It was known as "The Hill" with an address of P.O. Box 1663, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
In Manhattan Season 1 Episode 1 we're introduced to that dusty microcosm and its inhabitants - the most dense population of geniuses ever found in one place, their families and the U.S. Army.
Only the scientists knew what they were doing, and they didn't even know that until they already committed by signing on the dotted line.
We see the realities of the odd situation through a young couple, Charlie and Abby Isaacs, who drop everything so Charlie, a brilliant young physicist, can have a shot at the all-star league of science. What they discover is a primitive, dirty little town built in the middle of nowhere with security so tight they couldn't write letters to their families.
There were no phones in the little houses with paper thin walls. Water often stopped running and the stoves were hazardous. Keeping a house was nearly impossible. Children often got head lice and marched around the compound looking like little convicts.
The scientists were fighting against time and they were fighting against each other. Two types of bombs were being created at The Hill and in the interest of saving as many lives as possible, it seemed like the one that was built first would be the one used by the US Army against our enemies in World War II.
One group was elite (Charlie's group, working on the Thin Man bomb) and the other a small, rag-tag band of misfits lead by Frank Winter, a man with a burning desire to stop the slaughter of soldiers. With over 40 million casualties, it seemed imperative to end the war at any cost. Their bomb isn't named in the premiere, but historically it's considered the Fat Man.
What's really fascinating about Manhattan is getting an inside look at the mindset of the scientists creating a bomb that could would kill on such a massive level to stop an even greater amount of lives being lost.
We learn right away the toll this life takes on the scientists through Frank. His team is small. He lacks resources to get the job done, but has more desire to stop the war than anyone else we encounter. He's an anxious mess. His ears ring, he can't sleep and he has horrific nightmares. His wife Liza, a scientist in her own right, knows nothing about her husband's work and it's tearing their relationship apart.
The Army is concerned about spies, especially among the scientists. Every piece of paper that goes missing is investigated fully and if you're found guilty, you're dragged away to God knows where.
Frank is faced in the premiere with a huge dilemma. When one of his scientists comes to him with the news that he had taken papers with the hope of patenting his own work after the war, Frank promises to burn the papers so nobody is the wiser. Until his group is disbanded.
We find out how far Frank will go save lives -- he'll risk one to save the many. Frank doesn't burn the missing papers, but gives them to the ranking colonel with the hope of striking a deal to keep his team together. His conscience demands that he tell someone, and he does. The Latina house maid who doesn't seem to speak English.
In an earlier edition of this review, I wondered if Frank inadvertently told their house maid the big secret because I missed her saying "no" before "I understand." Thank you faithful readers for kindly pointing out my mistake. You rock.
This hour set the stage by introducing the main players as well as giving us a look at what the scientists and families are up against in their limited world in New Mexico. Even the soldiers ache to see action, unaware of the secret they're protecting. There are so many questions and interesting avenues to develop story with Manhattan.
What will be the response of all involved when the first bomb drops? Or when they see the first successful test in the desert? Will Liza's keen understanding of botany key her into their purpose at The Hill because of the tainted soil? How will Abby behave without access to the outside world?
The cast is incredibly talented and the story tightly written. This is a subject that has had very little attention and the details should be told. The sacrifices made by the greatest minds in the world and their families had a marked impact on history and did bring an end to World War II, yet the debate about how it ended rages on to this day.
Were you sucked in? Will you continue to watch? Hit the comments and talk about the Manhattan premiere.
Grade the Manhattan premiere:
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.