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Manhattan - The Threshold & Overlord Double Review: "Countdown to Destruction"



First of all, I'd like to apologise in the delay for getting these two reviews up. In case you don't know already I'm a Foundation Degree Student currently in my second year and as a result was hit with a whole load of essays (3) all due in on the same day, later in the week, and a seminar to prepare for on the following week. However now that the bulk of those essays are done, I should be able to concentrate more on my reviews for Manhattan, The Knick & Da Vinci's Demons (You can except a Season review for its final season towards the end of when it's broadcast, all episodes are currently available online now for streaming), and as a result I thought I'd catch up on one of the best period dramas on television, Manhattan. For all of you who miss AMC's Mad Men this is the show that you should be watching, and it stands up incredibly well even if not quite being there yet. There's a lot of excellence throughout this series and in The Threshold and Overlord, episodes three and four of WGN America's show, things were consistently engaging and kept the series ticking over, with some fantastic character focus, particularly on Oppenheimer in Overlord.If you've read my double reviews for Murder in the First and Hell on Wheels you'll be familiar with the format that I follow, and that's treating the following post as two separate reviews, giving each episode their individual ranking. So if you want a quick recap and to learn what I thought of both these episodes, keep reading. As always, there will be Spoilers!

The Threshold

The season so far is quickly focusing on character centric episodes that allow each of the cast to get their turn in the spotlight. The premiere was all about Charlie Isaac, and Ashley Zuckerman pulled his character off fantastically well when he was pulled into a new position. Likewise, John Benjamin Hickey put in an excellent performance in "Fatherland", with a spectacular solo effort that was one of the best performances of the year. The Threshold gave the oppurtunity for Frank's wife, Liza Winter, played by Olivia Williams, to step up to the table, and she certainly did that, knocking the ball out of the park with another strong performance as the focus was shifted to her character, as we're introduced to her weakened state at the beginning and we follow her primarily throughout the episode, and although much like Frank in the previous episode, she's not the only player. The opening start shows a flashback to a time years before when she was on the verge of suicide, and we got to see her character when she was at her most vulnerable. The newspaper scene was a quiet moment that allowed for a good line "Someone must have shown her a newspaper", and opened the episode on a strong note as they discussed the woman screaming off screen in the Mental Hospital. It was also a reminder that things no matter how bad, could always be worse. However, something that brilliantly foreshadowed and set up the direction of the series, we learnt via Radio that German Scientists were beginning their attempt to split the Atom and start their work on the Atomic Bomb. This moment ultimately lead us to where all the characters are now, and worked well at getting everybody on the same page.

In the flashback, we continue to see the paths that will ultimately take us to Los Alamos. It's 1939, and the US hasn't entered the War yet (and won't until 1941), and Frank is fully aware that Hitler is already gathering Uranium together. He's afraid at what's in store especially if one such viewpoint from a US representative from the Military claimed that "You’re telling me I need a bomb that doesn’t exist to win a war that we won’t be involved in when it starts… if it starts". Hitler could end up with all the Nuclear Weapons to win the war by their own. He doesn't of course, History tells us that, but in 1939, when the Americans didn't even know if the war was going to start (it did of course, break out in September), there was a lot of unknowns to worry about. And as a result, this leads us to a similar situation that we'll find ourselves at when the episode ends, Frank and one of his best friends, Glen, who doesn't know about Liza, decides to ask Glen whether he knows someone who can get the ear of the President, and push him on the track that he needs to give the order to start making the Atomic Bomb, so that if Hitler does end up building the Atomic Bomb, at least the US will be prepared enough to strike back. This leads us to the house of none other than Albert Einstein, and well, you don't need to be a genius to understand who he is and what role he plays in history. It's always fantastic every-time the show decides to use a real person from history and have them interact with a fictional character, and how it's handled, which makes Oppenheimer's role so intriguing, but for now, this is what we have. A teaser at things in store.

We then shift the focus to the present and somebody's been leaking information about Frank's disappearance to the newspapers, which Darrow is naturally, not too keen on. His prime suspect of course is Liza, who is quickly threatened that Frank's conditions could only get worse if she continues. His response to her trying to get him to tell the town council is for him to disband the town council, and Frank's conditions do only get worse indeed. However, that's not the end for Darrow as the reporter threatens Darrow with exposure about what's happening to Winter, whilst Darrow does his best to negotiate. This works and now the reporter no longer answers to Liza, despite her best protests, and as a result, her methods to get Frank back are slowly failing at every turn. Darrow even goes to extreme lengths and tells her that he was cheating on her, but at least one thing that Darrow doesn't have leverage on is her daughter, Callie, who Dunlavey informs her is in Canada and out of the General's reach. Liza as a last resort heads to Glen, the scientist who Frank met in the flashbacks, and as a result, takes her to Einstein, making the same journey effectively that Frank has done. Only instead of this time of convincing the President to start building Nuclear Weapons, she's trying to save her husband. It's a powerful character arc that puts Liza in the spotlight and we learnt the lengths that she'd go to to free Frank.

Of course Liza was not the only character who's arc progressed this week as, much like with the Charlie and Frank centric episodes, we spent time with the supporting cast who were able to further the momentum of the story. Abby's work as a switchboard operator allowed her to spy on Oppenheimer and the knowledge that he has secrets of his own, and as a result, she promptly makes a potentially bad decision in order to tell Oppenheimer's wife. With the knowledge that she thinks that Charlie should have Oppenheimer's job this could be seen has her way as undermining Oppenheimer so Charlie can get his position, and advance even further up his career path, further revealing just how much Abby has changed as a character. She's trying to drag Oppenheimer down but this can of course, have mixed results.

Mamie Gummer and Neve Campbell joined the show in these week's episode, with Gummer playing Meeks' contact, as we also learnt more about Meeks this episode, and this as a result allowed Campbell to be the unfortunate wife of Oppenheimer who learnt that he was cheating on him from Abby. It also looks likely that Dunlavey is doing his best to earn redemption in Liza's eyes by telling her what happened to Callie, as well as Frank, and it's interesting to see his character arc this season as well, even if he's only ultimately a minor player.

Overall Episode Verdict:: A-
Positives:
+Olivia Williams' performance.
+Einstein
+Flashbacks

Overlord

The second episode that I'm reviewing switched the focus on Oppenheimer and also solved a solution to Frank Winter's incarceration, thanks to a telephone call from Eleanor Roosevelt. The decision to keep Roosevelt and Eisenstein's interaction off screen and out of the picture worked, leaving us to debate what exactly Eisenstein told Roosvelt, but also allowed the characters to come to the forefront once more in another strong, driven episode. As the title suggests Overlord follows the action in 1994 during the Operation Overlord, which of course is the codename for the allied invasion of Normandy and occupied France in WW2. This allows a good scale to be laid down in place of time, as we now know that there is only one year left until the end of the war. Does this mean that there is not long left for Manhattan? Or will plenty more things change over time? Needless to say, I can't wait to find out what happens to these characters, because I'm really invested in them.

Overlord was Oppenheimer's episode. This allowed one of the few historical figures that we have in the series as a recurring star to really show what he was capable of, and it was great to see how he dealt with everything, especially as Abby continued to scheme to advance Charlie's Career prospects, at the cost of Oppenheimer's. However, Charlie actually does not want Oppenheimer's job, he's too busy with his own, which naturally hit a flaw in Abby's plan. But apart from that, there wasn't much else that these two characters really got up to, with the main attention focused on Oppenheimer. With the revelation that he's cheating on his wife being revealed by Abby in the previous episode we learn that he is in fact, ready to quit and run off with Jean, the girl who he's having an affair with. This has a knock on effect because everyone's not quite sure whether Oppenheimer leaving or staying would ultimately result in, and it will certainly of course have changes, but the question is, how many? And will they benefit the characters who will be most affected?

Charlie is actually trying to get Oppenheimer to stay, going as far as to try to appeal to not just Oppenheimer himself, but also Darrow, and Kitty, Oppenheimer's wife. These tactics don't necessarily work as well as they should, and we eventually learn that Jean has killed herself when she learnt that Oppenheimer does in fact, already have a child. It was a way that conveniently solved everybody's problems, apart from Abby's of course, but now that she knows that Charlie doesn't want the job, maybe her attempts to get Oppenheimer to leave will come to an end. It's also worth noting that this didn't exactly mean clean sailing for Nora and Meeks as well, as Nora thought that Charlie getting Oppenheimer's job would mean that progress would become slower for the team and their advancement to the launch of the bomb, and asked Meeks to aid Charlie if possible. Nora and Meeks, it's also interesting to note, don't necessarily want the Soviets to win, they just want the Soviets and the Americans to be on equal footing so no nation can completely destroy the other, which makes an interesting development for both sides.

Meanwhile, Overlord focused on getting Frank out of prison and back to the Hill. He's not quite rearing to go just yet but this was an interesting transitional episode that will no doubt lead into next week's when we'll learn what everyone's reactions are to his return. It's an interesting episode that drives us further towards the endgame for Season 2, remember of course back in the Premiere when Frank was briefly mentioned in the flashfoward sequences where he was told to be kept off the site, and if need be, killed? It's safe to say that repairing relations with Darrow is something that isn't going to happen, and further teases interesting prospects at greater internal conflicts to come, particularly with that chilling ending between Charlie and Frank, who straight up tells him that they lied about the fact that the army told him he was dead.

And we'll have to wait and see what happens next. Something that was interesting to note of course is that this show continues to blend history with fiction, and Jean was indeed someone who had an affair with Oppenheimer and was indeed someone who killed herself, but unlike here, we're not quite sure whether it was a clean suicide or had someone else's hands in it. It just allowed the writers to make things more dramatic.

Overall Episode Verdict:: A-
Positives:
+Oppenheimer
+Meeks not being a simple spy.
+Frank's back!
+The soundtrack.

What did you think of The Threshold and Overlord? Which episode did you prefer? I'm going to say that they're both on level footing with one another, as this whole series so far has been incredibly consistent, and incredibly awesome, with virtually no bad episode from this season and the previous one. Regardless, let me know your thoughts below, and catch the next episode of Manhattan, "The World of Tomorrow", which airs next Tuesday at 9pm on WGN America.

About the Author - Milo MJ
Milo is an Arsenal FC supporter and loves TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, Justified, The 100, The Americans and Person of Interest. He reviews Black Sails, Childhoods End, Da Vinci's Demons, Hell on Wheels, The Knick, Manhattan, Murder in the First, Narcos and Veep for Spoiler TV as well as books, films and games for his own blog The Fictional Hangout and contributes to comic reviews on a weekly basis for All-Comic.
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