In physics, "spooky action at a distance" is a colloquial term for the famous EPR paradox, devised by Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky, and Nathan Rosen in the 1930s to describe the bizarre implications of quantum entanglement. In essence, two particles that become entangled can be separated in space and yet still influence each other instantaneously, violating a fundamental principle of special relativity called locality. It's one of the reasons Einstein disliked quantum mechanics. "Spooky Action at a Distance" is also the title of this week's episode of Manh(a)ttan, in which the concept of entanglement serves as a (very) loose metaphor for -- well, I'm not sure what, exactly, but there are certainly a lot of complicated secret entanglements burbling beneath the surface.
Last week, Ackley offered Charlie a promotion that would make him Ackley's deputy/second in command in charge of the lab in Ackley's absence. He gave the waffling Charlie 24 hours to think about it. Charlie shows up in his boss's office just before the midnight deadline and says he'll accept, on three conditions.
First, he wants security enhanced -- specifically, he wants even more compartmentalization among the scientists. Second, he insists they all need to recheck the math for Thin Man's design, even though technically they're supposed to be moving into the build phase. "You make these boys backtrack, they will hang you by your slide rule," Ackley warns -- and they already don't like Charlie. But he figures it's Charlie's funeral. Finally, Charlie asks for Helen Prins to be reassigned to the Ackley lab as his deputy. As he tells the assembled scientists in Team Ackley when the announcement is made (to less than enthusiastic applause), "Anyone who has a problem answering to a woman can transfer to another site." You tell 'em, Charlie.
Helen is not happy with the new arrangement when she finds out. Not only does she have to retake the security polygraph test, but she genuinely believes the implosion model will turn out to be the end game. When she complains to Frank, he brusquely informs her it was his idea to have her transferred. He claims it was in exchange for a bunch of IBM computers Ackley has to spare, but by now it's clear he and Charlie have cooked up some sort of scheme -- not even Babbit is in the loop.
Helen is miffed: "You really are a son of a bitch." Well, yes. She's just figuring this out now? She takes out her frustration on the polygraph examiner, giving flippant answers to all his questions until he chides, "This is not a vaudeville act."
Charlie's request for beefed-up security means everyone has to be frisked when they pass through security. "We've created a security monster," he tells Frank when he secretly stops by the Winter house that night. We learn that Charlie has 5o of his scientists working on Frank's implosion problem, although they think they are double checking the math for Thin Man. Charlie is worried they'll figure out the ruse; these are pretty sharp physicists, after all. Frank is dismissive. This was the reason for insisting on stricter compartmentalization. "The calculations are broken up into tiny parts," he insists. "If the puzzle pieces are small enough, there's no way one guy could see the big picture."
Frank has other things on his mind. For starters, he's scheming for a way to get more explosives and detonators for testing the implosion principles, since Charlie can't requisition them through Ackley's lab without giving away the scheme. The search brings him to a remote armory headed by a rugged engineer named Lazar (Peter Stormare), who appears to be supervising bomb drop tests. Frank finds him standing on a bulls-eye target in a field, mumbling to himself as he makes notations, until a plane flies overhead and drops a charge, which explodes in midair.
Frank first pretends to be interested in trading a bottle of vodka for some of Lazar's handmade sausages, but Lazar isn't fooled; he knows exactly who Frank is, and what he wants. And he rejects the vodka, which surprises Frank, since Lazar is Russian by birth and it's kind of the national beverage. But he's American by citizenship; you can tell by his cowboy hat, trenchcoat and Winchester rifle. "I hate liars and I hate vodka," he tells Frank, not to mention ethnic stereotyping. Honestly, Lazar is pretty awesome. He also doesn't take kindly to attempts at bribery. And he is unimpressed with Frank's wheedling attempt to get in his good graces by mentioning their mutual friend Albert Einstein. Lazar doesn't like shameless name-dropping either. He flatly refuses to give Frank any detonators or TNT.
Also competing for Frank's attention: chickens are coming home to roost regarding his affair with maid, Paloma. He receives a visit from a man named Javier (Raoul Truiillo), claiming to be Paloma's cousin. Frank's daughter, Callie, helpfully translates. Javier's pitch is that things are hard down at the pueblo, what with the bad harvest and all. Javier references Paloma's "many skills and talents," adding that she'd told him Frank is a generous man. It's thinly veiled (for Callie's sake) blackmail: Javier wants a pickup truck by Friday. Or else. The consequences aren't specified, but Frank obviously doesn't want the affair made public.
It turns out that Charlie was right to be concerned. Helen quickly figures out that Charlie has Ackley's scientists working on the implosion problem. She gets the reasoning: Ackley has the resources but the Thin Man design concept is fatally flawed. Implosion is a good model, but Winter's lab lacks the manpower to solve the shock wave problem. Charlie swears her to secrecy, but she's not happy about being forced into complicity in the scheme; she's a woman who prides herself on being independent and making her own choices. So as an extra dig, she tells him "I'm screwing Paul Crosley" as she marches out in a high dudgeon.
Speaking of romance, Abby has been avoiding her erstwhile BFF/lover, Elodie, but the latter is undeterred, showing up during Abby's shift at work with a sandwich as a peace offering. And her winsome ways melt Abby's resistance pretty quickly. Soon they are sunbathing and drinking afternoon cocktails just like old times. But some clearing of the air is still in order. Abby asks whether what happened between them was "normal," causing the continental Elodie to shake her head ruefully. "You Americans. Always looking for explanations. Or penance."
By evening they're giggling over wine and arguing about their favorite actresses. Abby loves Vivien Leigh, whom Elodie considers too wholesome. She prefers "Sweater Girl" -- a.k.a. Lana Turner. Things are just heating up to another stolen kiss (with Abby once again highly receptive) when Elodie's husband, Tom Lancefield (Josh Cooke), comes home. He's another Ackley scientist, by far the most hostile to Charlie among the team members. But he's pleasant enough to Abby at first, and invites her to stay for dinner. Abby has bad luck with dinner parties; remember the disastrous evening chez Winter when Frank threw Charlie out in a fit of pique? This one proves even worse, and not because Elodie keeps whispering naughty sweet nothings to the blushing Abby when her husband's back is turned.
When Elodie clears the table and heads into the kitchen, Lancefield's manner turns creepy, as he silkily tells Abby he'd like to get to know her better. Then things get ugly. He says he can tell she can keep a secret, grabs her breast and tries to grope under her dress. "I'm just being neighborly," he snarls, when she objects and shoves him away in horror. Then he tells her he sees what Charlie is up to, "and the minute he slips up, I'll be waiting."
So, it's more of a power play to strike back at Charlie than a serious attempt at seduction, but it's still gross. No wonder Elodie seeks comfort elsewhere. Frank used Abby to send a veiled message to Charlie a few episodes ago, too. Maybe these guys could grow a pair and communicate with Charlie directly in the future rather than manipulating his poor wife. Even worse: when Abby tells Charlie what happened, he's initially shocked -- as any husband would be -- but his face changes when she relays the last part of Lancefield's message. So when Abby tells him he ought to do something about the groping, he shrugs. "Men will be men. Best thing is to stay out of his way." This is not going to help their marriage. But he can't afford a confrontation with Lancefield just yet.
Back in the Winter lab, Crosley is pretending he doesn't miss Helen ("She didn't know anything about shock waves anyway"). He and the remaining scientists (Meeks and Crosley) are at an impasse on cracking the shock wave problem. Brief reminder: in the implosion model, explosives were used to compress a plutonium sphere (the “pit”) so rapidly, its density would induce criticality and set off a nuclear chain reaction. But the shock wave from the implosion didn’t last very long before dissipating outward, and if it happened too quickly, only part of the pit would be compressed at any given moment as the shock wave passed through it, halting the fission. What was needed was a way to hold it all together into a dense critical mass for a mere few nanoseconds longer so the fission wouldn’t sputter out.
"The only problem with implosion is that it's impossible," Fritz moans. So he suggests they need to have some fun and breaks out a bag of psychotropic mushrooms. Crosley is game, Meeks is reluctant: apparently he tried marijuana once, "and you don't even want to know what happened." Fritz assures him the Indians have been eating them for centuries with no ill effects, and ultimately Meeks caves to peer pressure.
Is there anything more entertaining than physicists tripping on mushrooms? "I see a moat, and a boat and I am sailing towards an asymptote," Fritz rhymes, giggling with delight, before turning to Crosley and announcing, "You're in love with Helen, aren't you?" Crosley looks surprised: "Yes, I suppose I am." (Poor Crosley. We all know Helen really fancies the unavailable Charlie.) And they hug it out, in true stoner "I-Love-You-Man" fashion. Meeks seems to be less affected, and Fritz opines that maybe he should eat some more mushrooms, since he probably has a fast metabolism and it's affecting his high.
This is when Meeks has a "Eureka!" moment. "Metabolism. Rates of absorption." He's convinced this is what they've been overlooking in their struggles on the shock wave problem. They all head back to the lab to follow up on this exciting new development, madly scribbling equations on several blackboards in a frenzy of 'shroom-fueled inspiration. The next morning, Babbit arrives to find all three asleep, having worked all night -- but the blackboards are filled with gibberish. Fritz sheepishly tells him they were working on absorption rates. "Absorption rates have to do with shock wave control," Babbit snaps. "Quit playing Hangman on my blackboards." I guess we'll have to wait for a future episode to see how they make implosion viable at last.
Meanwhile, Frank has not given up on winning over Lazar, going back to the armory a second and third time. "You are persistent," Lazar observes dryly. "It's an over-rated quality in a man." But then Frank tells Lazar about his affair with Paloma and Javier's blackmail and asks for his advice.
He has two choices: come clean to Liza and face the consequences, or stand up to Javier. "Situations like yours, they end in truth or violence," Lazar the Cowboy Philosopher observes. He still can't give Frank any detonators -- the army keeps careful count -- "but that shotgun? That's mine."
Frank opts for the latter option, driving out to meet with Javier in a remote area. Javier arrives with a few friends, clearly intended to intimidate Frank. But then Lazar drives up in a pickup, and gets out, shouldering his shotgun and doing his best Clint Eastwood impression. (I kept waiting for him to tell Javier, "Go ahead -- make my day.") Frank brought his own backup, and my money's on Lazar in a shootout.
Frank drops the keys to the pickup in the dirt at Javier's feet: "Are we done?" Javier says they will be done when Frank tells him what the US Army is building on their sacred land. Frank just shrugs and walks away: "Enjoy your truck." Oh, and Lazar gets the keys to Frank's car for his trouble -- a fair trade, since Liza never much liked the car anyway.
But there's a further twist. When Javier returns to Paloma's house with his new truck, the mysterious Samaritan is waiting -- the guy who's been tailing Frank on behalf of Occam, the government interrogator. Javier reports that Frank told him nothing about the work at the base. The scheme was an elaborate ruse to test Frank's loyalty to the Manhattan Project. I guess he passed.
Finally, after Babbit intervened on her behalf last week, Liza Winter has a job on base. She's helping the obstetrician, Dr. Adelman, in the hospital, which seems to have a number of pregnant women and newborns on hand. But she has an ulterior motive. Once Adelman leaves for the day, she snoops through some of his files and borrows a Geiger counter. She starts checking the newborn babies with it -- and finds one that has obviously been seriously exposed. Combine that with her dead bees and the odd purple flower she's been studying, and she has grounds for serious concern.
Among the questions left open: we briefly see Ackley, alone in his office, burning an envelope addressed to Oppenheimer. Who knows what it contained, or what the ramifications of Ackley's action will be? With only four remaining episodes, I expect we'll see a whole bunch of storylines come together in the next few weeks.