During Season 1, WGN America’s Manhattan introduced viewers to a complicated world full of science and history, populated by multi-faceted characters figuring out how to survive comfortably in a place built specifically to develop a world-changing bomb. Life at Los Alamos would be a strain on anyone’s mental state, but it seemed to take a larger toll on that of Olivia Williams’ Liza Winter. As Liza’s role within the community grows next season, one has to wonder just how mentally unstable she is, and how it will affect her moving forward.
I got to talk with members of Manhattan’s cast and crew recently, and because Liza’s questionable thought processes in Season 1 intrigued me so much, I had to ask just how much her mental facilities will enter into her story this season. And according to Williams herself, it’s more subtle than obvious.
It sounds kind of like we’ll get something that resembles her problems in Season 1, which saw Liza getting obsessed over the fact that her and Frank’s bedsheets (among other things) were full of radiation, only to later find out that she was wrong about everything. The possible conspiracy of switched-out radiation meters and antipsychotic pills made for good subtext, but it seems like it really was all just in Liza’s head. It’s possible the same kind of subdued touches will come in and out of Liza’s life during Season 2, as her scientific mind is more widely recognized and she earns more responsibilities.
And the way show creator Sam Shaw puts it, it’s this life within Los Alamos that might be affecting her mental standpoint just as much as the mystery-shrouded psychotic break she experienced in the past.
It can’t be easy for Liza to watch her husband Frank get dragged down so deeply into this war-driven world, knowing that there are so many other places outside of that community where they could live a relatively normal academic-driven life. And it’s much more realistic for Shaw and his writers to keep Liza’s troubles as insulated within her as possible, without sensationalizing them. As executive producer and episode director Tommy Schlamme told me, her mental illness is something that exists inside her, where she has to deal with it, but not necessarily in the storytelling.
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Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper. Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.