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Charlie Isaacs is a scientist who comes to work in the Thin Man group of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos in 1943. He is one of the main protagonists in the series.
Charlie brings his wife Abby and their son Joey with him to the Hill. Despite his initial objections to working on the creation of an atomic device due, he is driven by his own ambition and his wife's persuasion, to pursue more control and power over the project as the series progresses.
Behind the Scenes
- "Charlie Isaacs is the newest member of the team at Los Alamos. Growing up, two qualities set young Charlie apart: his obsession with numbers, and his conscience. In college, he distinguished himself as one of the rarest talents the Harvard physics department had ever seen. Not only was Cambridge the birthplace of his budding scientific career, but it was also where his personal life began to blossom, falling in love with Abby, the future Mrs. Isaacs. At 26, he wrote a theoretical pa. per which sent shockwaves through the field. (Only
one journal rejected him—the science review at Princeton, edited by Frank Winter, who sent Charlie a one-sentence typed note: “Your approach isn’t new.”) That Spring, he became the youngest winner of the coveted Forbes Prize in physics. "
- ―Official description
Charlie is a young physicist who comes to work under Dr Reed Ackley at the Thin Man site of the Manhattan Project. Having just published a groundbreaking academic paper, Charlie is perceived to be a wunderkind and Dr Ackley tells Charlie that he has “a once in a generation mind.” Charlie seems to be a decent man with a promising future in science and a young and happy nuclear family. He and his family are Jewish, making his success that much more impressive given the tide of anti-Semitism within American academia at the time.
After learning just what the secret “gadget” is, Charlie is horrified as he does not want to make a weapon with such destructive possibilities. Despite this, he is confident in his abilities and knows that he is a much better scientist than others in his team. He is also quite ambitious and this ambition eventually overshadows his ethical concerns about developing the bomb. In the last episode of the series, he is the one who convinces the senate committee to drop the bomb on an inhabited city in Japan, rather than on an empty site.
Throughout the series, Charlie has an antagonistic relationship with Frank Winter and their rivalry escalates in the race to develop the best design for an atomic bomb.
Charlie is married to Abby, the daughter of wealthy Brooklyn parents. The couple has one child, a son named Joey. When the couple first arrives at Los Alamos they seem, despite their disagreement over Charlie's decision to work there, to be happy and in love - so much so that Abby tells Liza Winter that it seems like she and Charlie are on their "second Honeymoon." However, Charlie lies to Abby in the very first episode when he tells her that the secret project is building a radar system. He lies again when Abby asks him if he plagiarized his paper from another scientist – something she has heard while working as an operator on the switchboard.
The picture perfect romance is further fractured when Charlie takes a business trip with Helen Prins to a reactor site in Tennessee. Abby finds out that her husband has lied to her about going on the trip alone and this causes a fracture in their relationship. Abby decides to go out with Elodie, a colleague from the Switch Board, with whom she ends-up having a love affair. Meanwhile Charlie, burdened by the new weight of responsibility as a scientist on such an important top-secret project, keeps more and more information from his wife. As the relationship with Abby stales, he turns his attention to Helen Prins while Abby begins an affair with Elodie.
Elodie’s husband and Charlie’s work rival, Lancefield, gropes Abby during a dinner. Abby tells Charlie about the incident, but Charlie doesn’t take immediate action. This is because Charlie knows that Lancefield has discovered that he has been secretly working with Frank. His lack of action or outrage further sours the relationship between Charlie and Abby.
Charlie then tries to convince Abby to plant evidence in Lancefield’s basement that will lead to his arrest. Abby is disgusted by this suggestion and is planning to runaway with Elodie, but changes her mind when she sees another couple with a son pass by her window. This family reminds her of her own family responsibilities. She betrays Elodie and plants the folders Charlie has given her and this leads to Lancefield and Elodie being arrested and taken away from Los Alamos.
After their respective affairs, Abby tells Charlie that she is going to divorce him, which shocks him. After a few days, he tells her that he will not contest the divorce. When he learns of Abby's pregnancy, however, he uses this to convince her that it is a sign that they should stay together. They move into Frank and Liza's old house on the Hill, but their happiness is short-lived.
Abby learns that Oppenheimer is having an affair with a Communist intellectual named Jean Tatlock. Charlie tells his wife to stay out of other people's marriages, but she doesn't listen. She later phones Tatlock, pretending to be Oppenheimer's wife, Kitty. Subsequently, Jean is found face down in her bathtub and Abby assumes the guilt of the suicide after she suffers a late term miscarriage. Abby tells Charlie about what she has done and he doesn't do anything to convince her that it was not her fault. However, when she learns of Charlie's involvement in Jean's death, she tells him that he is a "monster" to have let her think it was her fault and the reason for her miscarriage. Abby then tells Charlie that she has sent Joey to live with her parents in Brooklyn. Charlie is outraged and threatens to go get his son back, but Abby knows that because the Trinity test is the next day, Charlie will choose to stay for the test rather than attempt to get his son back. While Charlie tries to make contact with his son by telephone, he does choose to stay in Los Alamos for the testing of the bomb rather than go after Joey.
During the Trinity test, Abby leaves Los Alamos with Joey while Charlie is supervising the bomb test. She has a map of California on her lap, indicating that she is leaving the State and leaving Charlie in the dark about her true whereabouts.
Charlie arrives on the Hill aware that Frank is the only reviewer to reject his paper for publication. When they first meet at Liza’s 4th of July party, Charlie confronts Frank about this. Frank tells Charlie that despite the title of his paper, there was nothing new in Charlie’s approach and that is why he rejected it.
When Abby meets Liza, Liza invites Abby and Charlie to dinner. Charlie is delighted that Frank will be forced to interact with him. During the dinner, Frank is again hostile towards Charlie and tells him to get out of his house.
One night in the bar, Frank’s friend Glen Babbit tries to help the Thin Man team solve a problem. Charlie is angered at this perceived interference and reports Babbit to authorities under suspicion that Babbit is a Communist. Frank discovers that it was Charlie who fed information to the military about Babbit. When he confronts Charlie with this information, Charlie tells him that while working at Harvard he saw a ticket with Babbit’s name on it, implying that Babbit is a traitor and possibly a spy. Frank then uses the telephone, knowing that Abby will be listening to his call from the switchboard, and says that the reason he rejected Charlie’s paper is that Charlie plagiarized portions of it from someone else. Abby tells Charlie this later that day. Knowing that Frank will expose him, Charlie retracts his statements about Babbit.
When Charlie realizes that the Thin Man design based on plutonium won’t work, he plans on telling Dr Ackley. But instead, he chooses to tell Frank. This leads to a working collaboration between the two. After Ackley's suicide, Frank is placed in charge of the main Manhattan team, but he decides to save Charlie at the end of Season 1 by pretending that he has set the younger man up and is arrested and imprisoned in his place. As a result, Charlie becomes the head of the group.
When Frank returns from prison, Charlie tells him that his decision to save him was a choice and the relationship goes south again.
Charlie meets Helen when she pretends that she has missed her appointment to collect Plutonium for the Implosion group (Helen is lying, in fact the group was not given permission to receive any). Charlie lets her into the locked office and later feels betrayed when he realizes that she was lying.
The next encounter he has with Helen is when they go as "Mr and Mrs Donaldson" to see the reactor site in Tennessee. The two end up getting drunk with each other in Helen's hotel room. Charlie has a brief fantasy of the two of them kissing.
Charlie begins an affair with Helen. He is attracted to her because of their shared love of Physics and the fact that he can tell her things he can't tell his wife. Charlie stops the affair when he learns of Abby's pregnancy.
He does not choose Helen to be on the team that he is managing in Season 2 because, despite her talents, as he later admits, he has complicated feelings for her. Helen confronts Charlie about this while he is meeting with Oppenheimer in his new back yard. She tells Charlie that he has treated her unfairly and that their relationship was “just sex” and he should get over it.
They go through a period of mutual hostility, culminating in Helen pouring a drink that she thinks Charlie has sent her on Charlie's lap. After the revelation that the drink was actually sent to her from someone else, Helen decides to forgive Charlie and they resume their friendship.
While Charlie decides to call of their affair for the sake of his marriage, at the end of Season 2 there seems to be potential for their relationship to be rekindled as they share a nice moment together during the Trinity test where Helen forgives him, saying that she understands why he chose his family over her.