NBC’s much-promo-ed new show, Manifest, debuted tonight. It’s an interesting premise – a plane takes off, and arrives without delay, at least in its passengers’ perception – but it lands more than 5 years after it left. No explanation, no sensation – some bad turbulence, but what frequent flyer hasn’t experienced turbulence? Just a mystery – why? What happened? And what does it mean for the passengers and crew?
The show definitely has a bit of a Castaway vibe, especially in the Jared/Michaela reunion story (the end of Castaway is my favorite part of the movie), but Lost resonates through and through. If you’re familiar with Lost, you’ll understand: the passengers are all somehow interconnected, there’s a recurring number component, a weird psychological mystery….. and all of those elements are present in Manifest. Aside from the setting – contemporary New York vs a mythical tropical island – there are a LOT of similarities. Including a sick person that may be healed because of the strange events.
Still, the premise is intriguing. We don’t get much more than this in the pilot – it’s hard to put too much in 42 minutes (after commercials). The first few minutes zipped by – family returning from vacation. Barely-there Mom and Dad; brother Ben and wife Grace with their twins, leukemia patient Cal and sister Olive; moody Michaela and her boyfriend/not-quite-fiance Jared are all returning from Jamaica. Flight oversold, Michaela, Ben and Cal take the doomed flight, turbulence, mysterious arrival.
The problem, ladies and gentlemen, is that your plane departed Montego Bay, Jamaica, on April 7, 2013. Today is November 4, 2018. You’ve all been missing, presumed dead, for five and a half years.
It doesn’t take the show long to get that out of the way and into the mystery. How would you react, if you feel like there’s been no time passed, yet for the rest of the world, enough time has gone by that loved ones have died, lovers have moved on, children have grown? It would be scary, confusing, difficult…. and add on dealing with, what for you, were very recent traumas. For Michaela, that’s a car crash where someone died. For her, that just happened; for everyone else involved, it’s practically ancient history.
I wasn’t convinced by Melissa Roxburgh as Michaela. I found her flat and boring, and her “voice in her head” was weird and unconvincing. But because she seems to be the character around which the rest of the show turns – she’s the show’s off-screen narrator, and the only one with an intriguing backstory, so far – I hope she improves and grows on me! Josh Dallas as her brother Ben was much better in the acting category, but had no hint of his own story.
Where does this voice in her head come from – the one that told her to get the bus driver to slow down, that told her to “set them free” – not the dogs, as she originally thought, but the two kidnapped little girls? That’s an interesting, albeit painful-looking, talent to have! Does every survivor of Flight 828 hear voices? Ben does, apparently, and it tells him the same thing. Is it coming from a sentient being of some kind? I hope this doesn’t end up like the end of Stephen King’s book Under the Dome (although I didn’t see the end of that multi-season summer show, I heard the show had a different weird ending), with an alien toying with the humans. And I hope it’s not in the same vein as some other recent shows, that seem to be targeted toward the Christian crowd (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but last year’s Kevin Probably Saves the World, and this season’s God Friended Me, among others, are enough for right now).
MIchaela asks her priest, “how do we know if we’re ‘the called’?” She sees that in the same Romans 8:28 that was on her mother’s pillow – is that what they are? Called by whom? Is she beginning to believe this is an act of God? The voices so far have led to good outcomes – keeping the bus from hitting that little boy; saving the two girls. Is it the voice of her angel?
There’s definitely a potentially fascinating story line with young Cal, the boy who is not quite a twin any more. With his sister now five years ahead of him, and advances in medicine – created by Saanvi, a fellow Flight 828 passenger – meaning that he has a chance to survive his leukemia, he may have the most interesting story line of all. It’s compounded by the hints that he may have come out of this time-twisting event as somehow “more” – he seems to be better at bowling than before, and surprises his family with his ability to learn and play a domino game. Has he acquired some kind of super power?
The other Lost comparison is in the prominent number mystery, although this one seems a little more blatant. They were on Flight 828; Mom, before she died, stitched a pillow with the text of Romans 8:28; the address of the junk yard where the girls were found was 828. This could get overly repetitive REALLY fast.
The final scene of tonight’s episode, with all the survivors mysteriously gathered at the airport, was, excuse me, explosive – the plane literally explodes in front of them. Was there something there after all that the mysterious force didn’t want to be found? Let’s give it another couple of episodes, and see if we find something there that’s worth discovering.
Join us to chat about the show at our new Facebook group, Manifest Flight 828
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