Oh-My-Gosh, you guys! Manifest is a hit! If you were avoiding watching because you figured it would just be cancelled like all of the other broadcast scifi shows, I think you should give this one a chance. 10.4 million people watched Monday night, which is an increase over the number of people who watched its lead-in show, The Voice. No show has ever built on The Voice’s audience before- everyone has always experienced a drop. It matched the debut of last year’s big hit broadcast drama, The Good Doctor. And according to TVLine’s poll, 92% of viewers say they’ll keep watching.
Of course, Mr Metawitches and I watched it, too. The mister liked the show a lot. He’s much closer to your average viewer than I am, though he doesn’t care much for run of the mill cop-lawyer-doctor shows, either. But he also doesn’t like the dark, twisty, gross turn that scfi and fantasy have taken in this decade. He’s looking forward to watching the mystery unfold on Manifest this season, as well as the relationships between the characters.
This show appears to be a turn away from the dark and twisty mentality, toward a more positive, family-oriented outlook with characters who want to be good people and do good in the world. What professional reviewers would call hokey or cheesy these days. In fact, I think I saw one or two use those words.
But, honestly, I’m ready for hokey and cheesy to come back. I think a significant portion of the viewing public are, too. The world is a dark place, and we want to believe that there’s good in the world and good people who can be trusted.
That’s what Manifest is about. A plane load full of people is brought forward in time for a purpose, which will undoubtedly slowly reveal itself. They are normal people, with all of the struggles of real life. Upon their return, they have to pick up the pieces of what’s left of their lives, since everyone they know, and everything they were involved with, has moved on without them. At the same time, a voice in each one’s head, which sounds like their own, but is based on knowledge they have no way of knowing, compels them to act to help people. It won’t shut up until they put their own day-to-day concerns aside and do the right thing.
What adult hasn’t faced these kinds of issues? The feeling that life is moving too fast around you, and you can’t keep up. Or the discovery that people or organizations that you used to know have become unrecognizable since the last time you checked in. Or even just the sting of betrayal from people you thought you were close to in the here and now, but realize you never really knew?
The way toward mental health lies in balancing your own needs with those of the larger world, and the characters in Manifest are forced to do that. Their personal struggles are compelling because they’re so human, and because the characters are played by actors who are charismatic and likable. It doesn’t hurt that so many are familiar from other shows, so that they already feel like family.
The mystery component adds more complexity to each character, rather than just being a gimmick. Each has to deal not only with the time jump, but also with the ramifications of the voices in their heads and the actions they’re compelled to take. Something or someone has altered the course of their lives, and they need to figure why, and what that means, going forward.
Are their younger, more optimistic selves more able to deal with the crises ahead, than they would have been if they’d been through the heartache (and in Cal’s case, death) that those 5 years would have brought? Did the entity that brought them forward in time also take steps to make sure certain people were on the plane? Were they all random? Were none of them random? What does it say about them, that they are now some sort of chosen ones? What happens if they ignore the voice and walk away? Is the voice telling everyone who was on the plane to do good? Is hearing voices the extent of their changes, or will they develop other powers?
Did they fly over the Bermuda Triangle???
In the pilot, we’re introduced to the Stone family, including adult siblings Ben (Josh Dallas) and Michaela (Melissa Roxburgh), who are both on the fateful flight. Ben’s son Cal (Jack Messina), who is dying of cancer, also takes flight 828 with his dad. Ben’s wife, Grace (Athena Karkanis) and Cal’s twin, Olive (Luna Blaise), take the flight they were originally scheduled for, along with Ben and Michaela’s parents, Steve (Malachy Cleary) and Karen (Geraldine Leer). In this episode, there is also focus on medical researcher Saanvi (Parveen Kaur), who was on flight 828, and Michaela’s now ex-boyfriend and fellow police officer, Jared (JR Ramirez), who wasn’t.
The episode begins with the Stone family at the airport waiting to board their flight home from Jamaica. Michaela’s voiceover tells us that though everything looks perfect, it isn’t. Cal has leukemia, Ben and Grace are struggling to find a cure for Cal and to figure out how to pay for his treatments, and Michaela is still suffering trauma from a terrible car accident in her past. Plus, her mother is trying to pressure her into marrying her boyfriend. Mom even quotes her favorite bible verse, Romans 8:28- All things work together for good.
A voice on the loudspeaker tells them that their flight is overbooked. There’ll be a substantial credit involved for anyone who take a later flight, so Michaela, Ben and Cal jump on the chance. Michaela wants a little more time away from home. Ben wants the extra funds to help pay for Cal’s treatments. Cal wants time with Dad. They take Montego Air Flight 828.
On the plane, Ben continues Mom’s argument that Michaela should marry Jared. The family wants something to celebrate, and they all want her to be happy. These are odd reasons to tell someone else to get married- I can’t tell you how many relationships I’ve seen crash and burn that were approved by the parents. The family even pressured the couple to get married. Maybe Michaela is on this flight so that she avoids being pressured into a bad marriage.
Suddenly, the plane hits some unexpected turbulence. It’s bad, lasts about a minute, and includes a high-pitched whine. It seems like the plane is dropping for part of the time. Then it stops as quickly as it began, and the captain makes an announcement: “Terribly sorry, folks. That was extreme turbulence resulting from a weather surge that was not on the radar. Rest assured, the engine and controls are okay, and keep those seat belts fastened.”
Saanvi, a medical researcher, dropped her laptop during the turbulence. The screen is smashed in and the computer is broken. She tells the flight attendant that she’s lost her last 6 weeks of research.
When the plane reaches the airport and the pilot radios the control tower for permission to land, there is confusion. The tower isn’t expecting them. The controller asks for the captain’s name and the number of people on the plane. The captain is William Daly and there are 191 people on the plane. The controller diverts them from JFK to Stewart Airport in Newburgh, NY, 60 miles north of Manhattan.
Well away from the population center, in case they turn out to be terrorists, aliens or contagious. It’s also a combination public/military airport.
They land safely in Newburgh at 11:49 PM, but are told to deplane directly out onto the tarmac. Ben and Michaela don’t have cell phone service. As they begin to deplane, they are surrounded by police and other emergency vehicles, with their lights flashing. The captain is questioned by NSA Director Vance (Daryl Edwards).
After standing and waiting for a while with no answers, Michaela finally asks what’s going on, pointing out that there are sick people among the passengers who need to get home. Director Vance answers to the entire crowd: “The problem, ladies and gentleman, is your plane departed Montego Bay, Jamaica, on April 7, 2013. Today is November 4, 2018. You’ve all been missing and presumed dead for 5 1/2 years.”
The airport hangar’s have been set up as an interrogation and detention center for the passengers, with tarp tents for them wait in and use to get a bit of rest until it’s their turn for interrogation. The government has thoughtfully provided extra hard benches for their comfort.
As he takes his leukemia meds, Cal wonders how he’s still alive after 5 years, when he only had 6 months to live. He and Ben both decide that they don’t feel (or look) 5 years older.
Director Vance and his team question the crew and passengers, using an antagonistic, disbelieving tone right out of the gate. Everyone tells the truth, but they refuse to accept it, and don’t even really hear what the passengers are saying. He probably misses important details while they’re fresh in the passengers’ minds, because he doesn’t take their answers seriously.
What did they feel like during the turbulence, and right afterward? Were there any physical symptoms that they had in common, especially unusual ones? Did anyone hear or see anything unusual outside the plane during the minutes before, during and after the turbulence? Did anyone who was online notice anything strange? What did the captain and co-pilot experience during the turbulence? Was there anything unusual in the plane’s readings?
36 hours later, the passengers are released and reunited with their families. Olive is now tall, making the new age difference between her and her twin, Cal, obvious. Grace is shocked to find Cal unchanged after 5 years. Michaela and her father hug, then she asks about her mom. He explains to her that Karen got sick, and though she fought, hard, she succumbed to her illness. Michaela is devastated. She and her mom were very close. Her boyfriend Jared didn’t come to the airport, either.
There are news reporters outside when they return to the family home. Grace gives Michaela the pull out in the basement to sleep on, since they had to let her apartment go. Next to the couch is a chair, with a pillow on it that Karen made before she died, embroidered with Karen’s favorite verse, “All things work together for good.” Michaela apologizes for being such a screw up and bad influence on the kids, but Grace says they’ve all been given a do-over. They’re starting with a blank slate. They start to hug, but Michaela stops when a voice in her head says the beginning of her mother’s favorite verse, “All things.”
The lead investigator (Erika Rolfsrud) reports to Director Vance that everyone on board the plane has been interviewed and everything that was on the plane has been inspected. There’s no evidence that the plane touched down anywhere during the time it was missing. No one slipped up during an interview- they all told the exact same story. And there’s nothing on the plane dated after it took off. The director says, “That’s impossible.” The lead investigator responds, “Director, no one on that plane aged a day. I think we’ve taken impossible off the table.”
Ooh, do you have chills yet? It’s not really part of the show, so if you’re watching Hulu you’re missing this, but Giancarlo Esposito’s segues ALWAYS make me jump. I love that guy, but, geez, I think he has the spookiest voice working in TV today. He could ask me what I wanted for breakfast and I’d be sure that the end was nigh.
Michaela goes back to her old precinct station to see Jared face to face, since he hasn’t contacted her and she can’t bring herself to complete a call. The fact that he hasn’t reached out is obviously not a good sign for their relationship. Neither is that adorable sad puppy dog look of guilt on his face. Don’t go starting with that, Jared!! It’s bad enough that you’re Wildcat. We’re on Michaela’s side here! Don’t muddy the waters! Especially since you married her best friend, which is sketchy, even if Michaela was dead.
Michaela’s old sergeant runs interference, greeting her and welcoming her back before she can get to Jared. He lets her know that she’ll still be on desk duty, from whatever infraction she was working off before the plane disappeared, but he’s sure they can find her a desk when she’s ready to come back. That was a welcome full of mixed messages.
Jared and Michaela talk outside, for maximum traffic noise interference. They agree that she looks the same and he looks better. He apologizes for not coming to the airport. He’s lead detective on an abduction case, so he’s too busy to bother with old girlfriends who wouldn’t marry him, then disappeared into thin air.
A lot of changes have happened in his life. Has he mentioned that he made detective? No, don’t look at his left hand!! Shoot, she looked, and saw the wedding ring before he could get his hand in his pocket. Real brave guy. Michaela asks who she is, and Jared tells her that it’s Lourdes, her best friend. But, but he waited 2 whole years before he moved on, he tells her, like he expects Michaela to give him extra ex-boyfriend points for that or something.
Dude, if you don’t think you did anything wrong, then own it. Why the guilt, since Michaela was supposedly dead? It’s not really that weird for you and the best friend to have bonded over the mutual loss, especially since Michaela tells us that Lourdes always had a thing for you. You waited a more than reasonable amount of time before getting together. So, again, why the guilt? Either Lourdes is still second choice because Michaela is his soulmate, or
he was pregnant when she left he’s hiding some other secret.
Cal’s doctor is shocked that Cal’s illness and blood counts are unchanged since he disappeared. Ben assumes they’ll go back to his original treatments, but the doctor informs them that there’s a new treatment that works wonders and is in the last stages of research. Cal should be a good fit for the current study. She submits his name for the study while they’re sitting in the office.
Ben is floored. In his world, the doctor said it would take a miracle to save Cal. Grace says that miracles are already happening, since her family was brought back to her after being lost for 5 years. This new treatment for Cal is just one more.
Ben is having a little trouble keeping up with the changes.
Michaela goes shopping. The TVs in the store play a news report about the case of the abducted girls that Jared is working on:
Coverage of Montego Air Flight 828 will continue, but first this is an NBC4 update. Sisters Hallie and Samantha Pyler of Astoria were abducted from their backyard early Sunday morning. The case has resulted in thousands of calls to the NYPD, according to 129th precinct detective Jared Vasquez. “We’re working nonstop and pursuing all viable leads. Please keep your eyes and ears open. If you hear anything, make sure you contact your local police department.”
Michaela decides she’s done shopping. She takes the bus home, and soon hears a voice whispering, “Slow down” and “Stop” inside her head. She asks the driver to slow down, then becomes insistent when the voice in her head becomes frantic. The bus narrowly avoids running over a toddler who chases his ball into the road.
Later, she talks to Ben about the voice. He’s not very helpful. He neither confirms nor denies his own experiences with hearing voices. He does tell her that people will think she’s crazy if they find out, and that the government is still watching them. If she doesn’t want to get locked in either a psych ward or a government lab having exploratory brain surgery, she needs to stop talking about it.
Hmm, that was awfully conspiracy-oriented for Mr Normal and Just the Facts, Ma’am. Is that what his voice is telling him?
Saanvi’s mom and dad blindfold her and take her to her surprise welcome home party, at the research center. It turns out that her research was saved to the cloud (hello, Dropbox automatic sync) before the turbulence hit the plane and broke her laptop. The team she was working with has had 5 1/2 years to implement her findings. They’ve been treating pediatric cancer patients, using her cell regeneration model, for almost 30 months, and have already saved hundreds of lives.
After Cal’s doctor’s appointment, Ben says that he needs to get a job so that the family will have decent health insurance to pay for Cal’s treatments. He assumes that his wife’s insurance isn’t good enough to pay for the experimental treatments. Grace says that her insurance might, since it’s paid for twice a week therapy for Olive for years.
Ben has a momentary, mostly silent, melt down, as the assaults on his protective veneer of straight white male normalcy continue to add up. Now he has a wife who survived just fine without him, and a daughter who’s insulted him by needing serious amounts of therapy. These are both outside of normal parameters, but at opposite ends of the spectrum. What’s a guy who’s clinging to his state of denial to do?
Meanwhile, Grace, continues, saying that Olive was so messed up by the unexplained missing plane and the loss of half of her family that she couldn’t even leave the house, ride in a car, or go to school for a while. She couldn’t have sleep overs because of her traumatic nightmares. Most of that is gone now, though.
Ben helpfully says that Olive grew up too soon. Grace becomes steely, and tells him that Olive had no choice. Her tone of voice implies that both she and Olive have earned the maturity they have now, through blood, sweat and tears, and she doesn’t appreciate him wishing it away.
Michaela jogs by the river, then through a small business/residential/industrial area, where two dogs bark ferociously at her from behind an 8 foot tall chain link fence with a locked gate. The voice in her head starts up again, telling her to “set them free”. She keeps running. By the middle of the night, she can’t sleep because of the voice, so she rides her bicycle back to their pen.
Ben drives up right after her. He’s been hearing the same voice, and brought giant cable cutters with him. Good work, Ben. I was wondering what Michaela thought she was going to do with her bare hands and a bike. Ben admits to Michaela that he’s been hearing voices all along, but he doesn’t have time for these shenanigans!! He has a family to get back on track!! He needs to get a job and become the traditional breadwinner again. No one will hire him if he’s a slave to strange voices telling him what to do at all hours of the day and night, so THIS IS NOT HAPPENING. HE IS NOT A CIRCUS FREAK.
Michaela isn’t any happier. She wishes she was dead, instead of reclaiming a life that was broken to begin with and is now just plain miserable. Plus, now she has voices in her head that make her do things and make other people think she’s crazy. This is not a positive turn of events for her either.
Now that they’re both clear on where they stand regarding the voices and returning home 5 1/2 years too late, they approach the fence. Ben feels the need to mansplain to the police officer that they are about to commit a felony. She snaps back that she’s not stupid, thanks.
Ben cuts the chain holding the gate closed and they release the two German shepherds, who, thankfully, don’t bite them. The dogs just sit and look at them for a moment, then run away. The voice in their heads quiets. Ben and Michaela agree that this is getting weird, and they go home.
The next morning, a uniformed cop pulls Jared aside to show him the phone video that a neighbor recorded of Michaela and Ben freeing the dogs. The dogs were picked up by Animal Control, now the cop wants to know if he should process the complaint, or if Jared wants to handle his ex-girlfriend’s crazy.
Jared’s a nice guy, he informs Michaela, and takes on the crazy, even though he is now a Very Important Detective™ with 3 other detectives and 8 uniforms underneath him on a Very Important Case. He doesn’t have time for her Crazy anymore, if they’re not having sex, though he’ll give her this one as a freebie for old time’s sake. And because he wants to impress her with how important he is now. And to shame her a bit. Certainly not to use those famous and important detective skills to find out why she was there. Nope.
Instead, like all Very Important and Busy Men, he goes straight to assuming that it’s about him. It’s a reasonable assumption for the detective to make- his world revolves around him, and his wife probably convinces him that her world revolves around him. Shouldn’t his ex-almost fiancée’s world revolve around him as well?
Michaela can’t even follow his line of thinking for a minute, because she’s got so much of her own stuff on her mind. Yeah, she was right not to marry him, at least not now/then. Maybe eventually. She calls him on his self-absorption, and when he can’t imagine what other reasons she might have for “acting out”, she goes through the long list of bad things that have happened to her in the last couple of days, in her time, plus the car accident/causing the death of Evie stuff that she was already still dealing with.
When she’s done, Jared gives her a hug and says some nice words. Then he asks the question he should have started with, a sincere “Why?” did she and Ben do this. She can’t answer him, so he flips straight back into treating her like a child. He orders her to get dressed and come with him so that he can make her say she’s sorry when they return the dogs. He thinks this will be the act that will save her career, which seemed to already be teetering on the edge when she disappeared.
Maybe she needs a good long break from her career, or a new career.
Ben watches Olive’s school soccer practice to start making up for lost time. He feels guilty for all of the focus he was putting on Cal and his illness, even before the flight disappeared. He wants Olive to know that he’s going to focus on her from now on, and he isn’t going anywhere. She throws herself into his arms.
Saanvi attends the review committee meeting for the treatment she helped create. Cal’s name comes up as a potential subject, but he’s denied, because of his unusual history. Dr Cardoso doesn’t want to let a nonstandard subject skew the results when they’re so close to being bought out by Big Pharma. Saanvi argues for his inclusion, but is overruled by Cardoso. She walks out of the meeting.
Saanvi studies Cal’s file then approaches Cardoso privately. He emphasizes that he doesn’t want to jeopardize the sale of the product that they both have a stake in. After all, they don’t know what happened to Cal on that plane. Saanvi says that what happened to him is what happened to her. They both got a second chance. And maybe he was sent back to be cured by her. She doesn’t care about the money and insists Cal be included in the trial.
On their way into the metal shop to apologize about the dogs, Michaela hears the voice again, telling her, “Set them free.” She notices that the building is #828. Jared sees that she’s having trouble and sends her to sit in the car.
Jared returns the dogs, and apologizes. He asks Garrison, the owner, to do him a favor and forgo pressing charges. Garrison is all kinds of friendly and cooperative.
Michaela continues to hear the voice. She searches the property until she finds an old shed that’s locked shut. She breaks the lock just as Garrison and Jared find her. Garrison tries to attack her, but is stopped by Jared. The missing girls are inside.
Later, when it seems like the entire force and multiple rescue vehicles are at the site, Michaela’s former boss, Captain Riojas, approaches her. He tells her that Jared gave her all of the credit for finding the missing girls, so he wants to get her back to work soon, once she’s had a few more days to recover.
Michaela thanks Jared for “putting in a good word” with the captain. He wants to know what happened, but she still can’t tell him how she found the girls without sounding crazy. Then Jared tells Michaela that she still takes his breath away. She tells him to say “hi” to his wife for her, and leaves.
Grace and Ben wait while Cal gets his first treatment as part of Saanvi’s study. Grace gets a call, which she quickly blocks, shoving her phone in her purse. She’s crying as she does so and Ben notices. He tries to talk to her about what’s wrong. Grace says that she has a lot to apologize to Ben for. She’s spent every day of the last 5 years blaming him for taking the separate flight, and for making Cal so desperate for his father’s attention that he took the other flight with Ben.
But after all of that negative energy, she realizes now that in order for Cal to survive, to be able to grow up, he had to be on that plane. Ben holds her, mumbling something about how much she and Olive have been through. Then he says that Grace was the one who insisted they take the trip to Jamaica, so she was the one who saved Cal. With near religious ferver, Grace says, “No, this is bigger than us.”
Saanvi stops by the treatment room to check on Cal. Though she stays in the doorway, he sees her, and they smile at each other. They have a little moment before she walks away.
Meanwhile, back at the airport, the lead investigator waves at the plane and tells Director Vance that, “Everything checks out.” He replies that the next step is to take the plane apart piece by piece. He’s not even close to giving up on the investigation.
All four members of the Stone family are gathered at the kitchen table for a family game night. Cal learns (and wins?) the tile game that they’re playing exceptionally quickly, suggesting that the plane ride gave him advanced intellectual skills. As a news announcer on the TV is reporting on the rescue of the abducted girls, Ben has a moment of dizziness that looks like it also includes some pain.
Is he trying to ignore the voice in his head right now?
Grace goes to the kitchen to get more snacks and checks her phone. She’s been having an ongoing conversation with her replacement significant other, who’s begging her to talk on the phone or get together, because they miss her. She texts back that she needs time before she tells Ben about their relationship. Olive sees her and asks what she’s going to do about her husband and her newer relationship?
Michaela visits a church to meditate and consider her mother’s favorite bible verse. She speaks with the church Rector, and asks how we know if we’re “called”? He tells her that we know in our hearts. She asks if she can keep the bible. Ben arrives to pick her up, except she didn’t tell him she was there. They acknowledge that they saved the girls, then wonder how many of the other passengers are having similar experiences.
The answer? Many of them, possibly all of them. A few dozen of the passengers are called to the plane that night to witness it exploding and burning up. Cal is asleep in bed, but pops awake when the plane explodes.
“Ben and I didn’t know any of these people yet. But soon we’d know them as well as we know ourselves. As for whatever force brought us all here, it had no interest in being investigated. And as for the group of us? This was just the beginning.”
Did something just transfer from the plane to Cal?
If anyone recognizes the game the Stones are playing during family game night, let me know in the comments. ETA: It’s Bananagrams. Thanks to Lynn G-R for telling me.
So, we’re heading toward having Grace as Ben’s handler, Jared as Michaela’s handler, and Saanvi as Cal’s handler, right? But Ben will be noble and divorce Grace, so that she can be with her new lover.
It seems clear that Ben and Grace’s and Michaela and Jared’s relationships had issues before the plane disappeared, and both were going to end, sooner or later. These experiences may end up saving their relationships in the long run, or allowing them to have a relatively clean break so that they can all move on with their lives and with new partners.
I’d really like to explore Grace and Olive’s side of things in detail. While Karen died, Steve is an enigma and Jared was able to move on like Michaela had never existed, Grace and Olive couldn’t do that. They had to keep going for each other, and had to come to terms with the uncertainty and loss.
And it seems as though they both did, though it’s clear that they’ve been through a lot. Grace is now a battle-tested single mother, and Olive is a child who’s survived having her entire world turned upside down. She went from an intact family with a safety net to just her and her mom, struggling to survive, and probably helping out Steve and Karen through Karen’s illness and death. Those are profound experiences that Olive doesn’t share with her twin. Grace has had similar profound experiences that she doesn’t share with her husband.
How did Grace and Olive find the strength get through those years, and how can the family move forward now? Can they ever be a family again? Cal’s illness alone would have been enough to cause at least 50% of marriages to fail, before the plane jumped through time/ went missing. Now their issues seem insurmountable. They’ll all have to set aside their preconceptions of each other and get to know each other again, if it’s going to work.
Saanvi’s mentor, Dr Cardoso, is played by Joel de la Fuente, who also plays Inspector Kido on Man in the High Castle. He’s such an amazing chameleon of an actor that I never recognize him until I see his name listed in credits. I mean, Dr Cardoso smiles and hugs people!!
I’d like to get to know Saanvi and Dr Cardosa better, as long as he’s not going to be the cardboard cutout villain that he seems to be in the pilot. He might as well have twirled his mustache at Saanvi, while a thought bubble with a devil inside signified the evil plans he was making.
Images courtesy of NBC.