Over the summer, I saw a couple of promos for NBC’s new series, Manifest, giving away the series premise and showing us the highlights of the first act of its pilot. Those teases intrigued me enough that I decided to tune into the series and see if it was worth filling a spot on the DVR.
Watching the pilot, I couldn’t help but feel that I wish I hadn’t known the set-up heading into it. The first act is a taut, well-constructed mystery involving a group of people who gave up their seats on one flight and heading toward New York on the next available flight. Among them are a woman mulling her boyfriend’s proposal, a boy with a form of pediatric cancer who also has a twin sister and a couple of other various people with varying backstories. (I have a feeling we’re going to meet more of the passengers and crew as the series develops).
Going through some turbulence, the plane lands only to find that some wacky time-travel has occurred and they’re five years in the future. And while they haven’t aged, the world has moved on around them.
If you’re worried about SPOILERS, I don’t think I’ve really given anything away (yet) that you couldn’t get in the marketing campaign leading up the series’ debut. From here on out, I will probably get into some pretty episode specific SPOILERS for the first two episodes. So, if you haven’t seen ’em and don’t want to know more, turn back now.
The show hits some effective beats in setting up its premise. Watching as the passengers find out how the world has moved on without them is nicely done, including the fact that the boyfriend in question has moved on and married the best friend of Michaela. Cole’s, the young boy with cancer, sister has turned into a teenager and Mom might have a new relationship budding on the side of things to throw a monkey wrench into the works of this reunion. And, it turns out the mother of Michaela and her brother (Cole’s dad) passed away during the intervening five years.
And, of course, everyone who flew on the plane now has some mysterious connection. We see it in the first episode when Michaela and her brother hear a strange voice in their heads that help them solve two crimes — one involving a pair of kidnapped girls. The second episode finds the brother hearing music in his head that a fellow passenger hears and following a trail to get the fellow passenger’s son out of prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
It’s the mysterious connection between the various passengers that really stretches the suspension of disbelief at times. Seems that the brother happens to go to a self-storage facility at the same time as the real culprit behind the crime goes there. How exactly this happens feels a bit too coincidental and it’s here that I have the biggest stumbling block with the series.
Another stumbling block is that our various passengers are being kept under observation by “the government.” Which agency is never made clear, nor are the motives or if the government knows something more than it’s telling. Having watched The 4400, where we got a whole governmental task force set-up to watch the mysterious returnees, it feels like the show is trying to create a quick shortcut here and create some type of threat for those who’ve returned. It’s really at this point that I can’t help but wonder if The 4400 didn’t do this better.
Manifest does hit some interesting beats and some hit or miss character work. Michaela trying to come to terms with the changes to her world when it’s been five years for everyone else but only four days for her works well. Putting her into a therapy session where she can reflect on this works well, even if we see that she’s not always telling the truth. She admits she was going to turn down the boyfriend’s marriage proposal when she really planned on getting off the plane and accepting. The tension between the two (who will now have to work together as detectives on the New York City police force) works well, as does her frustration that her two confidants — mother and best friend — are closed off to her. Mom passed away and the best friend married the guy.
The young boy with cancer, Cole, seems to have been fortunate to have vanished for five years without aging. Where there were few answers for him then, there is a new treatment regiment now, thanks to the research of a fellow passenger. Again, we’re repeatedly told that the passengers and crew are connected now.
So far, the most interesting one that hasn’t been explored yet is the captain who worries because, in his words, the captain is always blamed for something going wrong. The sooner we get to his story and connection, the better it could be. (I’m thinking like how Lost took a huge jump in that third episode when we got to Locke and his backstory).
But our passengers and crew face a threat not only from the government agency monitoring them but a mysterious shadowy figure. Cole draws one in the background of his family and then one of the passengers who begins telling her story to the media is killed at the end of episode two (while watching her interview on TV, mind you). I’m not quite sure what to make of this plot yet, but I’m hoping we get some answers sooner rather than later. Going back to Lost, it feels a bit like the smoke monster we got early in the series run.
For now, I’m willing to give the series some rope and see where all this goes. But I can see myself checking out quickly if the connections between the passengers results in solving the mystery of the week every episode and we don’t get some more answers to what really happened or caused the time jump for the passengers and crew soon.