On 'Manifest', The Only Thing That Makes Sense Is The Missing Plane

The faces people make when you try to summarize the first three episodes of  Manifest . | NBC

The faces people make when you try to summarize the first three episodes of Manifest. | NBC

In the series premiere of NBC’s Manifest, a commercial airplane takes off from Jamaica in April 2013, hits some turbulence, and lands in New York City in November 2018. It’s an alluring hook, reminiscent, of course, of the landmark LOST. What happened to the plane? How will the world react? How will the passengers get on with their lives? Thirty seconds into the trailer I was ready to burn hours sleuthing supernatural theories on Reddit.

Unfortunately, after three episodes, it seems Manifest has an enormous ratio of premise quality to actual execution. What follows is a rough summary of things that have made me scratch my head while watching the show, and not in a good way. [Reasons for scratching one’s head power rankings: 1) Thinking about how to spend and invest lottery winnings 2) Being intrigued by the mysteries of a sci-fi TV show 3) Dry scalp/Lice 4) Being dumbfounded by a poorly executed sci-fi TV show]

**Spoilers below**

The first and most obvious grievance, the one that hangs over every moment of the show, is the reaction of the United States government upon the plane’s arrival. In real life, if a flight went missing for five years only for its passengers to land safely without having aged a day, government officials would quarantine everyone involved and probably wait to inform families and the media until they figured out what happened. On Manifest, the suits have a few gruff chats then send everybody on their way. Possible time travel by unwitting civilians is a situation that deserves more attention than an insurance adjustment after a hail storm.

But I get it. We can’t have main characters holed up in interrogation rooms for months on end. There’s no show unless the passengers venture out into the real world to reckon with their jarring new reality. Which is why the reaction of the non-passengers comes in at a close second on my list of gripes.

If an event like this actually occurred, it would unleash an existential crisis across humanity. Society as we know it would come to a screeching halt. Civilizations would melt into chaos as every individual grappled with the fundamental questions of life in the universe. Religious cults would perform mass suicides, believing this event to be some portal to a higher dimension. People wouldn’t just go back to work the next day.

Yet that’s pretty much what happens on Manifest! Not only does life go on as normal for most of society, but a few passengers just pick up right where they left off at their jobs. Co-workers and family members, instead of fainting at the sight of their back-from-the-dead loved one, seem mildly inconvenienced more than anything else. “Ah that’s great you’re not dead and all, but your existence kind of throws a wrench into my personal life so…”

One character, a woman who thought she lost a husband and son on the flight, entered a serious relationship in the five-year period since their disappearance. When half her family returns looking exactly the same as the day she last saw them, she hops right back into married life and doesn’t even mention her boyfriend for three episodes. Another character immediately returns to her duties as a police officer, only to find her fellow cop — and fiancé — married her best friend and is perfectly willing to treat her like any other co-worker. Folks this is a put-it-all-on-the-table situation! These people have been traumatized! Nothing good will come from secret relationships right now.

Girl quit playing and tell him who you’re with. | NBC

Girl quit playing and tell him who you’re with. | NBC

If you’re itching for some mysticism, worry not, some of the passengers have magical powers. They hear voices, occasionally, and can maybe predict the future? Or at least avoid certain car accidents. One of the passengers is a biochemist and thinks it has something to do with a change in their blood, opening the possibility that this is all just a prequel to the Star Wars prequels. Why the onus is on her (and not the government) to figure this out is beyond me.

Perhaps there are some clues to be found on the plane itself — air quality, physical damage, alien technology, what have you. Unfortunately the plane (which was still sitting on the tarmac a few days after landing rather than being whisked to Area 51) spontaneously exploded at the end of the first episode, and no one really mentioned it after that.

Interest in LOST endures to this day, partly because the show asked more intriguing questions than it answered. Fans can debate and theorize and discover Easter eggs until the end of time. Manifest, on the other hand, asks a few dull questions — most of them meandering away from the premise — and this viewer doesn’t really care to know the answers. (One of the promos asks, “What if you got a second chance at life?” Hey, sounds pretty good! That’s not really what these people are getting though. Seems to me like traveling five years into the future against your will is actually a bad deal rather than a good one. That dad missed his daughter’s childhood! One woman’s mother died!) The show title itself probably has a double meaning, and I will almost certainly groan when it’s revealed in the finale. |ES|