NBC’s Manifest Takes Off


[Yes, I skipped a week. Sorry! To make it up, please see this recap I wrote for Manifest]

April 7, 2013

That’s the date 191 people boarded Montego Air 8-2-8 from Jamaica to New York. It landed November 4, 2018. For those on board, only a few hours passed – both mentally and physically. For the rest of the world, including those closest to the passengers, it’s been five and a half years.

That part is on the television promo. Spoilers are below the fold…

The show opens with a family waiting for a flight: Ben Stone with his wife, Grace, and their twins Olive and Cal. Ben’s sister, Michaela, and their parents, the elder Stones. We learn a lot about this family in just a couple of minutes. Ben and Grace are very much in love and very much obsessed with trying to save the life of their leukemia-stricken son, Cal. The elder Stones want Michaela to know she deserves happiness and should accept the proposal from her boyfriend, Jared. And Michaela is sick of herself and her family, so when the opportunity to accept a later flight comes up, she pounces on it like her mom wishes she’d pounce on Jared. Ben, too, takes the later flight. The travel vouchers offered would save his family money on trips to the Mayo Clinic for Cal and Cal wants to take the flight to spend more time with his dad. Thus, is the beginning of the irrevocable split of the Stone family.

On board the flight, things seem normal. We see various passengers and crew going on about their business, including Saanvi, a research scientist, working on her laptop. Suddenly, the plane shakes and shifts. There are screams as crew members rock on their feet, luggage falls from the overhead, and papers fly everywhere. Saanvi’s laptop falls and breaks and, though she is visibly frustrated by the loss, it’s clear she’s more concerned with her own life (which was rather refreshing. I’ve seen so many shows and movies where someone will risk life and limb to save research when it’s clear they will lose life, limb, and their precious research. I appreciate the change.)

The turbulence lasts only a couple of minutes then we hear Captain William Daly’s smooth voice on the intercom telling the rattled passengers there was turbulence from a sudden weather anomaly that didn’t show on their radar. A minute later we see the captain and his co-pilot as they approach JFK. The professional yet non-plussed controller talking to the professional yet annoyed captain was well done and did much to increase this tension. Combined with the “odd” requests to fly to another airport, everyone’s sudden lack of cell service, and the command to de-plane on the tarmac tightened that tension knot-by-knot until I was excited when the government vehicles swerved into the airfield to swarm the confused passengers.

And with that, the stage is set for Manifest, the latest blackout/out-of-time drama from NBC. However, we lose some of that tension with the reunion of the passengers with their loved ones. There are some scenes of people being interviewed by authorities. I enjoyed the performance of Frank Deal as Captain Daly. He was only on for a couple of minutes but he owned every second he was on. He played the confused, beleaguered pilot with al dente perfection. The others interviewed didn’t have names, but I have to give a shout-out to the blubbering woman who could barely get two words out as her brain-imploded. I would feel the same way.

The show jumps to 36 hours later and we see Athena Karkanis, who plays Grace, do a serious sprint across the airfield (seriously, did she train for that kind of speed?) and jump into the arms of her husband. The Stone family is now reunited with their loved ones minus Mama Stone who died of an illness and the aforementioned Jared. Young Cal is reunited with his “twin” sister who is now five years older, a teenager, an age he never thought he’d see. And how does a ten-year-old deal with this? By running off. But his mom, who just might be a cousin to Usain Bolt, quickly catches up with him and reassures him she understands.

The story follows as Ben, Michaela, and Cal try to fit back into a world where Grace, Olive, and Papa Stone went on with their lives and Jared moved on to marry Michaela’s best friend, Lourdes. And while both she and Jared started beat cops, Jared is now a detective. Not only that, Michaela and, later, Ben both contend with strange yet seemingly prophetic thoughts entering their minds. For Michaela, it starts when she’s on a bus. She gets the message to tell the driver to “slow down” and the show does a good job of showing the tension of this moment. She speaks up but then the driver says “Do I come to your work and tell you how to do your job?” and she backs down – as anyone would. It’s obvious she wants to say more but doesn’t until the thought comes again, stronger than before. This time she asserts herself and driver slams the breaks in time to avoid hitting a little boy who ran into the street. Later, she gets another message “set them free” as she jogs by a small, run-down factory with two dogs chained behind a fence.

She shares her experience with her brother, Ben, who calls her crazy and tells her to keep a lid on it. The government would snap her up in a second. She does her best to follow his advice but later that night has the overwhelming thought to return to the factory and her brother followed suit. It turns out he had the same thoughts. The two of them cut the lock and set the dogs free, but since they’ve been missing since before the ubiquitous use of cell phone cameras to capture everything from police shootings to Fluff Challenge they weren’t on the lookout for nosy neighbors who might record them.

We then move forward to someone without the last name Stone. Earlier, Saanvi was treated to a hero’s welcome. Unbeknownst to her, she was able to get her research on a ground-breaking treatment for childhood Leukemia off to a colleague before the “turbulence” and the lab was able to create successful trials. Later, she sits in on a meeting where her colleague and other scientists are deciding which children to help next and decide Cal will not be one of them. They’re on the cusp of a financial windfall and do not wish an unknown to muck up their results. But after a two-minute plea, Saanvi was able to change the mind of her colleague and we see Cal getting the treatments he so desperately needs. And here ends Saanvi’s part in Monday night’s episode. I really hope they revisit this in some way. The main focus was on the Stones but as all we know of Ben is that he’s worried about money, he’s worried about his kids, he has the same “power” as his sister, and his wife has a new partner we could have used more Saanvi and less Ben. And I do not say this lightly. Josh Dallas was one of the main draws of this show for me, him and the fact that I’m a sucker for out-of-time/ blackout dramas.

With Saanvi out of the way, the show returns to Michaela and Jared who arranges to have the dogs returned to their owner with the hope he won’t press charges. However, Michaela doesn’t meet the owner. She’s preoccupied with hearing the same message as before. And as Jared is talking with the owner to smooth things out, she realizes the message is not about the dogs. Michaela investigates the property and finds two scared girls locked in a cage. The missing girls’ case Jared was leading earlier in the show. Michaela comes out a hero.

But, as the show ends, we learn the Stone siblings weren’t the only ones infected with strange thoughts. The last scene has Saanvi, Captain Daly and everyone except Cal, who’s asleep in bed, gathering at the airfield where the plane is awaiting deconstruction as government officials try to figure out what happened. Michaela’s ominous voiceover suggests that whatever happened to them five and a half years ago doesn’t want to be investigated and the plane blows up.

Overall this was a good pilot. There was some slow-going as the show establishes its world-building, but it does a good job establishing smoldering fires of conflicts, both personally and politically, these people may face. Let’s just hope these fuel the sustained flight of a full season

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