Point of No Return
Cleared for Approach
Estimated Time of Departure
Around the festive holidays, a fair amount of my family recommended I check out Manifest. It’s one of the bigger shows from 2018/2019 I just didn’t get around to watching and with all 16 episodes ready to binge, I thought I’d take the plunge. As per most of the content I get through, I go in blindly, having not watched a trailer or read a plot synopsis before for a more raw experience. Manifest is a show that’s captivated me, frustrated me and at times seriously tested my patience across its 16 episode run-time.
Whether you liked the season finale or not, LOST will forever be the defining mystery series on TV that revolutionized the way these mystery dramas play out. The early 2000’s hit gripped the world and since then, plenty of shows have tried to rekindle that same lightning in a bottle, including The 4400, FlashForward and The I-Land, to name a few. On paper, Manifest’s premise is actually incredibly interesting. A plane takes off on a seemingly normal trip but when it touches down at its destination, 5 and a half years have passed for everyone else other than the passengers on-board, who haven’t aged a day. Why did this happen? Who or what caused it? Why this flight? And exactly what connects all these passengers together?
If you go into this expecting answers, be prepared to leave disappointed. Manifest is a soap-opera drama first and foremost, with sprinklings of sci-fi and mystery elements added to keep things interesting. After a decent enough opening episode, only episodes 5 and 9 really offer anything that substantial and move the plot forward, before the final third of the series introduces yet more mystery elements and seemingly abandon the missing plane mystery for the time being. How these two plot threads combine or play into one another is still unclear but one thing isn’t – Manifest is a show that’s relying on its audience to be invested enough with these characters to revel in their melodramatic lives and only occasionally dip into sci-fi territory.
This ultimately causes quite the dilemma. On the one hand, if you’re looking for something to switch on in the background and dip in and out of, Manifest actually does this quite well. The opening portion of the episodes offer flashbacks to the day of the plane (and then for new characters off the plane late on) while the ending to each usually ends on a sci-fi-infused cliffhanger or plot reveal that’ll keep you coming back for more. Nestled between these thin slices of science fiction bread, is the meaty character drama, complete with crying, break-ups, love triangles and frustrating misunderstandings and poor communication that dominates large swathes of the show.
There are several different main narratives that take this series by the scruff of the neck, including missing passengers from the plane, “callings” that see our main characters experience visions that could lead to clues, whispers of a government cover-up going all the way up the chain of command and Cal inexplicably drawing frightening premonitions and becoming the main catalyst when it comes to those aforementioned Callings. All of this builds toward a singular, climactic finale that doesn’t really resolve anything but does leave things hanging with an almighty cliffhanger.
To drive a show forward like this, there needs to be a likable central cast of characters and if I’m honest, Manifest doesn’t have that. Grace Stone is one of the most annoying and frustrating characters, while Ben’s wishy-washy persona makes it difficult to really root for him either, especially given how Grace treats him. Cal is an interesting character though, and arguably one of the strongest, although it’s hard not to compare him to Walt from Lost at times. The rest of the cast, including Michaela Stone and one of the new players late on (which I won’t disclose here for spoiler purposes) do well to add a bit of flair to the show but the rest just don’t do enough to stand out.
It’s particularly problematic given the antagonists of the show too, which change figureheads several times across the season. To be fair to Manifest though, some of the episodes are actually quite exciting, and most of this occurs when the shadowy bad guys make their move and tighten the screws. The mid-season climax includes a pretty tense gun-fight and as much as I hated the early season melodrama between Ben and Grace, their relationship is much more tolerable during the final third of the season. There’s some very intriguing puzzle pieces added here though but given the rate of cancellations for shows like this, it’s hard to really get invested when there’s little in the way of answers to go on.
With a second season green-lit and ready to be released next week, Manifest owes it to its fans to knuckle down now and answer some of its more crucial answers. I, of course, will jump in blindly to this one in the hope that this is the case and the mystery here has been enough to see this through to the end. It’s been a difficult slog though if I’m honest and there’s an awful lot of fat that could easily have been removed by a couple of treadmill sessions at the editing room.
Still, if you’ve made it this far then you’re in for the long-haul flight to (hopefully) a decent destination with some answers. Whether the show can improve and make good on its premise remains to be seen but given this mixed bag of a season, Manifest needs to really up its game if it’s going to win back audiences.