Manifest: Pilot

Manifest Pilot Recap: “I Think We’ve Taken Impossible Off the Table”

For months now, the NBC ads have proclaimed Manifest to be the most anticipated new TV series of the year, as if repeating a lie often enough will make it true. Now that it’s here, is the destiny of the show to be the next Lost or, perhaps more likely, will it just get lost in the shuffle of the fall schedule?

(Did you catch what I did there with “manifest” and “destiny”? Clever, huh?)

In the years since Lost, a lot of other TV shows have tried to replicate the Lost formula, none quite as successfully. Here’s another one. It’s pretty bad.

We open at an airport in Jamaica, where the Stone family wait to catch a flight home to New York. They’re all very boring people, with very mundane, boring problems. Michaela (Melissa Roxburgh) feels smothered by her mom, who keeps pressuring her to accept her boyfriend’s proposal even though she doesn’t feel ready to commit. Michaela’s brother, Ben (Josh Dallas from Once Upon a time), is driven to distraction by the fact that his young son is suffering from Leukemia and may not have much longer to live. (Yes, that’s sad and all, but the dramatization of it is not very well done.) When the airline announces that their flight is overbooked and offers any passengers who stay behind to catch the next one a $400 cash rebate, Michaela and Ben both jump at the chance. Cal, the sick kid, stays with his dad while his twin sister and the rest of the family (including Ben’s wife) take the original flight and leave first without them.

The backup journey on Montego Airways Flight 828 goes smoothly for the most part, except for one very scary electrical storm that shakes the plane around for about half a minute. No one is hurt and no harm seems to be done by the time it’s over. However, as the plane approaches the airport in New York, the air traffic control tower sounds incredibly surprised and confused when the captain announces his call sign. The flight is redirected to a smaller airport nearby, where a whole contingent of police and federal agents wait on the tarmac. The captain and all the passengers are perplexed by this, are tired from the trip, and just want to go home. When they demand to know what the holdup is, an agent explains that their flight went missing five-and-a-half years ago and they were all presumed dead until their plane miraculously manifested out of nowhere tonight. What the what… ?!

Everyone is held and interrogated for 36 hours before they’re allowed to see their families again. No one has a good explanation for what happened. The reunions are awkward. Cal’s twin sister is suddenly a teenager. Michaela and Ben’s mom died two years ago. Michaela feels awful that the last conversation they had was an argument.

As they try to pick up their lives, we learn that Michaela is a cop. Her boyfriend/almost-fiancé, Jared (J.R. Ramirez), is a fellow detective. He’s been avoiding her calls since she returned, and with good reason. It seems that he moved on after Michaela disappeared and married her best friend. Ouch.

Unbeknownst to Ben, his wife Grace (Athena Karkanis from Wild Kratts… yeah, that’s right, that’s what I know her from; other parents will understand) is secretly texting with a boyfriend of her own. When Ben and Grace bring Cal to resume his Leukemia regimen, they’re informed that a new treatment was developed in the past five years that will virtually guarantee a full recovery. It’s a miracle.

In fact, that treatment is the direct result of research performed by a grad student named Saanvi (Parveen Kaur) who was on the flight with them and had no idea that she’d apparently cured cancer. What a coincidence!

Things seem to be normalizing until Michaela is suddenly overcome by a voice in her head – her own voice – telling her to make the driver of the bus she’s on slow down. The driver dismisses her until Michaela yells at him, at which point he slams on the brakes and narrowly misses running over a kid in the street.

This is pretty concerning, especially when Michaela hears the voice again, urging her to “Set them free” while jogging past a metalworks factory where some guard dogs bark at her from behind a fence. She ignores it this time, but the voice comes back later that night, even more insistently, until she returns to the factory. Brother Ben arrives right behind her. He heard a similar voice telling him the same thing. Weird!

Michaela and Ben cut the chain off the fence and let the dogs out, but are caught doing it on a security camera. Michaela receives a dressing-down from Jared, who has to pull some strings to let her keep her job so long as she returns the dogs and apologizes. She agrees, but upon arriving at the factory, the “Set them free” voice directs her to a secret shed in the back, where she finds two kidnapped young girls in chains. Jared arrests the shop owner. Michaela is a hero!

Michaela notices that the number of their flight, 828, keeps recurring in her life. That’s also the street address of the factory, and the verse of her mother’s favorite Bible passage. Could this whole thing be a Bible Code type of deal? Are Michaela and Ben being called by God? What about all the other passengers? Are they hearing voices too? As a matter of fact, they are.

At episode’s end, all the passengers converge outside the airport hangar where their plane is being analyzed by the NTSB. As they look on from a distance, the jet suddenly explodes in a gigantic fireball. Whatever did this to them doesn’t want to be found out.

Episode Verdict / Grade: D

If this show had premiered fifteen years ago, it might have seemed intriguing and cool. But this type of “puzzle box” show in the Lost mold has been done to death in the meantime, and this isn’t a particularly good example of one. It’s a total yawn. The mystery feels half-baked, the characters are dull, and some of the acting is pretty bad. I actually laughed out loud at one of Roxburgh’s line deliveries.

You might say this show is manifestly awful.


    • njscorpio

      Yup. And I don’t really mind. Similar to the show ‘The River’, which was canceled before it could resolve it’s mysteries, or ‘Under the Dome’, which was terribly disappointing. There is something cheesy and fun about these post-Lost shows. I’m currently watching ‘The First’, which is a fairly somber/serious show. Mixing in the show Manifest provides a nice break. I laughed at much of it, and had a good (enough) time.

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