This review contains spoilers for Manifest.
Manifest Season 1 Episode 14
On the one hand, the latest episode of Manifest finally gives us a storyline dealing with two underserved aspects of the show: the character of Saanvi Bhat and the background element of fanatical groups attaching religious significance to the time jump of Flight 828. On the other hand, there’s a definite sense of marking time in “Upgrade” stemming not only from the lesser antagonist but also from the conflict between Jared, Michaela, and Lourdes which reaches a predictable conclusion that doesn’t fully engage the audience. Only the Zeke storyline had legs, and even that left us hanging.
Nevertheless, as puzzling as his vision of the wolf was, it allowed for a wonderfully logical progression of growing trust between Zeke and Cal, facilitated by Grace. You’d think Ben would have already had the talk with Cal about the drawings reflecting the callings rather than causing them, but Zeke’s perspective was unique in that in tapped into his own sense of guilt over the death of his sister. On the flip side of that, the drawings helped convince Zeke to come fully on board with the idea that these callings are real and should be heeded. A nice bit of character development!
But how does a drawing of a wolf leaping at Michaela translate to a dead guy coming back to life in a submerged truck? Not that it matters; as an enticement to tune in next week it did its job, but how weird and unexpected! Although we certainly knew as soon as Jared and Michaela were assigned to supervise the recovery effort at the docks that something related to the callings was about to happen, no one could have predicted the outcome. The callings, whether they’re caused by dark lightning or something more metaphysical, is getting stranger by the week.
Not all that strangeness is welcome, however. For example, the way that Manifest decided to depict the Church of the Returned removed a lot of the creepy reverence from weeks past and replaced it with the most mundane cult imaginable. Perhaps Adrian, the ex-entrepreneur, realizes that there’s comfort in recognizable rituals such as responsive reading and passing a collection plate, but for the audience this made what was originally an interesting fringe group such as we might see with alien abductees into a group of sheep being exploited by a egotistical passenger trying to regain his former notoriety. Adrian admitting, “I don’t have to believe; they do, and that’s more than enough,” makes him a slightly more compelling character while completely deflating the super-fan nature of the groupies.
Obviously, the congregation member Alice would be an anomaly either way with her laser focus on finding a cure for her fatally ill husband. But viewers hungry to see Saanvi more intimately involved in the story may have been disappointed by how easily she was lured away from her study of the callings and Zeke’s new place in the fold. Similarly to last week’s episode which added the new conflict with those who are fearful of the passengers, adding a story of the week like this — which earlier in the season would have been perfectly fine — is slightly frustrating considering we have an existing “big bad” in the form of the Major. Ben’s willingness to lie to Alice where Saanvi couldn’t certainly makes sense for their characters, but it once again relegated the doctor to the background at a time when we’re still wondering who her missing Jamaica travel companion was.
The Major at least got a mention to remind us that she’s still watching and ready to pounce as soon as she has an opportunity. What’s interesting about that is that with Olive now getting in on the research, her discovery of a possible meaning behind the petrograph that Michaela and Zeke saw adds a whole new possible twist. Could the Gemini constellation imply that Olive has more significance than previously thought? We’ve been so focused on Cal that it would be easy to forget that Olive has experienced a close mental bond with her twin brother, knowing when he was still alive despite his five-year absence. This tiny detail is more intriguing than most of the rest of the plot this week.
That includes the exposure of Jared’s infidelity to Lourdes, which is difficult to really care about at this point. It’s not that the characters shouldn’t have emotional stakes in their relationships, but it all becomes a bit repetitive. Although it was refreshing that Michaela was unwilling to apologize for having feelings after only a few subjective weeks of knowing that her best friend had married her almost-fiance, her reluctance to ruin Jared’s marriage makes so much more sense than Jared’s sudden desire to acknowledge their love, Lourdes be damned. Perhaps the final decision about their fate can be decided now that Lourdes has left, but the relationship drama caused by the five-year time jump is wandering farther and farther from the central mystery of the callings and the Major’s desire to weaponize them.
To be honest, the strength of Manifest has shifted over time. Whereas at the beginning of the season, the family drama was center stage with strong writing and compelling dialogue, the mystery of the dark lightning and the power of the callings has become the main force driving the series. The closer we get to the finale, the more anything outside of the central conspiracy becomes a distraction. With only two episodes left, we can only hope that whatever the driver of that submerged truck has to say will draw us right back down the rabbit hole that we love.