This review contains spoilers for Manifest.
Manifest Season 1 Episode 2
One of the pitfalls that befall many genre shows that Manifest manages to avoid is the introduction of a flashy sci-fi premise at the expense of developing characters. In this show, the emotional turmoil resulting from the lost time feels very real, and the dialogue authentically reflects the truly difficult situations they’re in. But in some ways the scale shifted in the opposite direction in this episode, wherein the central mystery felt neglected or at least poorly developed. On the whole, though, the story draws us in with the individual stories and the inklings of trouble with the government forces.
The discussions of national security did sometimes border on the cliche, but given the fact that so many of the passengers from Flight 828 were standing outside the gate when the plane exploded, it’s hard to blame them for being suspicious. As for the one passenger who did speak to the media despite warnings, it’s interesting that they chose to juxtapose shots of her unknown stalker with Cal’s drawing of a shadowy figure. Is it a case of false equivalence where we’re being led to believe the two are related? It’s somehow more believable that a government agent silenced the unfortunate woman and that Cal’s spirit is something completely different.
But who or what is it then? No one seems to react with anything other than mild curiosity to the creepy sketch, and Cal himself barely registers that he even drew it. With all the talk between Ben and Michaela about supernatural or divine forces, could Cal be in touch with the entity behind their strange time jump? We did have that scene last week when the plane blew up and the boy’s eyes flew open while he laid in bed. Shows like Manifest do tend to give children stronger connections to whatever mystical happenings are going on around them, and the woman on the street who shouted, “He is risen!” did seem to focus specifically on Cal.
On the other hand Cal’s reaction to the changes around him are relatively normal for a kid who has been suddenly uprooted. At first, his discomfort with his new clothes and his insistence that the Legos his mom bought weren’t quite right seemed like they might indicate some sort of trouble related to the time jump. But it turns out, he just missed his old stuff and wanted the reassurance of the familiar. One of the most touching moments of the episode came from Olive, who always felt Cal was still alive during those five years and kept her brother’s things. In the end, the emotional moments are more powerful than the metaphysical questions.
This is especially true when we look at the “mystery of the week” plot. The misfortune of the Flight 828 father whose son was arrested for a jewelry store robbery he didn’t commit holds our attention far less than the story of, say, Grace and Ben. The music guiding Ben to help Radd with his plight doesn’t have the impact of Michaela’s inner voices last week, and the ensuing investigation is cursory at best with Ben’s involvement feeling contrived through the help of his sister’s police influence. The discovery of the thieving son of the shop owner had more to do with Olive and the family storage unit than any musical compulsion.
Ben and Michaela are intriguing characters on their own merits, so it’s a shame when they’re wasted like that. When Ben tells his sister, “This isn’t about a puzzle; it’s about understanding what my life has become,” it’s almost a statement of purpose for the show. Michaela’s mandatory psych eval enlightens us a bit more about the accident involving Evie and her complicated feelings about Lourdes and Jared being together. The fact that Michaela would read Lourdes’ online tributes and choose to lie about wanting to give Jared his ring back speaks highly of her evolving frame of mind.
Michaela also provides the perfect sounding board for Grace’s “impossible situation,” as she puts it. Viewers can truly feel the heartbreak of a woman who loves both her husband and whomever she was with in the five year interim. Thank goodness this deception wasn’t drawn out over too many episodes because it took Ben exactly the right amount of time to figure out what was going on. When he implores Grace to “please remember,” the power of his pleading makes us hope for a healing of their divide, even though we know full well the other man won’t give up without a fight, especially since his identity is being kept enticingly secret.
It’s easy to see how Manifest can touch on the stories of different passengers (like Saanvi, who basically marked time in this episode) while focusing on the specific drama within the Stone family, and the show has done a good job of making us care about the main set of characters. Although the series needs a little work keeping us equally interested in the mystery of the week or even the overall puzzle, that may come once the exposition has died down a bit. In the meantime, we’ll return for the story of Michaela and Ben and hope for the best.