This review contains spoilers for Manifest.
Manifest Season 1 Episode 6
Kudos to Manifest for taking its government conspiracy story arc, which has unfolded with admirable subtlety thus far, and giving it a good twist. Although there technically wasn’t a resolution in this episode, the continuing danger for Cal actually helps correct the show’s propensity for allowing the callings to provide solutions that left some victories feeling unearned earlier in the season. Giving the audience a new perspective on the show’s premise while at the same time bringing Jared and Grace into the circle of trust (or at least trying to) was just what we needed after the week off.
And it’s not as though Grace accepted Ben’s explanation at face value; that would have been too easy. Since we’ve seen in flashbacks the toll the disappearance of Ben and Cal took on Grace, it makes sense that she would feel abandoned when Ben went off on a mission that was seemingly unrelated to their son’s illness. And her description of Ben’s penchant for going down rabbit holes gives us a better idea of why she wouldn’t be on board with her husband’s crazy theories. Every reaction Grace had to her situation was heartfelt and authentic, and this has become the norm for one of the show’s strongest characters.
Jared, on the other hand, has been tenaciously in pursuit of a better explanation for Michaela’s strange behavior all along. He employs some great reverse psychology in washing his hands of her at the precinct, but when he eventually accompanies Michaela, it’s not necessarily because he believes her talk of seeing and hearing things but because he wants to see where it will lead. Perhaps moreso than Grace, he’ll now realize something deeper is going on, both because of what happens at the farm and because of his intimidating interactions with Agent Vance.
And speaking of Vance, it was nice to see that the NSA hasn’t been sitting on its hands all this time with its panel of experts talks of wormholes and the laws of physics, but what a surprise to find out that they’re not the ones responsible for the torture of Marko Valeriev at the farm! Ben’s database of passengers has already become quite impressive as an investigative tool to supplement Michaela’s police work and to explain the brother’s erstwhile forced involvement. The bit with the missing fifth bus was masterfully played and gave the audience their first real peek behind the curtain of the government conspiracy plot.
Although now we probably should call it a corporate conspiracy, too, since the experiments are being performed by Unified Dynamic Systems (a wonderful wordplay on “it’s all connected). The shock therapy may have been a bit of a trope as an evil move that doesn’t really accomplish much beyond being cruel, but the use of passengers who wouldn’t necessarily be missed was a nice touch. In the end, we must conclude that either Marko is able to broadcast his mind as the manifestation of his gifts, or Cal is the perfect receiver for the connectedness of the passengers of Flight 828. Or both!
Cal’s suffering was definitely well-communicated, and the doctors’ struggle to find a suitable treatment without jeopardizing his place in the cancer study was a believable conflict, not only for Grace, but for Saanvi and the family doctor as well. Perhaps Cal’s use of Bulgarian phrases should have been at least a little more convincing that something else was going on, but in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to see why antibiotics might seem like the best option. Who’d have thought a “viral” seizure would be a welcome deterrent? Well played, Manifest.
But the greatest success of the episode was in the group’s failure. Their bewilderment at Cal’s sudden recovery and their confusion about whether they failed the calling was the first realistic moment of the series for the group’s prescient powers. And once Vance discovers the discarded bloody bandage on the floor of the hastily abandoned barn, we know that the lack of resolution is because of a continuing storyline rather than an episode-of-the-week. Will Vance now start to look beyond the suspicious activities of the passengers and start looking around at his own fellow alphabet agencies?
Hopefully, as Manifest digs deeper into this new corporate exploitation plotline, the show will become a richer combination of science fiction and conspiracy elements. Although the family drama has been the strongest aspect of the series thus far, Grace’s difficulties in this episode helped keep that part of the show on the table while allowing the other mysteries to come into the spotlight. “Off Radar” was a successful departure from the norm that stayed true to what makes the show eminently watchable.