This review contains spoilers for Manifest.
Manifest Season 1 Episode 7
The family drama in Manifest was its hallmark strength in the first half of the season, but now that the government conspiracy has taken center stage to such great effect, it might actually be more difficult for viewers to engage with storylines not related to the central mystery. The disrupted relationships have created some deeply felt emotional turmoil, but when the audience is focused on figuring out who knows what and what mirror neurons have to do with a plane disappearing for five years, the plight of Olive or Danny or Lourdes becomes more of a distraction than anything else.
Obviously, progress is being made towards finding a workable configuration for Michaela with Jared and her best friend as well as for Danny and the family he was starting to join. But those two storylines didn’t really bring anything new to the table even if they had been the focus of the episode. It’s almost as though Manifest feels the need to remind us that these problems are still ongoing even when they become trivial next to what Cal, Ben, Michaela, and even Saanvi are going through. Other than looking forward to Olive climbing Acadia in July, what new did we learn?
And speaking of Saanvi, Manifest would do well to spend a little more time establishing more of a believable connection between her and the others beyond Cal’s medical study and Flight 828. As it is, viewers are likely starting to wonder if they should root for a Ben/Saanvi hookup so that Danny and Grace can be free to pursue their own path, but there’s been no clear bonding scenario other than a common need to investigate the callings. Danny and Olive’s rock-climbing scenario may feel like narrative wheel-spinning, but Saanvi’s participation is conversely under-developed.
That being said, the progress made in following the Unified Dynamic Systems money trail was a wonderfully laid out plot with plenty of intrigue. Cal reminds us that Marko and the rest of the passengers, including them, are still in danger from the shadow organization, lending a sense of urgency to Ben’s infiltration of the company’s accounting firm, which is exactly what his mission needed as he microwaved his security badge and conveniently joined the company poker game. Without the imminent threat, these actions would have seemed unrealistically rushed.
In the midst of his investigation, however, the involvement of Fiona Clark was a nice bit of misdirection, initially leading us to believe that she was a key player in UDS’ illegal detention of the missing passengers. Fiona’s theories about neural connectivity and human networks certainly provide some insight into the scientific explanations for the callings that Ben seeks, but her lecture tour being sponsored by the Singularity Project merely provides another piece of the puzzle rather than a clear answer — just as it should. What could a term usually referring to a robot uprising (which was actually mentioned during Fiona’s lecture) have to do with what happened to Flight 828?
Interestingly, Michaela’s side plot involving the murder of a barber shop owner and the nephew who lost not only an uncle but a savior of sorts was not as distracting as the family drama. In fact, Michaela following a guiding heartbeat gave us one of the most wonderfully understated callings of the season that led to an unexpected connection. The fact that Michaela was able to prevent Carlos’ plans for revenge against his uncle’s killer would have been enough, but the realization that Carlos was saved by Evie’s organ donation gave Michaela’s personal story more relevance than, for example, that between Olive and Danny.
But the character that has never let us down during the entire run of Manifest so far is Agent Robert Vance, who was one of the most compelling characters even when he was being the archetypal government control freak. Vance has always exercised patience in letting the passengers reveal their foibles rather than unfairly harassing them for answers, and the fact that he allows Ben to walk free in exchange for the leverage the financial data on the USB drive gives him against his own government colleagues was perfectly played.
Where the investigation goes from here is anyone’s guess, but the prospect of Vance somehow joining the fight is skillfully teased as Cal tells Ben, “He’s not a bad guy.” The battle between Ben’s pursuit of evidence and Michaela’s trust in signs continues to develop nicely, and all eyes are on the unfolding mission, to the detriment perhaps of some of the series’ more soapy drama. This back-and-forth between the sci-fi and the drama may cause problems, but maybe Manifest will eventually follow its own mantra and make it so that “it’s all connected.”