When a show like Manifest reaches its third season with so much of its central mystery still unsolved, the onus is on the characters and their relationships to keep viewers engaged. If the audience truly cares what happens to the Stone family and those around them, the mythology of the series can build upon that foundation, making it fun, not frustrating, to hatch theories and speculate on the deeper meaning of the callings. At least that’s what showrunner Jeff Rake is counting on when Manifest season 3 returns to NBC on April 1, 2021.
Rake credits that emotional complexity for keeping Manifest on the air for three seasons. “Despite all its bells and whistles in terms of the supernatural conceit: the fact that we have a deep and evolving mythology and there’s lots of clues and Easter eggs and the show is a really fun puzzle to solve, the show always has a strong emotional core,” he says. “Even if you love the mythology and all of the sci-fi aspects of the show, I don’t think that you stay involved if you’re not emotionally invested.”
Rake admits that Manifest fans are sometimes so deeply invested, in fact, that they wish they could change some character relationships to their liking. “I’m a little bit guilty of engaging too much with some of our fans on social media and occasionally have gotten into some spirited conversations when some fans don’t like when a story goes in this direction or that direction,” he says. “And I almost always say the same thing which is, ‘The story is the story, folks. The story is the story.’”
That’s not to say that the story can’t change, though; after all, Manifest introduced a huge twist with the discovery of the Flight 828 tailfin in the season 2 finale. “[It’s] the origin story: a very fundamental shift that kind of reinvents the series in season 4 and beyond,” says Rake. “And that origin story… ended up playing out in terms of a couple of characters that… are sort of still in their Anakin mode and they haven’t got into their Darth Vader mode yet. And the way that we’ve navigated that transition — surprised me in a very pleasant way.”
Which characters will undergo that transition remains to be seen, but there have been hints that a long-lost character might return in Manifest season 3, which speaks to the flexibility in the writers room. “A character will pop, and then you’ll write more at that character,” Rake says. “You’ll pitch on a story in the room, and you’ll realize that what you thought was a one-off that was going to be a close-ended journey organically connects to this other story over here. That happens!”
One example of a character change that Rake was willing to share was that of Zeke in a life beyond the so-called death date. “Zeke spent all of season 2 trying to save his life and trying to understand how to survive, and now that he’s on the B-side of that, the world is a very different place for him… mythologically, he shifts,” Rake says. “His interaction with the callings is different than it was in season 2. He’s sort of platforming something all season that’s going to take him to a different place once we get to the end of the season.”
With the promise of meeting a new passenger played by The Americans’ Holly Taylor, who joins Manifest season 3 as a series regular, there will be plenty of opportunities to tell new stories while staying consistent to what has made Manifest such a success. “I always work with the writing staff to make sure that we’re telling stories through the lens of grounded, relatable emotion,” says Rake, “and I’m optimistic that the audience will feel that that’s still front and center.”