September 24, 2018
Hang on …
… Alright, you monsters. This is what you wanted, so let’s do this thing.
On April 7, 2013, the Stone family — Dad Ben, Mom Grace, ten-year-old twins Cal and Olive, Dad’s Sister Michaela, and Grandma and Grandpa Don’t Worry About Their Names — were returning to New York City after a Jamaican vacation when their flight was overbooked. When their airline, Montego Air, offers $400 vouchers for any passengers willing to take the next flight, Ben jumps at the chance because his son Cal has cancer and they need the monies; Cal agrees to join Dad because
plot purposes why not; and Michaela takes the airline up on their offer because a dark secret in her past which we are encouraged to speculate about wildly.
Once on Flight 828, Ben encourages his sister to accept her boyfriend’s marriage proposal
because she will bring SHAME upon their family if she becomes a spinster and she’s like, “YEAH I GET IT BACK UP OUT OF MY PRIVATE LIFE THANKS.” And that’s when the airplane experiences some turbulence strong enough to knock out the lighting and fling open the storage compartments. Panic panic panic and then everything is fine and they are on track to land in New York City.
Except … when the pilot calls into JFK announcing their arrival, the tower’s response is, and I quote, “DA FUQ?”
The plane is diverted to another airport where they are greeted by a bunch of first responders and very confused federal agents who explain — rather panicked I should add — that it is currently November 4, 2018, their flight went missing and they have all been presumed dead for five and a half years.
So, they repeat, DA FUQ?
The passengers are temporarily taken to a tent and brought in one-by-one for questioning by the feds. But when their stories all line up, the government throws up their hands and releases them into the wild some 36 hours later.
A plane goes missing for five years and then reappears with some passengers showing no evidence of aging and the government is just going to be like, “Weird. Well, you’re free to go!” Of all the unbelievable things that happen in this episode, this is without question the most unbelievable.
But anyway. The passengers are tearfully reunited with their families, including our Stones, albeit not all of them because Grandma Stone passed away in the ensuing five and a half years. Also, Cal’s twin Olive is now a teenager, which momentarily freaks out Cal.
The Stones then return to a smattering of press standing outside their house who seem remarkably chill about the homecoming of the mysterious passengers of a missing flight.
Because she has no apartment to go home to, Michaela moves into Ben and Grace’s guest room which is warmly decorated with a throw pillow made by Dead Grandma Stone that reads, “All things work together for good,” Grandma Stone’s favorite Biblical passage, Romans 8:28.
Michaela apologizes to Grace for having to stay with them, adding that she understands if Grace doesn’t want her around the kids since she is a bad influence thanks to the dark secret in her past which we are encouraged to speculate about wildly. Grace poo-poos it as “ancient history,” but Michaela reminds her it was only two days ago for her. Grace then yells to the back of the room that the universe has given them a do-over. As the two women hug, Michaela hears her own voice whisper in her head, “All things work together for good,” and she’s all BAROO?
Michaela stops by the police station, her old place of employment, where everyone is pretty nonplussed about the fact that SHE DISAPPEARED FOR FIVE AND A HALF DAMN YEARS and are like, “Sure! Can’t wait for you to get back to work!” But she’s really there to see her boyfriend Jared who in the intervening years has been promoted to detective and, she learns in the most unfortunate way possible, married to her best friend, Lourdes. COOOOOL, says Michaela. COOL COOL COOL. I MEAN, COULDN’T HER SISTER-IN-LAW OR DAD GIVEN HER A HEADS-UP?
Michaela goes to Walmart to pick up some toiletries and cheap clothes since everything she owned has been thrown away, and there she sees Ex-Boyfriend on TV being interviewed about an abduction case he’s been working on. “Keep your eyes and ears open!” he foreshadows. Oh, and did I mention that she watches him on the teevees while standing under an engagement ring sign?
Later, Michaela is on a city bus when her own voice starts whispering in her head, “slower” until it becomes a full-blown scream, at which point Michaela screams at the bus driver, “SLOW DOWN NOW!” He happens to stomp on the breaks just as a toddler chases a ball out into the street, a toddler he would have flattened had Michaela’s mystery voice not shrieked at her. Don’t worry, I went back and made sure it wasn’t bus number 828, wasn’t on route 828, and didn’t have the license plate 828. But I’m sure that’s just because it didn’t occur to the writers until it was eight-two-late.
Back home, Michaela confesses to Ben that she’s been hearing voices and he’s all, “DON’T. TELL. ANYONE. The feds let us go for
plot purposes implausible reasons and if you start talking crazy, they might come take you away SO BE COOL.” Which, fair! But remind me why the government just let them go again? Oh? You can’t? Ok, carry on.
Later, Michaela is out for a jog in an empty industrial neighborhood, you know, like you do when you are a woman completely by yourself, when she passes by a junkyard guarded by two very agitated German Shepherds. And this is when that irritating voice in that head of hers urges her to “SET THEM FREE.” Instead, she chooses to continue her jog, and see if she can’t find a more dangerous part of town to be alone in.
That night, the voice wakes her screaming, “SET THEM FREE” again, so, powerless against crazy ghost voices, she rides her bike back to the junkyard where she is interrupted in her attempt to SET THEM FREE by her brother bearing bolt cutters, having heard the voice himself. They let the dogs out (who who who who) and the dogs, instead of tearing their throats out as expected, trot off into the night.
Over at the police station, Ex-Boyfriend is informed that the cops have video surveillance footage of his ex-girlfriend committing a felony and he’s all “GODDAMMIT.” So he confronts her, wondering if she’s acting out to get his attention. Somehow, she doesn’t tell him to fuck all the way off, instead reminding him that she LOST FIVE YEARS OF HER LIFE, HER MOTHER, HER APARTMENT AND ALSO THERE’S THE DARK SECRET THAT INVOLVES SOMEONE NAMED EVIE DYING IN THE PASSENGER SEAT OF HER CAR ABOUT WHICH YOU ARE FREE TO SPECULATE WILDLY. Ex-Boyfriend is like “I mean, OK, but we have to fix this dog situation, so let’s go and apologize and hope the owner doesn’t press charges.”
The two of them arrive at the junkyard, but upon arrival, Michaela’s voice begins shrieking, “SET THEM FREE!” in her head again, so she has a sitdown outside while Ex-Boyfriend returns the dogs to the junkyard owner and apologizes for the kerfuffle.
Meanwhile, Michaela finally notices the address of the junkyard and if you guessed it was 828, congratulations, you win the JESUS CHRIST, DID SOMEONE REALLY THINK THE NUMBERS WERE THE MOST COMPELLING MYSTERY OF LOST? prize. While the voice continues to scream at her to “SET THEM FREE” Michaela wanders around the junkyard until she comes across a locked trailer. She breaks it open and inside are the two abducted girls.
Ex-Boyfriend and Junkyard Villain arrive at roughly the same time that she snaps the lock and Junkyard Villain takes a swing at Ex-Boyfriend with a metal pipe, but Michaela warns him time and saves the day all the way around.
That night at the scene, the police captain tells her to take a few days off to clear her head, but that he wants her “back on the beat.” She thanks Ex-Boyfriend for putting in a good word for her, and in response, he tells her that she “still takes [his] breath away.” “YEAH, SAVE IT FOR YOUR WIFE,” Michaela replies before walking off.
Over in our B storyline, Cal has a checkup where his oncologist informs Ben and Grace that his cell count is exactly what it was five years ago. This is great news because a new treatment for his particular pediatric cancer is in the testing stage and it has fantastic results.
And, sit down, because you’re never going to believe this, but the treatment is based on the research of a plucky young doctor who was also on Flight 828.
Our young researcher, Saanvi Bahl, returns to her job a hero. Yay! But when her team considers Cal as a potential patient, the doctors are in charge are all, “no because he is weird because 828.” Boo! But then Dr. Bahl is like, “OH YOU’RE GOING TO PUT HIM IN, GOT IT?” And the other doctors are like, “ok.” Yay!
While Cal is receiving his treatment, Grace confesses to Ben that she was SO MAD at him for taking Flight 828 and prematurely killing their kid. But he’s like, “But look, it all worked out in the end and now he’s being cured, so no worries!”
In the boring C storyline, Ben reconnects with his daughter Olive at soccer practice, because they were apparently estranged?
Later, the family is having game night or something when Grace receives a mysterious text asking if she’s “told him” and that this person is missing her. Olive sees the messages and worriedly asks her mother what she’s going to do about what will surely be a boyfriend or husband stashed away somewhere — or TWIST! a girlfriend or a wife. Who knows. Who cares.
Finally, the overarching mythology: WHAT THE FUCK IS UP WITH FLIGHT 828? And in the five minutes devoted to this part of the story, the feds investigate all the suitcases and items on the plane but can not find anything from after 2015, so the investigators are all, “HMMM.” They then, for
plot reasons that are completely unclear, push the plane out of the hanger and onto the runway where the plan is to “take it apart piece by piece” in the morning.
Meanwhile, Michaela goes to the local church to steal a Bible so that she can read the passage that HER MOTHER LITERALLY EMBROIDERED ON A PILLOW. Ben finds her there — he just “knew” she’d be there — and they wonder what the hell is happening to them, while also presuming it’s only happening with them.
Of course, it’s not only happening to them. The passengers of 828, including Michaela and Ben, begin arriving one-by-one at the airport where they stand just outside the gate where the mystery plane is parked and stare at it while Michaela’s irritating narration explains that the passengers of 828
HAVE TO GO BACK, KATE! would get to know each other “as well as we knew ourselves.”
That’s when the airplane spontaneously explodes.
Let me begin by noting that at the time of this writing, I do not hate this show. I don’t love it, I don’t even like it, but I don’t hate it — not the way I HATED The Orville. I HATE HATE HATE the narration and do hope it goes away forever and dies in a dark hole, but I don’t hate the show itself. This is certainly subject to change depending on how the next few episodes go.
That said, the biggest problem with this Lost ripoff is its sheer laziness. It has all of the most obvious elements that made Lost a great mystery box series: a few religious references here, a few mysterious numbers there, a bit of providential interconnectedness of characters there, a missing plane here, a clever title that could have multiple meanings here, and cliffhangers, plenty of cliffhangers. All the cliffhangers.
What it is missing, however, is Lost’s heart, the humor and the willingness to really soak in the mystery of the situation. Manifest, in contrast, is utterly humorless and seems to be in a full sprint to become a procedural drama with a few supernatural overtones. Yeah, the plane disappeared for five years and no one aged, but we need to get to the part where voices tell the passengers to warn busses to slow down. That’s the real story here.
I mean, JUST IMAGINE if Malaysian Air 370 arrived at its destination in China today, some four and a half years after it disappeared. It would be THE BIGGEST STORY IN THE UNIVERSE. It would be so big that it would make sense that we wouldn’t even hear about it because it would be safe to assume the Chinese government would indefinitely quarantine all of the passengers and crew to figure out WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED and determine whether or not it was safe to allow these people back into the general population.
But if the government did completely and implausibly just let them go A DAY AND A HALF LATER, those passengers would be all over the news — it would be the only thing we were talking about. The passengers would be giving interviews and writing books. There would be cable shows with this guy devoted to explaining the mystery:
Movies and memes and cults would be created … it would be inescapable. I mean, do you remember the aftermath of Captain Sully’s “Miracle on the Hudson?” That was a plane that was taken down by a couple of geese and the next thing you know, he’s being portrayed by Tom Hanks in a major film that was actually released in theaters.
But these people just go back to their normal lives as if their flight had been barely inconvenienced and not sucked through a wormhole and five and a half years of time — time in which we went from Obama as our president to DONALD FUCKING TRUMP? The passengers learning that little tidbit of information should be the subject of one entire episode on its own. Another episode could be devoted to telling the passengers that David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, and Princess Leia all died in the same year. BECAUSE I LIVED THAT SHIT AND I COULD BARELY WRAP MY BRAIN AROUND IT WHILE IT WAS HAPPENING.
Anyway. I’m going to save the theorizing business for another time, in part because what do we really have to go on here, and in part because I’m kind of waiting to see what this show is going to settle into being: whether it is going to end up being a thoughtful rumination on search for a greater truth which is ultimately unknowable or if it’s going to be “Michaela and Ben solve the crime of the week using the magic voices in their heads!”
Frankly, I’m deeply concerned it’s going to be the latter.
Manifest airs on NBC on Mondays at 9 p.m.