‘Manifest’: Pilot error

Manifest
“Contrails”
January 14, 2019

We once again begin on fateful Flight 828, this time in the cockpit. The plane is happily cruising along and Pilot and Co-Pilot are cracking wise about the passengers when a terrifying storm appears out of nowhere. With no time to go around the storm, Pilot makes the decision to fly directly through it to Co-Pilot’s astonishment. But hey! It works! And with only a five-and-a-half year detour.

In his interview, Pilot gets super defensive with Beleaguered Federal Agent, insisting that his “unconventional maneuvers” were what the situation required and HEY, EVERYONE’S ALIVE, RIGHT? ARE YOU A PILOT? NO? THEN DON’T TELL ME HOW TO DO MY JOB, COPPER.

And then Pilot meets Pre-Pubescent Son who asks for a pair of pilot’s wings but Pilot is like, “NOPE, SORRY, MINE JUST GOT CLIPPED,” even though I don’t think 1. it’s probable that he was fired the moment he stepped off the plane that went missing for five years and 2. even if they did fire Time Traveling Captain Sully, the first order of business would probably not be, “Alright, now hand over all the plastic pilots’ wings we give you to pass out to kids on the plane.”

Anyway, Pre-Pubescent Son thanks Pilot for getting them home safely and Pilot smiles ruefully because I guess we’re supposed to believe that Pre-Pubescent Son is the only person to have thanked him or some shit.

In the present, Ben brings Pre-Pubescent Son back to Grace, who asks Ben to watch Pre-Pubescent Son the next night, but Pre-Pubescent nixes the idea because Ben has to help “the man from the plane.” And instead of snapping at Ben about filling their son’s head with crazy nonsense like she would have just two episodes ago, Grace just shrugs a “whaddya gonna do? I’m not going to ask any questions, I guess our kid is psychic now” shrug.

Over at the police station, Michaela and Ex-Boyfriend have some relationship dramas. He’s all, “Yay! We’re back together now!” but she’s all, “Uhhhh … you’re married, dude.”

Later, Michaela returns to her apartment where Ben is studying his Carol board …

… trying to figure out who “the man from the plane” is, but then Pilot just up and calls Ben asking for help proving the disappearance wasn’t his fault, rendering the previous several minutes of the scene complete moot.

Pilot drives Ben out to an airport as a means to deliver a bunch of woe-is-me exposition about how everyone blames him for the plane’s disappearance. Pilot then takes Ben to a flight simulator where he has the specific weather conditions of the night 828 went missing according to the official NTSB report recreated. Except, Pilot explains as the simulator bumps through a rain drizzle, these are not at all what the weather conditions were like. The storm they went through was HUGE and SCARY and CAME OUT OF FUCKING NOWHERE, not this summer sprinkle bullshit that the report claims. Pilot then points out the date on the report: April 2013 and is all, THE GOVERNMENT IS IN ON IT! SEE! THE GOVERNMENT BEGAN HIDING THINGS BEFORE WE EVER RETURNED!

But … the thing is a plane with 190 passengers went missing in 2013? And when that happens, the NTSB opens investigations at the time of the accident or disappearance? They don’t go around waiting for the plane to mysteriously return before they start looking into the conditions that might have caused the incident? And as for the weather not being right in the simulator, there are a number of possibilities including that the simulator can’t recreate the exact conditions or maybe that the conditions that caused an airliner to GO MISSING FOR FIVE AND A HALF YEARS were supernatural in nature and maybe not recordable by NOAA? JUST SPITBALLING HERE.

But sure, let’s file this one under Proof of Big Government Conspiracy.

So Ben pokes around and discovers that there was a meteorologist who was supposed to testify to Congress about the weather conditions during the flight but who retired right before he was scheduled to appear. Which I didn’t realize was a valid get-out-of-testifying-to-Congress card that one could play? Boy, someone should have given Michael Cohen and Dummy Jr. and Roger Stone and Matthew Whitaker this tip. Anyway, this retired meteorologist happens to have conveniently moved to Massapequa, so he’s only an hour’s drive away (during the low season … if it’s a Friday in the summer, forget about it).

Ben and Pilot drive out further into Long Island where they easily find this guy. Weatherman reveals that the plane flew through something called “dark lightning,” and that when he was about to testify to this, he was warned to take an early retirement instead. He was also forced to delete every file, but of course he did not do so because plot.

So Ben and Pilot return to the simulator with the correct weather data, and somehow the simulator’s computer knows how to conjure “dark lightning…”

… to which Pilot is like, HOORAY! but every time he flies through the storm in the simulator, the plane crashes to which Pilot is like, BOO! And he decides — and follow this logic, friends — that the reason the simulator’s computer can not simulate the plane traveling through time is because Dr. Judgy Lady is the missing link. Dr. Judgy Lady + dark lightning storm = time travel. And who knows, maybe? BUT HOW IS A COMPUTER SUPPOSED TO CALCULATE ANY OF THIS MUCH LESS REPLICATE TRAVELING THROUGH TIME?

While all of this is going on, Pre-Pubescent Son is hanging out with Aunt Michaela at her apartment where that Autumn lady just happens to drop by looking for Michaela’s “help” with clearing her name from some criminal shenanigans. But really, she’s there to spy on Michaela and overtly listen in on her conversations with Ben when he calls to give her details about their weather investigation. Pre-Pubescent Son is the only one who notices Autumn being super sketchy and he gives her the stinkeye.

Later, Michaela goes back to the police station just in time to receive a pop-up alert on her computer about the mysterious death of Weatherman. Because that’s how police computers definitely work. Cops are absolutely receiving pop-up windows every time a person within 100 miles dies.

Michalea calls Ben to alert him to the fact that his new friend is dead and they decide they need to warn Pilot in person. To that end, they drive over to his apartment where they find the walls covered in airplane and lightning porn, a computer open to a search on weather.com for “dark lightning” and no Pilot to be found. They conclude that he’s going to try to fly through another dark lightning storm and jump to 2024. And, honestly, who can blame him? Worst case scenario: he loses another 5.5 years, but Donald Trump is definitely not President. He might be dictator for life, but he won’t be President.

And, in fact, Pilot has kidnapped Dr. Judgy Lady, stolen a plane, carried an unconscious  Dr. Judgy Lady onto the plane and wrestled her into the co-pilot’s seat even though she probably would still help him time travel and would have not been a potential threat to his plan had she been in the cabin, and he is about to take off when Ben and Michaela arrive at the airport. They try to convince him to not do the thing he is going to do but he’s like, “Mmmmm … nah,” and he takes off.

Military fighter jets are scrambled because the government doesn’t think airplane joyrides are funny after 9/11, and they chase him into the very conveniently located dark lightning storm where they shoot him down and the plane disappears.

OR DOES IT TIME TRAVEL???

When Ben and Michaela return to her apartment, they find a box from Pilot with his captain’s wings inside and a note: “Tell your son better late than never.” And this might have been the moment in the episode when I finally yelled, “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST.” I held it together for a really long time, guys.

Oh, and while Michaela was busy trying to talk a psychotic pilot out of flying into a wormhole, again, that Autumn woman breaks into Michaela’s apartment, takes photos of the file on 828 that Michaela has — all 700 pages because I guess she has all the time in the world — and finds a picture that Pre-Pubescent Son drew, presumably of her, because she tears it out the sketchbook, crumples it up and takes it with her. I guess she didn’t appreciate her likeness.

Finally, back at the apartment, Michaela and Ben figure out that Autumn is the mole because she was in Michaela’s apartment when Michaela and Ben were talking about Weatherman shortly before he turned up dead and then they are both OH NOES! PRE-PUBESCENT SON! But joke’s on them because he’s already been kidnapped, whoops.

Oh, lord, where to even begin with this episode.

First of all, “dark lightning” is a real thing, although it’s usually called “terrestrial gamma-ray flashes.” They are bursts of gamma rays that are caused by intense electrical fields inside thunderstorms, and they were only first discovered in the 1990s. That said, National Geographic addressed the effect of flying through gamma-rays in this piece and this stood out in relation to Pre-Pubescent Son and his cancer diagnosis: “The new study shows that just one of these terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, or TGFs, can equal the radiation dosage of about 400 chest x-rays—creating potential hazards for frequent flyers. In theory, stray gamma rays can alter the structure of human DNA, possibly triggering cancer.” There is nothing in the article that suggests flying through gamma-rays would crash a plane or induce time travel.

But speaking of things that do cause plane crashes … True fact: my husband is an attorney and for well over ten years, one of his biggest clients has been one of the two biggest aircraft manufacturers. As in, he litigates airplane crashes. As in, he litigated Air France 447 — the flight that went missing over the Atlantic Ocean some ten years ago. As a result, I know more about that crash in particular than I ever wanted to know.

The cause of the crash? If you asked my husband, he’d tell you “pilot error,” but the answer is a little more complicated than that. 447 flew directly into a massive storm — a storm that all other aircraft on the same flight path took aims to fly around at the expenditure of time and fuel. The storm caused tiny sensors on the plane called pitot tubes to ice over, and as a result, the pilots received erroneous speed measurements. The pilots, believing that they were going too fast, turned off the autopilot and raised the nose of the plane to slow it down, sending it into a stall and to fall backward into the ocean, and completely disappearing.

And anyway, what I’m saying is that 447, I’m sure, helped inspire this series in part, what with the flying directly into the storm over the ocean and the plane completely vanishing and all (along with still missing Malaysian Flight 370).

So I’m not going to take issue with the supernatural elements of the show and whether a storm would just pop up like that or if “dark lightning” can cause a wormhole or whether Pilot would choose to fly directly through a dangerous storm. Sometimes, you gotta buy into the premise of the show if you’re not going to drive yourself completely insane.

But what I will take issue with is the whole flight simulator nonsense. Obviously, there are flight simulators that can recreate weather conditions, but ones that can replicate specific weather conditions for the purpose of crash recreation, for instance, are much rarer. My husband has spent his share of time in simulators and informs me that his client only has a couple of those and they are located at their French headquarters. So first of all, color me A LITTLE SKEPTICAL that some regional airport in Queens is just going to have one of these very technologically advanced simulators sitting around for a random pilot to use as his little hobby. But second of all, even if there were one of these very expensive, very advanced simulators sitting around Dipshit Queens Airstrip for anyone to play with, SOMEHOW I DOUBT THEY’D BE ABLE TO REPLICATE TIME TRAVEL. For some reason, I don’t think time travel is in the computer’s algorithms? So I don’t even know what Pilot’s plan with the simulator was?

In non-airplane-related complaints, let’s just talk about the stupid conspiracy elements of this show that we are expected to swallow. First off: Pilot’s insistence that “everyone” blames him for the plane’s disappearance. Look, if a plane went missing and then reappeared in the fashion of Flight 828, yes, of course there would be plenty of InfoWars weirdos spinning crazy conspiracies about it, and I’m sure there would be plenty of people who would insist that the pilots had to be in on it. But if real life is any experience, far more people would be hailing this guy as a hero for bringing everyone back alive after five-and-a-half years. If these writers were better at their job, they would have established in earlier episodes either that there was some sort of conspiracy campaign in the popular media that was targeting this guy, or, alternatively, reintroduced him to the show earlier than halfway through the season so that we would have been able to determine for ourselves that he was paranoid and broken by what had happened to him. TOO MUCH TELLING, NOT ENOUGH SHOWING. SHOW.

And the final piece that got stuck in my craw was Michaela deciding that Autumn must be the mole because that’s the only way Weatherman’s murderers could have learned that Ben and Pilot had found him. OR, AND HEAR ME OUT HERE, Y’ALL ARE PUBLICLY KNOWN FIGURES WHO ARE NOT VERY QUIETLY DIGGING AROUND IN SOME EVIL CORPORATE CONSPIRACY NONSENSE AND MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, THE BAD GUYS ARE FOLLOWING AROUND THE GUY FROM THE PLANE CENTRAL TO THE CONSPIRACY WHO HAS BEEN LOUDLY STOMPING AROUND SCREAMING “CONSPIRACY!!!” AND THE GUY WHO FLEW THE PLANE CENTRAL TO THE CONSPIRACY. But the thing is, that possibility isn’t even considered by the writers because it’s not convenient to moving the plot along on its preposterously and completely unnecessarily break-neck speed.

This show is so bad, y’all.

Manifest airs on NBC on Mondays at 9 p.m.

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