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Review: 'Manifest' charts a perfect course of intrigue

Posted Tuesday, July 23, 2019 at 3:49 PM Central
Last updated Tuesday, July 23, 2019 at 4:02 PM Central

by John Couture

Long before we found out the fate of those turned to ash by Thanos' snap, a TV series on NBC attempted to tackle the question of what would happen if people presumed dead suddenly showed up five years later in perfect health? At its core, that is the premise of Manifest, a TV series that has Lost and X-Files vibes.

Montego Air Flight 828 experiences heavy turbulence on its way from Jamaica to New York, but lands safely on time - or so the crew and passengers think. During the flight time of their flight, five years have passed in the real world and they have been presumed dead, lost at sea for half a decade. Now, thrust back into the world, they must confront the reality of losing those five years while attempting to figure out what caused them to lose that time.

As an unabashed fan of Lost, Manifest had me from the initial hook, but I was really surprised at how it also resonated with my entire family. The main characters include a family that is split up on the day of the fateful flight. Half of them get on an early flight and arrive on time, while the rest arrive 5 and a half years later. Suddenly, twins find themselves with almost six years of difference between them. And you thought the effects of "The Blip" from Spider-Man: Far from Home were crazy.

Anyhow, my son really connected with young Cal who is suffering from a terminal illness and his lost time actually allows time for a promising treatment to be developed. I have never seen my son get so engaged with a grown-up show before but it became must-see TV watching each week in our home. When I got the review DVD, we went back and binged watched the entire season and it really held up for both of us. And we also noticed a few things that we missed the first time as well!

Much like Lost, Manifest enjoys building up its mythology and leaving little clues and Easter eggs in its wake. For instance, see if you can spot all of the "828s" in the series. Of course, it's the flight number of the missing plane, but it also pops up almost weekly in a strange, eery way that will have Lost fans recalling Hurley's "lucky" lottery numbers.

While Manifest doesn't delve too much into the flashback gimmick, it makes up for it by ramping up the supernatural and shady governmental conspiracy angles. The central thesis for season one seems to be whether those on the plane were special or simply the product of being in the right place at the right time. As the mystery starts to unravel, new riddles present themselves and even if we never get an easy answer to this question, it's safe to say that those that were affected are certainly making the most of their second chance.

What makes Manifest stand out from other shows that have skirted these same themes is that it spends a great deal of time character building. The main characters are relatable and their actions over the intervening five years are understandable and tragic. Imagine that you take a flight and land thinking that nothing has changed, but over the course of those five hours, your spouse has started dating someone new and your job has vanished. These are just a couple of examples of the issues facing those that have returned.

In some ways, the show is a microcosmic version of a much more ambitious show from several years ago called The 4400. On that show (starring a young Mahershala Ali before he became an Oscar winner), 4400 people that were taken by "aliens" over the last century suddenly reappear without aging a day. The parallels are there for sure, but Manifest quickly blazed its own path by focusing on the impacts on the family dynamic and their mysterious connection to one another.

The good news is that Manifest was successful enough to warrant a second pickup, but the bad news is that NBC has decided to delay the second season premiere until after the mid-season. The reason for this postponement makes sense as they want to air all 13 episodes of season two without interruption over the course of Spring 2020. Unfortunately for diehard fans like me and my son, that means that we will have to wait almost an entire year to get new episodes and answers to some very intriguing cliffhangers.

The silver lining though is that with this week's release of Manifest: Season One, you can re-watch all of the available episodes to your heart's content. And trust me, my son is already planning another binge session for the near future. So far, the showrunners appear to have a predestined place to take the show and it's up to NBC to give them enough episodes to tell their story. Unlike Lost which seemed to flounder with each year's uncertainty, Manifest has a clear course ahead and should continue to entertain for the foreseeable future.

Manifest: Season One is now available on DVD.