Tuesday 20 August 2019

Manifest: S01 ★★★☆☆

With a massive ensemble cast, a vaguely religious theme, and a story surrounding a mysterious commercial plane, NBC’s Manifest can’t help but draw comparisons to Lost. The story follows the passengers and crew of Montego Air Flight 828, reappearing five years after the flight first set off with no warning. 

They were suspected to have perished in a crash, which leads to the question; what the hell happened? Were they snapped by Thanos, or have they been co-opted into some madcap government experiment? Are they stuck in another universe, or could it be purgatory? Anything but the last one is fine by me, but it looks like we’ll have to wait a while to get anything remotely close to a satisfactory answer.

Many of those who were left behind have moved on with their lives, leading to problems for the passengers who were flying from Jamaica to New York. Can they reconnect with family after mysteriously disappearing for five-and-a-half-years, and what can you do if your spouse leaves you for your best friend in the meantime? The narrative flips between various members of the 200 strong cast, but the overarching mystery is likely to be the aspect that will keep you hooked. Melissa Roxburgh and Josh Dallas receive top billing, although the first episodes skip to different passengers and interested parties regularly. Saanvi Bahl (Parveen Kaur) was working on a pediatric cancer treatment that has been since been released, while Daryl Edwards is NSA director Robert Vance, trying to figure out just what is really going on. 

It’s a bit schlocky in places, with thick dialogue that isn’t exactly subtle. Given the scale of the story, these are teething problems that could be necessary as pieces are set into place. Creator Jeff Rake has planned for six seasons, and he’s opted for a slow-burning approach to storytelling. With 16 episodes to get through, it can be a slog considering the incremental gains, and there’s always a chance that it could be cancelled before the mystery is explained entirely. NBC has confirmed a second season is in the works along with two others, so you’ll get some answers if you’re willing to stick it out. In an unexpected turn, the passengers begin to hear voices, and it feels like dialogue issues could be due to heavy foreshadowing and necessary character placement to get it all to work. It’s still early days, and they now have the security of over 30 additional episodes to push the story forward.

Manifest is slowly picking up steam, and it’s a ratings hit in the US. While all of the questions raised will inevitably need to be answered at some point, that’s a problem that can be pushed off until sometime in the future. It’s nowhere near as gripping as the beginning of Lost, although it could potentially have a better ending. If I could time skip five years I could tell you if it’s worth watching, but I’d be more interested in finding out how and why I was suddenly in 2024.

James Millin-Ashmore

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