Central Park probably isn’t the show you want to be central to your family.
Most travelers are all too familiar with airline delays and interminable layovers. But … five years?
Seems excessive, but that’s what happened to the passengers on flight MA 828.
Hey, don’t blame Montego Airlines for the kerfuffle. It wasn’t the company’s fault (as far as we know). The plane took off on time, after all. And when the flight never showed up in New York, everyone had to assume that it had crashed somewhere out to sea. Sad, yes. Tragic, yes. But it sometimes happens.
Then, five-and-a-half years later, the plane, filled with nearly 200 souls and their outdated smartphones, lands as if nothing happened. Sure, they experienced a little turbulence on the way, but what would a long flight be without a little spilled coffee and a startled scream or two, right?
So, like a bevy of jet-lagged Rip Van Winkles, they return to a land much changed from the one they’d left. Children have grown. Spouses have moved on. Loved ones have passed away. Jobs have been filled and apartments sold.
And that’s not the only inconvenience our passengers are dealing with.
Manifest takes a particular interest in the Stone family. Because their original flight was overbooked back in 2013, some family members went on home as scheduled, while others took the next flight out and landed half a decade later.
Young Cal Stone, a little kid suffering from seemingly terminal leukemia, returns to find a promising new treatment (yay!) and a “twin” sister (Olive) who’s now in high school (yay?). Cal’s dad, Ben, must somehow make up for five lost years with Olive and his wife, Grace. And after experiencing some relational turbulence of their own, Ben and Grace have a newly healthy son, a near-surrogate son (in fellow 828 passenger T.J.) and a brand-new baby daughter whose very name speaks to new beginnings: Eden.
Then there’s Michaela, an NYC police officer who made a grave mistake shortly before their family outing. She’s moved on from the fact that her one-time fiancée moved on without her. And she shares something in common with her current beau, Zeke. The dude disappeared himself while hiking, only to reappear after about a year away. But there’s a problem: Seems like his disappearance only delayed his inevitable death. An inexplicable case of frostbite is eating away at him.
These and other characters find that they’re not only forced to rebuild lives and reconnect with people, but that they must also heed mysterious voices urging them to do things—things that often feel utterly ludicrous in the moment.
But it’s more than that: They also discover that they’re all connected in some mysterious way—a connection that goes beyond just sharing the same ill-fated flight.
It’s almost as if they were all meant to be on that plane, even if some nefarious forces seem to mean them ill.
Manifest (as my colleague Adam Holz suggested in a blog) is something of a mash-up between Lost and This Is Us: Passengers have an inexplicable experience aboard a seemingly ill-fated plane, but instead of chasing down smoke monsters and opening mysterious hatches, they’re finding human connection and meaning.
On top of that, Manifest tackles one of the most ticklish topics of all: The place of faith and finding meaning in what can sometimes feel like a meaningless world.
The setup—the very name of the show, really—seems predicated on that sense of meaning, on the idea that the threads of our lives form some sort of cosmic tapestry, one inherently woven by a Creator. The lives of these characters have meaning, and that meaning gradually becomes manifest. And we, as viewers, can extrapolate that idea to our lives, too: We touch the lives of others in mysterious-but-profound ways. The “callings” the survivors hear and, most of the time, follow, suggest that they came back for a reason. Lives are saved. Relationships are repaired. And even if there’s some question as to who these callings originate from (at least one passenger suspects that the passengers of 828 are serving other, perhaps more diabolical forces), there’s no question that in the short term, people are being helped.
Moreover, the show just feels … nice? Not only does it tug on the heartstrings and lift one’s faith—in mankind, if nothing else—it doesn’t shock its viewers with lots of violent content. At least not in the show’s early going.
But it is early yet: Manifest may take some unexpected turns in both plot and content, and romance will certainly play a role. (In fact, one episode shows a couple stripping off their clothes in preparation to hop into bed together.) And while NBC doesn’t seem inclined to stuff a lot of violence into the works, we know that Michaela’s not exactly in the safest of jobs. Language can be a bit rough at times, too.
Still, Manifest mostly offers a much-needed respite from television’s continual turns toward the tawdry and traumatic, and that in itself is manifestly good.
The “callings” that our main characters receive are getting more and more perplexing—and sometimes they’re loaded with an element of doom. Ben’s young son, Cal, keeps seeing three looming shadows on his bedroom wall. Ben himself envisions a train about to hit him. And Michaela’s own callings keep telling her to let known criminals go. Meanwhile, Michaela’s boyfriend, Zeke, continues to struggle with the frostbite that’s slowly killing him.
Zeke, a former drug addict, confesses to his recovery group that going through the steps has felt pointless lately. “It’s hard to work toward something when you know that you’re dying,” he says. The counselor suggests that he still has purpose—to find closure. Instead of begging for forgiveness for the people Zeke hurt, maybe Zeke is being kept around to forgive someone else. It sets the stage for an unlikely-but-touching reunion with someone who hurt Zeke deeply as a child.
We hear a great deal of conversation about spiritual matters. Michaela’s mad at the Caller (whom she associates with God, though the voice speaks with Michaela’s own voice) for apparently taking Zeke away from her. She stresses that she’s followed every calling she’s been given without fail. “How am I supposed to know that this is supposed to be for some greater good if you let him die?” she asks. “How can I keep listening?” At the end of the show, she actually does ignore a call—which asks her to let an obviously bad criminal go. (The criminal utters pronunciations of a “holy war” on the horizon, too.)
Ben, Michaela’s scientific-and-skeptical brother, is more open-minded about the callings having a spiritual root, though at the episode’s open he worries that the passengers of 828 are false prophets mentioned in the book of Revelations, serving up “signs and wonders.” “You must be really desperate for answers,” Michaela kids him. “The science guy looking in the Bible.” The necessity of forgiveness and the beauty of second chances is also highlighted. We hear a partial quote from the Bible, telling us that “all things work together for good.” (The quote, taken from Romans 8:28 is used frequently in the show, but the full verse goes, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”)
A running man trips over a cart and falls. Another tumbles out of a first-story window and onto a pile of garbage. Guns are pointed. A man nearly throws himself in front of a subway train, but is prevented from killing himself at the last moment. Zeke’s frostbite looks pretty terrible in a couple of scenes.We hear about a sprawling scheme to steal cold medicine and make methamphetamine out of it. We see the lab where the meth cooking is done, along with the folks who cook it. Michaela and Zeke cohabitate and kiss, but Zeke does propose marriage at the end of the episode. Someone says “h—.”
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).
Central Park probably isn’t the show you want to be central to your family.
It’s all supposed to be funny … but it’s not.
While God wants would-be partners to ask, “what can I do for this person?” HBO asks, “what can this person do for me?”
The 100 has turned into a decidedly violent, often bloody drama—part Lord of the Flies, part Planet of the Apes, part Lost as reimagined by the CW.