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Manifest Season 2 Premiere Is More of the Same, Risks Squandering the Show’s Amazing Premise

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BY January 7, 2020
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The season 2 premiere of NBC’s Manifest debuted Monday night resolving the cliffhanger from the first season finale and continuing their mysterious storyline. It’s a promising series with very interesting moments and problems for their characters to solve. However, is any of it necessary? The initial premise of the show is perhaps one of the coolest mysteries ever in a network TV show. Yet, like LOST before it, the series can’t provide answers to the central mystery without, essentially, ending the show. Thus, we get a bunch of little mysteries-of-the-week interspersed with (sometimes forced) character drama. Manifest is an inspired series, but it’s hard to appreciate the show for what it is over what it could be.

In this way, Manifest shares a problem that Star Wars has, specifically how the movies disappoint fans. More often than not, as evidenced by the backlash to The Last Jedi, the fan gripes are about what they didn’t see. They didn’t get Luke Skywalker flipping around like a prequel-era Jedi, and so on. The problem Manifest has continued in its season 2 premiere: the ongoing mystery isn’t as interesting as the inciting incident and the emotional fallout from it.

The premise is amazing: a plane full of folks flies to New York from Jamaica and lands after a bout of turbulence. The flight took the normal amount of time for the passengers, but to the rest of the world five years has passed. The passengers then start to hear “callings” and seeing visions, often to save people from harm.

There are some light spoilers ahead for the season 2 premiere of Manifest, but nothing that the below trailer doesn’t already spoil.

What the Manifest Season 2 Premiere Does Right

Manifest Season 2 Premiere Does Right Image by Peter Kramer via NBC

Unfortunately, the cliffhanger resolution is a bit of a cheat. When we last left these character Melissa Roxburgh’s Michaela burst in on J.R. Ramirez’s Jared fighting with Matt Long’s Zeke. As the two wrestled over a gun, a shot went off. That shot hit Michaela and she ends up in the hospital, after having a vision of their plane crashing. After her nephew, the extra-magical Cal, played by Jack Messina, tells her to save the passengers, we’re off and running on a new big mission after a two-month time-jump in the series.

In some cases, it’s good when the audience is frustrated with a show’s characters. The way Michaela and her brother Ben, played by Josh Dallas, jump to conclusions is one of them. They are panicked about these callings and what it all means, especially now since they believe they live on borrowed time. I could explain this in detail, but if you’re curious just watch the first season on Hulu. It’s a fun series overall. Instead, I will just say that their conclusions are based on snap judgements and no character ever sits and thinks about things. Again, this seems intentional, because figuring out the calling is a big part of the “procedural” element of the series.

Ben and Cal’s family drama, also, could be the entire series. Cal is now five years younger than his twin sister, Luna Blaise’s Olive. His wife, Athen Karkanis’ Grace, is pregnant with a child that could be Ben’s or another man’s. While Ben was gone, she began a relationship with Daniel Sunjata’s Danny. Oh, and Cal may or may not be dying from cancer. If anything, Ben’s focus on the callings detract from this story. But, more on that later.

Where the Manifest Season 2 Premiere Misses Its Mark

Manifest season 2 premiere Image by Peter Kramer via NBC

The calling Michaela receives in the opening of the Manifest season 2 premiere does add an interesting wrinkle to the story. It raises a question about whether or not the plane did crash. Again to compare it to LOST, they have introduced the idea that, actually, all the passengers are already dead. At one point in the season, according to the trailer, Ben and Michaela are standing in the destroyed cabin of their plane…with all of the passengers still there. It’s a good mystery on a mystery, because the show can answer whether or not they are dead (i.e. they’re not) and the series can go on. Yet, it does risk getting too fantastic, especially now with multiple factions targeting the 828 survivors. While threats to your characters make good story sense, viewers care about the central mysteries.

Also, they seem eager to create a love triangle between Michaela, Zeke, and Jared. There is no question that if Jared just listened to and respected Michaela, she’d not be shot. Yet, he shows no remorse for this, and actually ends up angry with Michaela for not seeing things his way. While I understand why the show does this, it’s a bad call. It’s not consistent characterization, especially since Jared was on board with the callings and other fantasy nonsense happening in the world of the show.

As showrunner Jeff Rake told TV Insider:

“We’re going to see Michaela and Zeke at a snail’s pace explore … whether, in fact, the universe wants them to be together. You’re going to see that relationship gradually build, and conversely, we’re going to see Jared turn to a darker side … as he becomes increasingly convinced that Michaela is on the wrong path, and he can’t help feeling increasingly betrayed because after all, Jared was such a great ally, friend, and ultimately lover to Michaela in Season 1. If the payback is Michaela growing tighter with Zeke in the top of Season 2, it’s not something Jared’s going to stand for….”

It doesn’t make a lot of sense that just because he’s jealous, he throws all of that out the window. I get they want to make him unlikeable for a bit, but it’s forced by the plot and not grounded in his character. The show also seems to be setting up Ben in a love triangle of his own, his wife and Parveen Kaur’s Dr. Saanvi Bahl, the doctor treating Cal for cancer. Since the couple already broke up and reconciled in the first season, this feels like ground already tread by the series. With just 13 episodes this season, they don’t really have time to waste.

Admitting My Own Bias, Because Manifest Could Be Something Very Different

Manifest season 2 premiere Image by Peter Kramer via NBC

Ultimately, if you like the first season of Manifest, you’ll enjoy where the season 2 premiere takes the characters. Even though I’m skeptical, I will still be tuning in each week. Still, I can’t help thinking about the kind of drama that Manifest could be if it wasn’t so caught up in being a science-fantasy action thriller. Instead of a new LOST, this series could be a new version of another Damon Lindelof-helmed series, The Leftovers. For the first and most of the second season of that drama, there was one big sci-fi happening and then that was it. The series was just about what happens to people who have this unexplainable trauma. In The Leftovers loved ones vanished with no answers about why or where they went. Manifest ups that ante but putting the people back into the world after disappearing for five years.

As I mentioned above, the show could just be about the emotional drama of the characters affected by the return of flight 828. How do people fit into the world after five years? How would they deal with not getting any answers about how or why it happened? These are the sort of questions Manifest rarely spends time with because, like in the season 2 premiere, they are always on to the next mystery. Again, that’s the show Manifest is, and it’s enjoyable. Still, this series could have been something stunning if it had more confidence. Introduce the single fantasy element, and then just let the emotional, human drama drive the series.

What did you think of the Manifest season 2 premiere? Do you like where the show is going? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Featured image via NBC

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Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.

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