Manifest Pilot Review
NBC‘s Manifest: Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot presents a great premise, a great narrative starting point like The 4400 had, like The Crossing had – Montego Air Flight 828 disappears and returns five and a half years later yet for the people on the plane, no time has passed except for the length of their plane flight.
Throughout Pilot, the viewer is enthralled, finding it almost impossible to turn from what is unfolding for two reasons: 1.) the promos for the series were well-executed, instilling in the viewer the need to find out where the plane disappears to and what is happening, and 2.) the viewer hopes that the second and third acts of Pilot will be as good, if not better, than its beginning.
The first fifteen minutes or so of Pilot are excellent television.
From the moment Capt. Bill Daly (Frank Deal) speaks to air traffic control about landing Montego Air Flight 828, the viewer is drawn in because the acting in the scene (and the silences) creates the beginning of the mystery that eventually envelopes everyone. The viewer feels the crew’s annoyance about being asked the same question repeatedly, the pain of loved ones lost, the visible shock of the time that has passed, and the realization that some of their lives have been destroyed in the time that they have been gone.
The reunification moment in the airport hanger is the emotional apex of Pilot. Many of the actors perform solely with their faces and body language during this pivotal scene. One of the two best moments during this scene is when Ben Stone (Josh Dallas) sees that his daughter Olive Stone (Luna Blaise) has aged five years and a half years and he spoke with her only a day ago when she was ten. Their reaction to one another drives home the unprecedented event that they are currently enduring. The second noteworthy moment during the hanger scene in Pilot is when Michaela Beth Stone (Melissa Roxburghe) learns of a certain death in her family. Her response brings all the reunification elation back down to a flawed, human spectrum – not every reunification is going to be a happy one. This prognostication turns out to be prophetic during Pilot‘s run time.
After the reunification scene in the hanger, the narrative innovations within Pilot stop and the plot becomes problematic. Put more correctly, Pilot becomes problematic because of how quickly reunification happens after Montego Air Flight 828 reappears and lands.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation would never release the people on-board Montego Air Flight 828 as quickly as they are in Pilot. It’s impossible.
The government officials in Manifest are like the government officials in The Crossing – facsimiles (in part because neither The Crossing nor Manifest have authentic law enforcement or government agency procedural aspects). Government officials, the F.B.I. in Manifest‘s case, walk and talk like the officials they are posing to be but they don’t follow their real-life counterparts rules, protocols, or chain-of-commands.
If the people on Montego Air Flight 828 didn’t age for five and a half years, the government, private companies, and private individuals would all want to know how and why so that it could be replicated and exploited.
Private companies would pay hundred of thousands, possibly millions of dollars, to study the people on that plane. None of that is even hinted at in Pilot (hopefully it will be in future episodes).
At the very least, the passengers and crew of Montego Air Flight 828 would be put into quarantine, questioned for weeks, and testing would be done, not only on them but the plane and everything in it (before those people were released into the general population). On The 4400, the people that reappeared were not let out of quarantine for months until lawsuits were filed on their behalf. When they appeared and their release became imminent, a division of the Department of Homeland Security was assigned to keep track and to monitor them. Not only is that thoughtful response to the inexplicable not present in Pilot, the people that reappear in Manifest are let out of confinement within a 24-48 hour time-frame.
I understand writer Jeff Rake‘s desire to get the ball rolling, narratively-speaking, with Manifest thus getting the families reunified as quickly as possible but by doing so, he skips over the trials and tribulations of them actually getting reunified.
The airport hanger reunification moment in Pilot stretched the elastic of reality extremely taunt. I like escapism. I can turn my brain off and enjoy drama and spectacle like anyone else e.g. the first season of Revolution. When you have seen the realistic, full-fledged response to an unprecedented event in another TV show (The 4400), however, the razor-thin version of that response to a similar event (Manifest) does not cut it.
The paparazzi response to the passengers and crew of Montego Air Flight 828 in Pilot is also lacking. The people on-board Montego Air Flight 828 would be hounded by the press like Joy Newsome in Lenny Abrahamson‘s Room when she is found by law enforcement or like U.S. Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody when he is recovered by Navy S.E.A.L.S. in Homeland. There is a press element in Manifest but they aren’t dogs like in the aforementioned examples, they aren’t relentless like in real life. In Manifest, they show up for two days and then they are gone. That is not hyperbole. The press is gone from potentially one of the biggest news stories in human history within two days of the passengers and crews’ release from captivity. It’s the no-aging part of the mystery, a plot-point not emphasized enough in Pilot, that would grip the media and people around the world. That necessary-for-realism narrative angle, a constant investigative press presence, doesn’t seem as though it will be a part of Manifest‘s storyline. If it isn’t (there is a chance that it will be since this is only the first episode), that is an egregious oversight by the creative minds behind this TV series.
Also underdeveloped, at least in Pilot, is Manifest‘s key supernatural feature. The voice in the head of Michaela Beth Stone is the weakest aspect of Pilot. The voice is mysterious, like the voice in Dolores Abernathy’s head in Season 1 of Westworld. What the voice says to Michaela is perplexing. The problem is that the voice in Michaela’s head is not interesting. The viewer listens to the voice and watches Michaela Stone react to the voice but the viewer is not intrigued by either (Michaela is a blandly-written character). The voice in Manifest is a cryptic, painful guide but it’s more of a criminality sleuth than a other-worldly bridge. I get where Manifest might be going with the voice though – God is tired of sitting on the sideline and sends back instruments to stop some of the heinous acts and accidents that happen all over the world. If that is what is happening in Manifest, “I dig that” – Ray, 2004. If not, if something even more spectacular is at play, I look forward to when that is revealed. Bottom-line – I am interested in what is behind the voice even if I am not interested in the voice itself or what it tells Michaela Beth Stone and the others on Montego Air Flight 828 to do.
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