An Essay about the Manifest Television Series

Manifest: An NBC/Netflix Show That's Not Worth Your Time

There’s a show on Netflix called Manifest.

The synopsis of Manifest was interesting. A plane takes off from Jamaica and disappears, only to land at JFK five and half years later. And as far as any of the passengers are concerned the flight took off and landed as scheduled. The rest of the world had continued on for the five and half years, but the passengers remained almost exactly who they were when the plane took off—almost. I sat down and I watched it. The first few episodes drew me in, and then as the first season progressed and ended, it occurred to me that I was casually being coerced. I was in a very controlling and manipulative relationship once; it was one of the darkest periods of my life. My ex is a master manipulator. There are certain people that know exactly how and when to employ marked behaviors and ideals in order to establish co-dependence, and severe states of co-dependence. Manifest pulled the same $hit on me.

Once I had started watching Manifest it was very difficult to stop. Season four part one dropped on Netflix last year, and when I saw that I realized I hadn’t or at least I couldn’t remember finishing season three. I had blocked that from my memory. I picked up season three where I had left off and I quickly remembered why I stopped watching it. Watching Manifest made me anxious, and it’s difficult to explain exactly how, but I’ll try.  

Manifest is an unambiguously terrible sci/fi drama that I am compelled to sit through because of the basic storyline, the principle from which the entire series is rooted is fascinating enough to want to know why, and to be compelled to know how it ends. It’s like having Stockholm Syndrome and blaming myself for my abuser’s abuse. Manifestly, Manifest is a television show, and it’s so poorly done that I can’t understand how it earned five seasons. The writing is abhorrent, nearly every episode has unreasonably lengthy moments of emotionless drama amidst sequences of situational gravity. The characters are standing around engaging in bizarre dialogue while the world, and sometimes literally, is falling apart around them. One scene that stands out in particular for me, in a few episodes there are three supporting villains that will, essentially, create the foundation for the anti-hero, and leading up to their crowning scene, these three undead, meth heads are holding guns on the heroes’ children. In the meantime, the heroes, while scouring the forest for their kidnapped children, stop and start arguing about whether or not they can trust one another. I’m watching, and thinking, can this conversation not wait? Manifest, in nearly every episode, creates a false sense of urgency within the timeline, and as an inherent part of story development, if your own characters are going to ignore the sense of urgency, then so am I, and the next time that you try to create urgency (which is undoubtedly only seconds away), I’m not going to believe you. And on that note, the drama the show is attempting to create is thoughtlessly conscripted, every conversation ends in unnecessary, and overly dramatic overtones, and perhaps if the acting was halfway decent the drama could rely on that, unfortunately the acting is cringe worthy at best.

There are a couple of decent actors among the ensemble, but only in comparison with everyone else on Manifest. I think Zeke (played by Matt Long; Lazarus), gives the most noteworthy performance. Young Cal (played by Jack Messina; J.C.), has some real potential as an actor. And Angela (played by Holly Tayler; the Fallen Angel), definitely has her moments on camera. I will say that Ben Stone (played by Josh Dallas), made season four part two his own, I saw more from him, as an actor, during that season than any season before. I wish I could say more about the acting, because a show like Manifest weighs heavily on their actors, but the casting director should have been taken out back and shot, along with the directors.

The direction was unspeakable, which is to say that there simply was no direction. I have never seen a show that has done such a poor job moving a story forward than in the progression of Manifest. The director makes an attempt to command the viewer to feel something—i.e., the unnecessary and extended poorly conscripted drama—without having developed or earned the right to expect the audience to feel whatever it is that the director wants us to feel. There is absolutely no authentic character development. The conclusions that the characters are coming to, that are based on little or sometimes no information at all, are so uncomfortably contrived and impractical it’s mind-blowing. And, frankly, people do not talk like, or make the assumptions that the dialogue is reliant on to progress the story of Manifest.

            I watched every episode of every season. I was taken aback by how awful Manifest was, and so I had to write about it, I originally posted this before season four part two was released. I felt obligated then to see the series through. If you haven’t watched Manifest and you’re reading this, the best part of the series was the first two episodes, and the last episode. If you watch those three episodes only, I think you may have a solid hour and half of pretty decent television. If you try to watch the entire series, once you start you won’t be able to stop, and you’ll hate nearly every moment of it.

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