Over its first two episodes, NBC’s Manifest has become a shockingly positive, heartwarming show for a sci-fi drama about a plane that disappeared for five entire years. A little boy is now able to get a life-saving cancer treatment that didn’t even exist when he got on Montego Air Flight 828 half a decade ago. Those mysterious superpowers led to the recovery of two kidnapped girls and an innocent black teen walking out of jail after being framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Ben Stone (Josh Dallas) even reconnects with his wife (Athena Karkanis) after learning she had a boyfriend in his presumed-dead absence.
Towards the close of Monday night’s “Reentry,” it’s easy to assume Manifest will become something like This Is Us plus psychic abilities, with a smattering of religious undertones. Then a shadow creature pops up and ruins all of that with a murder. All of a sudden, Manifest becomes the show you may have initially assumed it would be: a twisted mystery with a preternatural monster seemingly pulling the strings. You know, like Lost.
So, what’s going on?
The most information “Reentry” gives us about the new series’ seemingly shadowy baddie comes towards the close of the installment, when we enter the home of Kelly (Julienne Hanzelka Kim), a Flight 828 passenger like Ben and his sister Michaela ( Melissa Roxburgh). Kelly spends most of the episode speaking out against the government and, more importantly, blabbing about her experiences on the mysterious plane. The chyron for Kelly’s local news interview literally reads “Flight 828 Passenger Speaks Out.”
As Kelly watches her TV segment, she smiles, seemingly pleased to realize she’s getting her 15 minutes of fame after a very bizarre ordeal. But, as Kelly enjoys seeing her own face plastered on a big screen TV, an adult-sized shadow slinks across the wall behind her. The shadow creeps on the wall until it seemingly manifests directly behind Kelly (if you pause “Reentry” at the exact right second, you see a shadowy figure actually standing there like a corporeal being). The camera switches away from Kelly and the shadow, and returns to gazing at the television interview.
All of a sudden, a gunshot goes off. TV Kelly’s face is covered in the real Kelly’s blood. As we see in a preview for next week’s “Turbulence,” the upcoming installment will pick up with the investigation into Kelly’s gruesome murder. Welcome to dark as hell Manifest.
The best explanation for Kelly’s supernaturally influenced murder appears in the final seconds of last week’s premiere. That episode was punctuated with the unexplainable explosion of the Flight 828 plane, which effectively erased all possible evidence that could shed light on what happened during the aircraft’s five-year disappearance. As Michaela says in voiceover during the scene, “As for whatever force that brought us all here… it had no interest in being investigated.”
The plane didn’t even say a word about the mystery flight, and it was blown up by an unknowable force. It makes extremely macabre sense that Kelly, who couldn’t stop talking to any camera in a one-mile distance about the flight, was similarly silenced by that very same source.
While it’s impossible at this point in Manifest to understand what the shadow force is, we do know it’s hovering over the series' major players. Ben’s young tweenage son Cal (Jack Messina) spends a lot of time in “Reentry” drawing a portrait of his family. It’s a pretty cute detail until you realize a shadow man is lurking behind the Stone family in the portrait; a shadow man identical to the the force that was also sliding around Kelly’s home. Although Cal says he “doesn’t know” who the shadow man is, it’s clear he either has a connection to the being or simply recognizes its presence. As usual, kids in sci-fi shows can always detect the supernatural before the bumbling adults around them.
It’s likely Manifest will continue to explore Cal’s link to the shadow being, especially after the boy’s uncomfortable run-in with a stranger on the street. At the start of “Reentry,” an unknown woman stops Cal, clutches him, and practically chants at him, “He is risen. He is not here. He is risen. He is risen. He is not here.” It’s possible the woman’s words are literal: The shadow force is risen after the Flight 828 weirdness and Cal, the Cal of 2013, is no longer here. Rather, the shadow force may have ridden Cal into 2018.
A little boy who may be the vessel for an all-powerful, time-bending murderous shadow being? Manifest has officially shed any delusions of This Is Us-ian sentimentality.
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