Up In The Air

 

Okay…I lied. There’s more about Manifest that I have a problem with, but I figured in the spirit of a serial drama, I’d split it up into two entries.

For this one, I’m legitimately going to go scene by scene. There’s something about this show that really bothers me, and I’m gonna figure it out, goddammit.

14:59 - Mich and Jared Vasquez (the guy she was debating on marrying in 2013) have a serious heart to heart. We learn that he’s now a married to someone name Lourdes, who we never meet, but she apparently always told Mich how lucky she was. Vasquez insists it took two years before he looked at another woman, and Mich walks away devastated. I’ve never met Lourdes, so I don’t really care about the marriage. Introducing a faceless name does nothing to raise the stakes here. It doesn’t add to the drama, and it adds a tension that’s a little confusing. If we had a glimpse of who this character is, we’d know whether or not she’s cool or if she’s a bitch. I understand we’re trying to create a universe here, but I don’t want to get into the second, third or even fourth episode, figure out who this woman is, and be all “ooooooooh. THAT’S why she was so upset.” No. Mich lost five years of her life in the blink of an eye. I already know why she’s upset. Giving Vasquez’s spouse a name is like getting a piece to a puzzle of ducks while you’re working on a puzzle of a jar of jam. It’s unnecessary.

15:27 - Cal is getting a blood transfusion, and then a jump cut to a conversation with a doctor about treatment options. This is a well done scene only because it gives us a glimpse at how fast medicinal practices can progress, but it also shows Ben for what he really is: a man out of time. You mean to tell me that with the plane, the passengers, the chaos, the news coverage, and the unexplained mysteries, there’s a silver lining and Ben’s son might not be doomed to die from that shit ass cancer? So there might be blessing here. But Ben says something pretty telling of his character. He requests to manage some expectations. That’s insanely level headed for what the guy’s gone through, and the scene does a lot of the future of their family. And Grace, who again is my favorite character, she’s quick to accept a miracle when it happens.

16:28 - Mich is shopping (she’s lost her apartment, has nothing and must rebuild), we get a bit of foreshadowing and hear a news report about two kidnapped girls. A jarring cut to Mich on a bus. She hears a voice in her head, “Slower”. Now, about hearing those voices in your head and grabbing it to let the audience know where they come from…the voice in her head merely wakes her up from a possible light snooze. Or maybe she just wants to disconnect for a second. But the voice is there, and she wants the bus to slow down. The bus driver is cranky because he’s a dick. She hears the voice again, louder, and insists he slows down now. The big ass bus stops way quicker than it would in real life to spare a kid who ran into the street to fetch his ball. The bus driver is in shock and probably regrets being so dismissive. But I have a problem with this new found super power. More on that later.

17:46 - Ben and Mich have conversation about the voice she heard. This is a super sharp left turn. Ben, who was a reasonable and thoughtful person mere scenes ago, now comes across as a paranoid conspiracy theorist. And they really try to pack in the info. Their mom was Mich’s go to for advice. Ben may or may not be some kind of psychiatrist, but it hadn’t been discussed up till now, and all Mich requests is that he doesn’t diagnose her. So, like…they want you to put the pieces together yourself, but they pick super weird moments to do it. And we jump from being concerned about voices to exploratory brain surgery at the hands of the government. I have no idea how they got there. There’s no slow incline in drama. Just total balls to the wall. I wish there was an in-between.

19:10 - We’re introduced to a third main character, Saanvi. She’s the super important lady on the plane who lost her six weeks of data research. Except I guess she never lost it? Another doctor said they got her research five years ago and have been treating pediatric cancer patients for almost 30 months. So…the fuck? I really don’t get it.

20:12 - It’s revealed that Olive (Ben’s daughter) has been in therapy for years. Nightmares or something. But her dad’s been back for only a day or 2 after inexplicably reappearing after a freak vanishing, and that’s good enough for most of Olvie’s symptoms to subside. Calling bullshit. Stuff like that doesn’t just go away. Olive’s in therapy. Leave it at that and move on. We don’t need to know that she’s better because it doesn’t work like that.

20:43 - Mich exercises and runs past two junk yard dogs. Another voice, “Set them free.” She continues to run, ignoring her own thoughts, presumably because Ben put the fear of God and government into her, but alas. She wakes up in the middle of the night as the voice persists. What?! Ben shows up to?? WHAT?! He’s hearing voices too? WWHHAATT?!?! Over dramatic acting and over delivered lines, because how else can you express emotion? Oh yeah, Ben reminds Mich that busting these dogs loose is a felony. She snidely remarks that she already knows what a felony is, because we also have to be reminded that she has a past and a mistake that’s haunting her. But we can’t know what it is yet because stakes and tension. At the commercial break, it’s determined that the voices are not a fluke. Probably because duh. Mich already saved a kid’s life.

23:56 - Mich and Ben are caught on camera setting the junkyard dogs free, and Vasquez is put in charge of talking to her. So in a brief recap, we’re reminded agin of the abducted girls, and Vasquez claims frustration with having to put out Michaela’s fire. Then he asks if this is about him. GOOD LORD, MAN!! That’s like when Ross asked Rachel if her freaking out was about Mark (season 3, episode 15, “The One Where Ross and Rachel Take A Break”). Vasquez isn’t a very strong detective if he can’t use context clues. 1) She was with her brother. 2) she’s a former cop 3) all they did was let the dogs go and didn’t enter the property. Instead of asking if she’s trying to get his attention and get back at him by acting out, maybe use your sleuthing to instead ask her what the point of the whole ordeal was. I swear, guys can be so self absorbed and insensitive. And just as poorly written as female characters tend to be.

OH. HOLY. SHIT. Guys. 15 minutes after we learn Vasquez has married someone named Lourdes, we now know that she’s Mich’s best friend. Piecemeal, but at least we didn’t have to wait for the second, third or even fourth episode to figure it out. Mich also calls him out for being a guy, like I just did. Two peas.

This is another case of the show trying to do too much at once. Vasquez gets put in his place, and he asks, “Then what?” A Michaela goes off on him. The plane thing (which really should be a given at this point), her dead mom, no home, no phone number, losing 5 and a half years, and then she goes into a story about her lawyer convinced a judge she was innocent. Bruh, innocent of what? Then she said something about someone named Evie dying right next to her. But who the fuck is Evie?! Allow me to state another problem. Pieces of a mystery work when you solve a part and realize there’s more to it. They don’t work when you slowly build up to a big reveal by adding bits of information without solving anything and hope that the payoff is actually there. Over half way through the episode we’ve learned that Mich is a screw up, a bad influence, holding to something, understands a felony, was declared innocent even though she doesn’t feel the same, and someone named Evie died while in a car. Ran a red light? Drunk driving with a child we don’t know she had? There are too many elements teased to not give the audience a clearer picture. I’m kind of getting sick of it. That’s not how mysteries work. At least not good ones.

Vasquez FINALLY fucking asks about the dogs, and he offers to help save what’s left of Mich’s career. There was so much packed into that scene, I too feel like I lost five years of my life. Nothing really got accomplished. They’re beating a dead horse with this guilt thing. Let the character grow, don’t keep her in the same spot.

26:41 - Olive’s playing soccer. More exposition. Ben tells us that Olive’s “been stuck picking up the pieces”. I get the sentiment, I really do. But it doesn't;t feel like a natural conversation. I can appreciate him trying to jumpstart his relationship with the daughter, but instead of a sincere apology, there’s more explaining. Here’s something positive Id like to say. The hug between Ben and Olive is sweet. It’s grace leant by his daughter because she understands that what happened wasn’t necessarily his fault. I don’t agree with how they got to the hug, but I still like that it happened.

28:19 - Saanvi is in a board meeting or something or other regarding new applicants for her treatment. Cal, Ben’s daughter, is brought to the attention of a panel of doctors. This now brings up a serious problem. Do we consider the people on flight 828 as being five years older, or do we acknowledge that some funky shit has happened, and they’ve legit not aged a day in five years? Cal is denied treatment because this particular doctor suggests he’s lived with the condition for 6 years. When Saanvi protests, the doctor fails to remove the stick from his rectum and says they can’t break protocol. Wuss. I think the scene is important for two reasons: 1) it opens up the philosophical point of how we view the events and results of 828’s freak out, and 2) it intertwines the lives of two people who were previously not connected. Hopefully ::rolling my eyes wicked hard::…hinting at a show that’s more ensemble based and less focused on just the Stone siblings. Anyway, Saanvi leaves the hearing. Commercial break that leads us into

29:35 - Saanvi goes into this particular doctor’s office to continue this conversation. I get the need to have a dramatic moment before we see cringe inducing commercials, but here’s what you do. This doctor with the butt stick and Saanvi have a stare down, a swelling of dramatic music, and a cut to black. Cheesy? Yes. Better than Saanvi turning tail and walking out? Also yes. Now she comes into the office to continue a conversation they could have easily had right in that room. We discuss the credibility of the study, which…I mean Cal’s an anomaly. Leukemia for about a year then he winds up in a future where he shouldn’t be alive? That, to me, seems like a case you could probably learn from. Dr Cardoso (I finally looked his name up) then goes on to state that their track record must remain intact because they’re about to be bought by a big pharmaceutical company. An unnecessary dilemma. Don’t add to the pot, okay screen writers? If Saanvi really wanted to fight for the cause, have her fight a face. Give us a reason to dislike him even if he’s not a truly bad guy. Focus on their perfect score and Dr Cardoso’s pride instead of a nameless corporation. This guy should be where the issue ends. We already know Saanvi is going to go to bat for Calvin, and it should be man to man, not man to company. You run the risk of shutting her campaign down completely instead of giving her obstacles to overcome. C’mon, man.

There’s more talk about a second chance, Calvin being on the plane to be saved, Saanvi on it to do the saving. She declares they’re giving the boy a chance (hallelujah), and Cardoso seems speechless. If it were that easy, then we find ourselves with the unnecessary dialogue about the big pharma take over. Unless you really boil it down to getting a peak at Saanvi’s integrity and not caring about a possibly fortune in the future. But even so…the scene tried to do too much.

30:32 - ONLY 12 MORE MINUTES TO GO!! The dogs are returned. And Michaela hears the voice once again telling her to “set them free”. Here’s me having another issue. We already know that they were on flight 828. And it’s been mentioned that 8:28 was Rich’s favorite Bible verse. What was the street address that the dogs were broken out of? 828, of course. And if you don’t get the connection, here’s a brief flashback tying it all together for your dumbass. I imagine that was the inner monologue of the producer or someone in the editing bay. We get it, man. It’s all connected.

So Michaela actually ventures onto the property. She essentially follows the voices to a locked door which she breaks open and THE TWO GIRLS ARE FOUND!! So what we have here is some kind of strange psychic detective thing, but it’s also happening to Ben. But back to what I said about how a good mystery works, we only know that the plane vanished, reappeared, and now two of the survivors hear voices. It’s an added layer before anything else gets seriously addressed. So…yeah. It’s just extra stuff on top of a bunch of other stuff. We’re just old to accept it, and since we’re not given a choice, we do. BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN WE HAVE TO LIKE IT, NBC!!

33:55 - Mich comes face to face with her Captain. At the end of all this, there’s hope for her to get her old job back. And the Captain says something interesting. He mentions that the rescued kids are alive because she came back. So now we have something to ponder. Why was skipping those particular five years important for Michaela? What would have happened to her in that time that would prevent her from rescuing those kids? You can assume for Ben it has something to do with his relationship with Olive, Cal’s timetable, and treatment options. But there are more working parts. So yes, it’s awesome that she has the voices, but there’s still zero reasons given.

Anywho, Mich and Vasquez share a moment, and as a married man he tells her he still takes his breath away. What a scumbag.

36:10 - Ben looks in on Cal who’s receiving some treatment. Unclear as to whether is Saanvi’s or not, but whatever. Grace’s phone rings. She shuts it off and shoves it into her purse. Uh-oh…she’s crying. Reserved. Shut off. And here we get a new thread of the show. A new arc that comes late enough in the third act that you can forgive its adding on to an already full load because race is awesome, and we need a lead in to the second episode. But when Grace says she spent every day of the last 5 years blaming Ben, I cried again. I dunno. I’m stroking that character’s ego pretty hard, but I think she’s the best written character. She’s also perfectly cast. I like the subtleties of her performance. There’s realization in this scene. There’s a resolve, at least for one character, and it clears the air for some hopefully wonderful growth. As she justifies and accepts why Ben and Calvin had to be on the later flight, she’s drops a big one and says “this is bigger than us”. That’s a pretty damning line. I don’t have much faith in the writers for this show, but I hope they know what they’re doing. This particular line means more to me than anything else in this episode.

Oh, no, wait. Saanvi just checked in on Cal. They swap smiles. Maybe they’ve gotten him started. Fingers crossed. I must have missed that last night. Alcohol’s a helluva drug.

37:39 - The plane in question is being wheeled out of its hangar. The hard as nails director is told that everything is checked out, and tomorrow they’ll take it apart piece by piece. “This isn’t close to over.”

The Stone family plays dominoes. Cal is apparently super good after having only just learned how to play. Ben gets a headache, and sees on the news that the abducted girls have been saved. Grace begs in a text that someone unknown has to understand that she needs more time. Olive asks what she’s gonna do. HOLY FUCK, YOU GUYS, IS GRACE MARRIED TO SOMEONE ELSE?!?! IS HER STILL HUSBAND NOW HER SIDE PIECE?!

Mich is reading a Bible in a church, and she’s fixated on Romans 8:28. Particularly the two word sequence “the called”. After a quick conversation with a priest, and a mental flash of the plane, she basically steals a Bible, which is relatively naughty. Ben shows up, claiming he just knew she was there. She asks why just the two of them were affected with these gifts/voices/problems, and Ben raises and interesting point. What are the odds it’s just the two of them?

40:53 - Aaaaaaaaaand the voice over’s back. It’s starts with “Of course it wasn’t just the two of us.” Fucking duh, dude. MONTAGE!: Saavni zones out during a conversation with her folks. A man playing a violin suddenly stops and holds his head to let us know he has a headache. I think he was from the…

Wait. The stewardess. THESE PEOPLE ARE FROM THE PLANE!! Oh no, she also grabs her head to insinuate that she has a headache.

The pilot of 828 reads a newspaper then suddenly stares off into the distance.

Mich and Ben get out of their car. They’re surrounded by every other passenger from the flight. And they all stare at the plane that took them 5 years into the future.

So the Mich’s voice over declares that she and Ben knew none of the other passengers but will soon know them as well as they know themselves.

The plane explodes. Interesting. Michaela calls it a “force” and then after the explosion she claims it had no interest in being investigated. So she’s given life to this entity she knows nothing about. Or maybe she does. As I said in the last article, her voice over structures the show as a memory, not as happening in real time. Everything’s past tense. Which means she’s in the future somewhere, telling us something that already happened, so she knows how the story’s going to eventually play out, but she’s purposefully leaving us in the dark. I’m telling you guys, the voice over is such a crutch, and one of the shittiest devices every created for story telling. It was used in the first two minutes and the last two minutes of the episode. Never in the middle. The nature in which it’s used means that it’s not there to explain a characters brain or actions (I think I said that in the last article). It’s there to explain and expose the narrative, but is presented as an all knowing figure. It completely takes the urgency and spontaneity out of the equation. “As for the group of us? This was only the beginning.”

You what would have been hella tight? Vignettes through out the episode where the other passengers heard the voices. Or even in that little montage. Instead of grabbing their heads, give them a voice. Something cryptic akin to “set them free”. How hard would that have been? It could have set up future episodes and given the characters a second dimension before the second episode. Instead they were introduced, forgotten about, and then teased like “oh wait, no…these folks are still here too!”. The whole thing is super imbalanced.

I’m also going to rewrite the ending voice over and tweak it a little bit to showcase the importance of tense. Here’s the original.

 
Ben and I didn’t know any of the people yet. But soon we’d know them as well as we know ourselves. As for whatever force brought us all here...::plane explodes::...it had no interest in being investigated. And as for the group of us? This was just the beginning.
 

Okay. So as I so eloquently stated before, it’s in the past tense. “We didn’t” which insinuates they do now. “This was just the beginning” suggests that more has already happened, but my friend telling the story is pausing it to go to the restroom. Personally, I don’t want to watch a serial drama that’s a first hand account told by someone who’s already gone through it and could tell me whatever I want to know but doesn’t. Half the fun of these shows is watching it happen in real time to the unsuspecting characters. With the way they’re playing it, it’s already in the past. Here’s how you could use a voice over and make it work.

Ben and I don’t know any of these people. And I don’t know what brought us all here. And this...thing. This force. It- ::plane explodes::...it has no interest in being investigated. But me? Ben? These people. This is probably just the beginning.

It’s still not the best. How can you mention the plane and work in the explosion without seeming to anticipate it (which the show makes it seem like Michaela does)? Maybe make it cut her off mid thought? I still don’t think it’s very strong, because more often than not the voice over is insanely limiting. Especially at only the beginning and end of the episode. Now look at me…beating you over the head with my own particular ideals.

In an effort to be a little introspective, I’d have to say I have problems with this shows, while they may be many, can be distilled down into two primary issues.

  1. Haste - They’re moving too quickly. There’s not enough time to get your footing and find your bearings before you’re hurled headfirst into a wicked convoluted story.

  2. The presentation - The voice over, which I’ve discussed ad nauseam, there are poor directing and acting choices, and the script I really think is flimsy at best. I personally question the sustainability of this show. How far can it go before it needs to end.

In conclusion (yes, we’re finally here), the pilot episode of Manifest is like the first half of season 3 of LOST when too many questions were raised and barely any answers were given. There was no dipping the toe into the pool, there was no easing the viewer into it, and all we got was how it affected these three particular characters. Holy shit, I got this far, and I completely lost my train of thought.

Being such a huge fan of the serial drama, I get bummed out when one comes out, and it under delivers. I don’t think it has a solid structure. I don’t think the premise is all that thick. And I can definitely see it spinning its wheels before being cancelled. My biggest problems with these shows are that in theory they sound pretty great. But how great would it be, and I know it’s a long shot, but how awesome would NBC look saying “We have given Manifest an order of 4 seasons so they can tell their story properly.” Now…if ratings were low, sure, cancel it. But there should always be an end game in mind, and it feels like Manifest wants to be as weird and vague as it can while hoping it figures itself out along the way. I really hope the show finds its feet. I want it to be awesome. Ease back on the over acting, focus on one or two mysteries at a time, and for the love of God, WHO THE FUCK IS GRACE TESTING!!

Manifest airs on Mondays at 10/9c after The Voice.