Content Warning: This article contains spoilers for the TV show “Manifest.”
Just like the passengers on flight 828 received their second shot at life, “Manifest” was given its second chance on screen — the thrilling drama found a new home on Netflix for its fourth and final season. The first 10 episodes of the final season mark the show’s long-awaited return, but by the looks of it, viewers now have more questions than answers.
In case some of the plot has escaped you in the year-and-a-half break from “Manifest,” here’s the basic rundown: With nearly 200 people on board, flight 828 from Jamaica to New York went missing en route, only for the plane to return five years later with the passengers not having aged a day. The survivors are collectively named “the Lifeboat,” though the show follows specific protagonists, Ben and Michaela Stone (Josh Dallas, “Once Upon a Time,” and Melissa Roxburgh, “Supernatural”), a brother-sister duo that was on the flight and Ben’s son, Cal (Jack Messina, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”).
Shortly after returning, the passengers begin experiencing “callings” — which manifest themselves as visions, voices or sounds — and notice that following the callings leads to some miraculous outcome, such as saving people’s lives. While the 828 passengers start following their callings, the government opens a secret research facility code-named “Eureka” designed to conduct experiments on the plane and its passengers. The biggest threat looming over the heads of the 828 passengers is the “death date,” a day revealed to the passengers through callings that supposedly marks the end of all of their lives. Cal and his twin, Olive (Luna Blaise, “Fresh Off the Boat”), who wasn’t on board, have determined this date to be June 2, 2024, which gives the passengers a couple of years to figure out how to beat it.
Season four opens with a tragedy. Two years have passed since Angelina (Holly Taylor, “The Americans”), a passenger the Stone family attempted to help, murdered Ben’s wife, Grace (Athena Karkanis, “The Expanse”) and kidnapped their baby daughter Eden, convinced that the infant was her guardian angel. It’s revealed to us that Ben has been obsessed with tracking down his missing daughter for the past two years — much to the distress of his other two children, who feel they’ve lost their father as well as their mother. For the last three seasons, Ben has led the Lifeboat as the upstanding family man responsible for making sure all the passengers were following their callings in order to beat the death date. Watching Ben give up on the callings and turn into a bitter man and negligent father is indicative of just how much “Manifest” wants to explore all facets of the characters that we thought we knew. Ben’s new characterization gives us a lot more to work with, especially when it comes to the new dynamics of the Stone family post-tragedy.
At the same time, Cal (now played by Ty Doran, “All Night”) disappeared after touching the tail fin of the plane and reappeared the night of Grace’s death — inexplicably five-and-a-half years older. Cal works with his aunt Michaela, fellow passenger and doctor Saanvi (Parveen Kaur, “American Hangman”) and NSA operative Vance (Daryl Edwards, “Honeydripper”) in a makeshift lab to follow and investigate their callings. It’s always interesting to see someone attempt to find a scientific explanation for seemingly magical phenomena: In previous seasons, it was Saanvi and Vance that made major breakthroughs in understanding the effects of flight 828 on the passengers and on the world. Now, I get the impression that science and magic are starting to bleed into each other. Saanvi makes an incredible seismic discovery, and then … she starts to believe that God is real? This is yet another example of unusual behavior from a beloved character, except this time, it makes Saanvi’s character less believable, not more complex.
Michaela’s husband, Zeke (Matt Long, “Christmas Joy”) — who walked out of a cave in season one in a phenomenon similar to that of the 828 passengers — uses his complicated empathic powers in a counseling job to provide for the Stone family. He’s also stepped up as a pseudo-father figure for the Stone children and, honestly, he’s the hero of the season so far. In this whirlwind of new episodes, it’s sweet to see scenes in which humanity re-enters the show. Whether Zeke is getting Michaela to break down her walls or convincing Olive that she always has a confidante in him, his moments serve to underscore that despite the unexplainable events of this show, the truest thing that these characters have is their love for each other.
The show’s switch to Netflix resulted in a shift in the overall vibe. The pace noticeably picks up in the new 10 episodes as characters make one shocking discovery after another. The season also lends itself to a deeper exploration of certain non-828 characters who were previously sidelined.
Unfortunately, that’s where my praise for this season ends. There are far more problems uncovered than solutions found, which definitely adds to the shock factor but subtracts from the logic of the plot. Questions from previous seasons remain unanswered, especially my biggest one: Why on Earth is Cal five-and-a-half years older? Not to mention the question that this entire series is built on: Where did the plane go during that storm? The answers given to these questions are either “I don’t know” or a concept far too vague to really parse. The “Manifest” lore expands to the point where it feels more like an episode of “Stranger Things” than anything else. There’s a fine line between unexplainable phenomena and straight-up magic — let’s leave the latter in Hawkins, Indiana.
“Manifest” opened its fourth season with a huge bang. The first 10 episodes give us a staggering amount of new information, creating fissures in the fabric of the plot that I’m not entirely sure can be repaired in the final episodes. Given the breadth of unsolved mysteries that already exist in the “Manifest” universe, the decision to pile on more with only 10 episodes to come before the resolution of the show reads like poor planning. Of course, that theory is yet to be proven. The second half of season four doesn’t yet have a release date. However, we have a few clues — the return of season four to Netflix was announced on Aug. 28 (828, get it?), and part one of season four was released on Nov. 4 — the same date that flight 828 returned to New York in the show. If we’re following the same trend, we may be seeing part two released as late as June 2, 2023 — exactly a year before the passengers’ death date. Death date or not, I will still be tuning into part two with a desperate hope to get my new burning questions answered.
Daily Arts Writer Swara Ramaswamy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.