Spoilers ahead for the series premiere of Manifest on NBC.
Fall TV premiere season is officially in swing, and NBC premiered a show with a decidedly bizarre premise. The trailers for Manifest promised a series that would follow passengers of Montego Air Flight 828 after something goes wrong on their journey and they somehow disappear for five years and return without having aged a day. Well, the first episode of the new series has finally aired, and it proves that there's much more to the mystery of what happened to the passengers than what went down five years ago. They're still feeling the effects of their experiences, and nobody really understands it just yet. The big question is whether Manifest's mystery is really worth solving or if our attentions are better devoted elsewhere on Monday nights.
Manifest starts with a family attempting to fly home from a vacation together when the airport announces a $400 incentive for passengers to volunteer to take a later flight. Law enforcement officer Michaela (Melissa Roxburgh), her brother Ben (Josh Dallas), and Ben's son Cal `(who suffers from an illness all but guaranteed to kill him) volunteer for the later flight in a decision that changes all of their lives forever. Their flight back to New York seems to be going normally until they hit a spot of violent turbulence due to weather that the captain announces was not on the radar. When the captain tries to reach the airport to land, the folks on the other end of the line are very confused.
When they land, they have to exit the plane onto the tarmac, where they learn that they were gone for five years, despite the plane never landing anywhere and none of the passengers aging a day, as is especially clear by the fact that Ben's son is still visibly young and hasn't died from the illness that was going to kill him barring a miracle. And this is only where the weirdness starts. As Michaela and Ben try to adjust to life after five years gone -- including Michaela learning that her almost-fiancé had moved on and Ben struggling to deal with a daughter who is half a decade older than he remembered -- they discover that they're hearing voices telling them to commit inexplicable actions, such as freeing a pair of junkyard dogs.
These voices ultimately lead Michaela to solve a crime that was confounding the NYPD and rescue two kidnapped girls. Meanwhile, another passenger by the name of Saanvi (Parveen Kaur) just so happened to be a scientist whose work produced a drug that could save Ben's son's life. What happened that these people disappeared for five years, only to return without aging? What are these side effects that have emerged now that they've re-entered normal life? How are these people connected? How will the families deal with everything that went on during the five years when Michael and Ben were supposed to be dead and gone?
The Manifest premiere did a very good job posing these questions, but it really didn't give much to guide viewers' speculations. There are a lot of possibilities, and none of them have been ruled out at this point. The biggest possibilities for explanation at this point are supernatural, sci-fi, and divine.
Now, if Manifest goes the Lost route, it could mix all three of these options in some intriguing and almost entirely confusing ways. Like Lost, Manifest does kick off with a mysterious event affecting the flight of a plane, and the characters who make it back struggle to adapt. That said, that may be about as far as the similarities go, although I wouldn't rule out a few years of fans pitching a purgatory theory for the next few years if Manifest is enough of a hit to last for multiple seasons.
The most straightforward explanation for a plane disappearing for five years, only to reappear with everybody alive and healthy (although very confused) is that something supernatural is at work. In fact, this premise seems like it could work as an episode of Supernatural if condensed down to an hour. Are there wormholes or time loops in play? Did Flight 828 fly through some kind of Bermuda Triangle in the air?
Perhaps the answer is rooted in science-fiction rather than the supernatural. Manifest could go for a scientific explanation of what happened to the passengers of Flight 828 that seems supernatural until they uncover the science behind what made it happen. Saanvi is a brilliant scientist whose mind will likely drive her to look to science for some answers, and not everybody on the show will likely want to jump to "time loop" or "Bermuda Triangle" right away. The science doesn't have to work in real-life for the science to track in the show.
The third major possibility for what happened to Flight 828 is that there was some kind of divine intervention. That Saanvi was on the flight with Cal and the five years that passed was a long enough span of time of medical advancement for Cal to conceivably survive his illness is nothing short of miraculous. Will Manifest reveal that it truly was a miracle that happened because a divine being decided the young boy deserved to live?
Only time will tell. At this point, Manifest shows promise but hasn't delivered a whole lot to go on for viewers to guess what happens next. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as only one episode has aired and no show is going to deliver all of its answers in its first hour on the air. Whether or not the show gets to reveal some answers almost certainly depends on how many people tune in from week to week. If the ratings are poor, we'll likely never find out what really happened to Flight 828. So, if you feel the mystery of Manifest needs to be solved, tune in on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on NBC, and tell your friends to watch as well. If not... well, there are plenty of options on the small screen this fall.