Sometimes life imitates art, which is essentially what happened when NBC’s twisty mystery drama “Manifest” was saved from cancellation by Netflix. Just as the passengers of Flight 828 got a second chance at life, the show gets a second chance to explain why, and that time has come with the first half of the final season — billed as “Manifest” Season 4 Part 1.
It’s been a year and a half off screen and two years on screen, and somehow both nothing and everything has changed since Season 3’s devastating cliffhanger. When we last saw the Stones, Grace (Athena Karkanis) had been murdered by crazed passenger Angelina (Holly Taylor), who was convinced that Eden, Grace’s daughter with Ben (Josh Dallas), was her own personal guardian angel. Two years later, Angelina is still on the run with Eden, and Ben is a broken man with a broken family, living in a broken world where passengers are forced to be registered with the government.
Thanks to the mess made at the end of Season 3, there’s now an entire branch of law enforcement dedicated to keeping tabs on the passengers of 828. They have to show up for monthly check-ins and answer questions about any potential illegal activities, or any potential hallucinations they may or may not be having. Anyone caught having one of those hallucinations is put in custody, which means Ben, Michaela and the others have to keep a low profile in public, and can be brought in for questioning at any time. It’s a dark turn for the series, though it fits with the dark way Season 3 ended. The passengers may have been given a second chance, but at what cost? Was the extra five and a half years worth losing so much?
Of course, those five and a half years are hurtling by. The death date is 18 months away when Season 4 begins, giving the season a very specific goal and very specific stakes, even if all the stuff on the way there is a bit muddy, as it always is. Olive, Michaela, Saanvi, and Ben (when he’s not busy searching desperately for Eden) all race through biblical, architectural and classical clues at a dizzying speed, and it’s occasionally a little hard to follow. That’s not new for the series and makes sense as all the characters face a terrifying fate, but in a season designed for a binge, it occasionally means you might need a breather, and a reminder that most of the time, the middle part doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that the passengers need to find a powerful gemstone if they have any hope of surviving the death date. You don’t need to know why.
While “Manifest” has always featured complicated clues and murder boards and “Da Vinci Code”-level mysteries hidden in ancient artifacts, that’s never been the point of the show, and that remains the same in the Netflix version. This is a show about unlikely ordinary people being forced to work together, and to accept something that they cannot explain as they search for meaning. We don’t yet know why the Stones’ young son Cal disappeared and then suddenly reappeared having physically aged five years, but it sort of doesn’t matter as we watch him carry the guilt of having given Angelina the ability to get into his house to kill his mom and kidnap his sister. He may have been an empathetic kid then, but now he looks like an adult, and that’s enough for his grieving father to hand him all the blame. It’s brutal, but Ty Doran takes over the role of Cal in a way that’s almost scary. If you didn’t know better, you might think he actually were the grown up version of Jack Messina, and the actual twin brother of Luna Blaise.
The most interesting thing about Season 4 — and the show overall — is the way that it feels eerily realistic and prescient. Our reality doesn’t have a plane that landed five and a half years after taking off, but we did live (and are continuing to live) through a pandemic that felt like it froze time and left desperate people grasping at conspiracy theories. And the fear of the passengers expressed by the rest of the world certainly feels familiar, even if the situation doesn’t. The passenger registry seems too real and weirdly normal, and the fight between religion and science certainly isn’t new. There’s just an uncomfortable glimmer of familiarity as the season goes on, and you start to realize that if you heard about a group of people from a mysterious plane claiming they were getting messages from God about the day they were going to die, you too would worry if they had too much freedom out in the world.
Anyway, this is all to say that “Manifest” Season 4 will not disappoint fans of the show, though it is likely to break their hearts and/or get those hearts racing. The very end of the series could prove to be the show’s downfall because there are so many questions that have to be answered before the conclusion, but the show has also worked hard to make sure that answers aren’t all we’re here for.
Spiritual and emotional satisfaction might just be enough, as long as there’s at least a short answer to give when a non-fan friend asks, “So what actually did happen to the plane?”
“Manifest” Season 4 Part 1 is now streaming on Netflix.