‘Manifest’ Season 1 Episode 1 Recap: NBC Debuts a Trippy New Sci-Fi Drama

Manifest season 1 episode 1
Melissa Roxburgh as Michaela Stone and Josh Dallas as Ben Stone in ‘Manifest’ (Photo by David Giesbrecht / NBC / Warner Brothers)

NBC’s new dramatic series Manifest joined the network’s primetime lineup on Monday, September 24, 2018. The series, which has been described as having a Lost vibe, airs at 10pm ET/PT and follows the passengers of Montego Air Flight 828 as they reconnect with their lives following a bizarre leap forward in time.

Season one episode one begins by introducing the Stone family. It’s April 7, 2013 and Ben (Josh Dallas) and his wife, Grace (Athena Karkanis), are with their twins Olive and Cal at the airport. Ben’s sister Michaela (Melissa Roxburgh) narrates the events as she also waits to board a plane. Michaela and Ben’s parents relax in the boarding area, giving Michaela a hard time about her boyfriend, Jared, and the fact she doesn’t want to get married right now.

Michaela also lets viewers in on the scoop that Cal has leukemia and his parents are desperate to find a treatment that might help halt the disease’s progress. She also confesses she has nightmares about a car accident.

The flight’s overbooked and Michaela, Ben, and Cal agree to take a later flight since the airline’s offering $400 to each person who will give up their seat. That decision changes the course of their lives.

During the flight, Ben tries to convince his sister she deserves to be happy. He believes she should marry Jared and move on with her life. The tranquil flight is interrupted by severe turbulence causing a loss of altitude and the lights to briefly go out. Just as suddenly as the turbulence arrived, it clears up and the plane’s back to flying smoothly.

The pilot explains the severe turbulence was the result of a weather surge that appeared without any warning.

A while later the pilot calls air traffic to alert them they’re on approach. The air traffic controller seems confused by the transmission from flight 828. The plane’s diverted to an alternate airport.

The usual clapping accompanies the landing, however no one can receive cell service. The plane’s met by dozens of emergency vehicles and the passengers are forced to deplane on the tarmac.

Michaela finally asks for an explanation and the passengers are told their flight departed Montego Bay Jamaica in 2013. It’s now November 4, 2018. They’ve been presumed dead for five and a half years. (Cue the dramatic music!)

While waiting in a tent to be examined, Cal (Jack Messina) wonders why he’s still alive if it’s been five years. They all admit they don’t look or feel five years older.

The passengers and crew are interviewed on camera and they all share the same story. There was turbulence but they never landed anywhere during what they believe was a short flight.

36 hours later the passengers are finally allowed to reunite with their loved ones. Olive (Luna Blaise) has aged five years while Cal’s been gone and is no longer the same age as her twin. Cal freaks out over this development. Michaela and Ben learn their mother died while they were gone, and Michaela breaks down in her father’s arms.

Michaela settles in at Ben’s place because she no longer has her apartment. Grace assures her she can stay as long as she likes, but it’s obvious Michaela believes she’s a bad person who doesn’t deserve to be around the kids. Grace explains, “The universe just gave all of us a do-over. Everything that came before goes out the window.”

The authorities go over the possessions of the passengers with a fine-tooth comb. They don’t discover anything dated between April 7, 2013 and November 4, 2018. They also realize no one on the plane aged a day so no explanation can be ruled out.

Michaela returns to the police station where she used to work and discovers she still has a job, although they didn’t expect her in so soon given what happened. She stares at Jared and the two step outside to talk. After a little small talk, Jared reveals he’s now a detective and a lot has changed in the five years she’s been gone and presumed dead. She notices he’s wearing a wedding ring and asks about his wife. It turns out he married one of Michaela’s friends. He tries to explain he waited two years before even dating, but Michaela can’t handle it and leaves.

Meanwhile, Ben and Grace take Cal to see his doctor and she’s amazed his levels haven’t changed at all. She’s able to deliver the good news there’s a game-changing new pediatric trial he qualifies for. The odds of surviving have gone from near zero in 2013 to excellent in 2018. Grace believes everything about this situation is a miracle.

While Michaela shops for supplies and clothing, she hears a reporter discussing the case of missing sisters Samantha and Hailey who were abducted from their backyard. Jared’s the detective on the case.

Taking the bus home from shopping, she hears a voice in her head repeating the word “slower.” She asks the bus driver to slow down, but he snaps at her and refuses. She finally screams, “Slow down now!” and he slams on his brakes in time to avoid running over a small child chasing a ball into the street.

Back at Ben’s place, the confused siblings have a talk. Michaela admits she heard her own voice talking to her in her head. Ben doesn’t understand but thinks it might be that she’s losing her mind. He wants her to keep it a secret as the government might still be monitoring them.

Manifest season 1 episode 1
Parveen Kaur as Saanvi Bahl in ‘Manifest’ season 1 episode 1 (Photo by Craig Blankenhorn / NBC / Warner Brothers)

Nearly halfway through the first episode we finally pick up the story of a passenger not related to the Stones. Saanvi Bahl (Parveen Kaur) is welcomed back to work with a huge celebration, and she learns her cell regeneration model she researched five years ago actually works. They’ve been using it to treat pediatric cancer patients for 30 months and it’s saved hundreds of sick kids.

Ben and Grace are out shopping with Cal, attempting to act like a normal family once again. Grace explains Olive has been in therapy for years because of what happened. Fortunately, most of her issues are now resolved.

Michaela’s out for a jog when she passes a facility with two German Shepherds that startle her when they begin barking. They’re behind a chain-link fence and once again she hears her voice inside her head. It tells her to set them free. She ignores the voice and continues running.

That night the voice won’t allow her to sleep. It continues to tell her to set them free. Unable to quiet the voice, she rides her bike to the facility. A car pulls up just as she arrives and it’s Ben. He admits he also heard his voice telling him to set them free. He’s been hearing it all day.

Ben’s upset because he didn’t want to admit this was happening to him; he just wanted to get to know his family again and find a job.

Ben came prepared with bolt cutters and they open the gate. The dogs pause a minute and then run off. Ben and Michaela aren’t sure what to do next.

The next morning a woman turns over a video to the police. The cell phone video shows Ben and Michaela setting the dogs free, but never entering the facility. Jared’s confused but says he’ll handle it.

Jared’s upset he has to take care of the situation and thinks Michaela’s just acting out over their relationship ending. Michaela assures him not everything has to do with their relationship and she’s not mad he married her best friend. She understands she was gone and they had no idea she’d ever return.

Michaela says her mom’s dead, she doesn’t have a home, and she doesn’t even have any possessions. She tries to explain she lost five years of life, but then begins crying as she admits she’ll always believe she committed murder. Her friend died in the car crash because of her and she’s torn up about it. She’s guilty and not necessarily happy about being alive.

They hug, and Jared seems to get the point it’s not about him. He apologizes for everything but still needs to know why they broke open the fence. He wants her to accompany him to the facility to try and save her career.

Meanwhile, Ben shows up at Olive’s soccer practice and apologizing for everything she’s gone through. He admits he was caught up with helping Cal and lost sight of her, even before he got on the plane. He swears he’s not going anywhere, and they’ll get to know each other much better. They hug before he sends her back out to practice.

Elsewhere, Saanvi sits through a meeting in which applicants for her treatment are discussed. She learns the survival rates are incredible, and the line is long for those applying for the treatment. One of the applicants is Cal and it’s determined because of his age he’s too old for the perimeters. Saanvi begs to differ because he didn’t age while on the plane.

The others don’t want to break protocol to provide treatment to a child outside the age group being tested. Upset, Saavni leaves the group and does her own research into Cal’s profile. She confronts her boss, Dr. Brian Cardoso (Joel de la Fuente), who’s firm in not wanting to jeopardize the viability of the study. She believes she should have input since it’s her research, but Dr. Cardoso explains they can’t risk it since they’re about to be bought by a major pharmaceutical company.

Saavni doesn’t care about the study and believes there’s a possibility Cal came back to be saved and she came back to save him. “We’re giving this boy his chance,” declares Saavni.

Jared and Michaela return to the facility with the dogs and Jared hopes the owner, Mr. Garrison, won’t press charges. As they’re approaching the gate, Michaela’s voice tells her to set them free. She gasps and looks like she’s in pain, and Jared sends her back to wait by the car.

Jared delivers the dogs and tries to smooth things over by saying he’ll pay for the repairs if Mr. Garrison doesn’t press charges.

While waiting by the car, Michaela notices the facility’s address is the same as her flight number. She decides to explore the place on her own. The voice keeps up as she walks around and investigates, and she finally winds up at a locked shed with its windows covered. The dogs have taken up positions in front of the door but aren’t barking.

The door’s locked and she uses an iron bar to try and break it open. Jared and Mr. Garrison arrive as she’s pounding away at the lock, and when it finally breaks open she finds the two missing girls huddled together inside.

Mr. Garrison takes a swing at Jared who dodges the blow and cuffs the kidnapper.

Michaela comforts the girls who have been locked away with a mattress and just a few supplies.

As the situation’s being wrapped up, Michaela’s captain congratulates her on a job well done. He wants to put her out on the beat in a few days, telling her the girls are alive because of her.

After he leaves, she thanks Jared for putting in a good word. She can’t explain what happened, and while they’re talking Jared admits she still takes his breath away.

Cal gets his treatment as his parents have a heart-to-heart about the plane trip and Cal’s possible recovery.

At home that evening, Ben has a headache and feels dizzy while playing a game with his family. Grace leaves the room and we discover she’s been in a romantic relationship while Ben was gone. She secretly exchanges texts with the man, telling him it’s over.

Olive notices her mom’s pained expression and the texts and asks what she’s going to do. Grace doesn’t reply.

Michaela pays a visit to her old church and borrows a Bible. Ben shows up out of the blue, and he realizes she saved the girls. He also just knew she would be at the church. They don’t understand what’s happening and then suddenly it dawns on them this is probably happening to the other passengers.

That’s true, and they all find themselves drawn back together standing by the fence yards from the airplane. They’re strangers now, however in a voice-over Michaela says they’ll soon know each other as well as they know themselves.

As they’re gathered staring at the plane, it explodes into flames. “As for whatever force brought us all here, it had no interest in being investigated,” says Michaela in a voice-over that ends the series premiere. “As for the group of us, this was just the beginning.”

Thoughts on Manifest Episode One:

A plane full of passengers lost in space for five years and suddenly showing up out of the blue unaware they’ve been missing is a fascinating premise. The first episode does a decent job of explaining the situation through the eyes of one particular family, and also introduces another passenger whose storyline is interwoven with the Stone family. There’s a lot of room to not only explore the backstories of each of the passengers and crew members, but also lay out how these time-travelers will adapt to being reunited with people who’ve lived each day of that five year period believing their friend/loved one is dead.

The first episode relied on voice-over to lay out much of the premise and to tease upcoming storylines. For episode one, the voice-over was done by Melissa Roxburgh as Michaela who filled in plot points that otherwise wouldn’t have been easy to reveal. It served its purpose, but hopefully the writers won’t use the technique as a crutch to smooth over rough spots in the plot as the series moves forward.

The cast did a terrific job and the relationship between the actors playing the Stone family came across as genuine and believable. Manifest is off to a promising start. The show’s got enough of a hook to keep us watching.

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