Faith & Family Media Blog

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May 16, 2020
| by | Kate O'Hare

NBC's 'Manifest' Asks Good Faith Questions ... Now and Then

Over the last week or so, I plowed through both seasons of the NBC drama Manifest, which ended its second season back in April.

The show is available at NBC.com (with ads), and on Hulu (subscription), Amazon Prime Video (fee) and YouTubeTV (subscription). Renewal for season three remains in limbo -- as are many things these days.

The premise is that a plane returning from Jamaica to New York City vanishes en route, only to reappear five-and-a-half years later, still in flight. But, for the passengers, the only time that's elapsed is a normal flight interrupted by some intense turbulence.

Through circumstances at the airport in Jamaica, the Stone family is split in two, including young fraternal twins. Before that happens, the grandmother quotes her favorite Bible verse, Romans 8:28:

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

By the way, the flight is Montego Air Flight 828, and that number reverberates through the show.

The plane's reappearance causes massive disruption for the passengers, their friends and family, and society, which unfold slowly, with many flashbacks (yeah, there are big fragments of Lost DNA in this show).

The passengers also experience what they dub "callings," internal promptings -- voices and visions -- which urge and ultimately propel them in various directions.

On the good side, the show raises questions about faith, God, prayer, free will, redemption, etc. And it's intentional, as creator Jeff Rake (an observant Jew with a wife and, as his Columbia University bio says, "many, many children"), said in response to my question in January at the biannual TV Critics Association Press Tour:

So, from the very first episode, we introduce this idea of faith versus science. Is this an experience, a phenomenon that can be explained by science, by the laws of physics? Is this an extraterrestrial event, or is there some type of divine intervention going on here?  ...

There is a definitive answer to that question that I'm not going to provide today, because that's fundamental to the mystery of the show, and I don't want to give away in terms of mythology and the mystery. But I will tell you that whether or not the ultimate answer to why this plane disappeared and came back [and how that[ connects to divinity versus science versus an extraterrestrial event will be answered objectively.

But week to week, subjectively, we make sure that the characters on screen are exploring those religious themes, because that idea of Romans 8:28 that we talk about throughout Season 1 ‑‑ all things work together for good for those who are the called ‑‑ has become a mantra for [adult siblings] Michaela and Ben [Stone]. ...

I hope that religious fans of the show are finding something to latch onto. Because whether or not there's ultimately a religious answer to the question of the Manifest mystery, there are religious themes and religion‑inspired conversations that I like to think motivate the characters each week.

I hope if you're a believer, if you're a religious person out there watching the show, you're inspired by the religious themes. Because we're living in hard times, and I like to think that the themes of hope and redemption and faith and the fact that there is a divine answer to what's going on in our world gives people some sense of comfort in these uncomfortable times.

On the other hand, Manifest is a broadcast-network show, and that has advantages and drawbacks.

Upside, there is only the lightest profanity, and there is no nudity or explicit sex (although the characters, even the believers, seem to have no issue with sex outside marriage; and there is LGBT content), and neither faith nor believers are denigrated.

Aside from the extramarital sex, Manifest is positive about about marriage, family and children. There's even a wedding with what looks like a priest officiating (it's a rather irregular affair in general, so it's inaccurate in a Catholic sense but not with negative intent).

On the downside, while Manifest regularly explores philosophical/theological questions -- which is unusual enough on network TV -- it's essentially a mystery-driven procedural. One wag on Reddit dubbed it Law & Order: This Is Us.

And, eventually, I began to worry that, like CBS' God Friended Me, it would end up steering away from affirming Judeo-Christian belief and veer into a vague, New Age-y direction -- or just wind up saying it was a wormhole or aliens. We shall see.

While it's not for younger kids, Manifest could be the source of some great conversations between parents and teens about faith, family and the roles of fate and discernment.

Image: NBC

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager and blog editor at Family Theater Productions.

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