The Second Half of Manifest’s Final Season Takes a NosedivePhoto Courtesy of Netflix TV Reviews Manifest
Editor’s Note: This review originally published May 25, 2023.
Sometimes, there is nothing better than a show that can be hailed as Just Okay. A show that you can explain to a friend as “not good, but really fun to watch.” Manifest usually fits perfectly into this category of TV—a run-of-the-mill mystery-box show where whatever confusing incident that happened can’t be easily solved by the audience, not because it’s a well-written puzzle that takes real effort to solve, but because the clues are made up at every turn and make no sense at all in retrospect. Shows like Manifest aren’t popular because they’re the second coming of Agatha Christie, they’re popular because no one has any idea what will happen next, and there’s usually a fun layer of interpersonal drama spread on top that helps to get everyone invested in the characters.
The first part of Manifest Season 4 gave us exactly that. Anyone tuning into the fourth season of a show knows exactly what they’re in for, and getting anything but what you paid for has the chance to be disappointing. The first half of the season wasn’t some divine being’s gift to humanity, but it was Manifest at its Manifest-iest, and therefore a pretty good time.
The same cannot be said about the back half of the season. Showrunner Jeff Rake has spoken about how he originally had a six-season plan in mind when creating the series, and that has never been more clear than in these 10 episodes. The speed at which some major plot points happen is ridiculous to the point of disbelief, and it feels like there are 3 short seasons all shoved into this final run. With a 20-episode total, Season 4 will be Manifest’s longest, and instead of trying to shove everything possible into the last half, there are a lot of elements that should have been cut for time.
High on the list of things that Manifest would have benefited from is a streamlined romantic subplot. What we get is tied to what we see in the first half of the season, but it feels so empty in comparison. None of the romantic relationships have ever been super complex and nuanced, that isn’t the kind of show that Manifest is, but they do need basic development that will make the general audience actually care. The back half of the season is so overstuffed as it is, it’s hard to justify the feeble romantic plotlines we get being there at all.
When it comes to the death date and the passengers, everything feels like filler even though it technically isn’t. As the death date rapidly approaches there is a lack of a sense of urgency, which is wild considering that it is the date of the end of the world. For all that it tries, Manifest will not be able to effectively convince you that God is about to murk the planet, and it just makes the mystery at the center of the story that much less interesting. Three of the 10 Biblical Plagues of Egypt show up for a hot second and fade away with almost no consequences to anyone at all. The few people who do face the consequences of these incidents don’t have any impactful reaction to them, so why even have them happen in the first place? If it was possible to swap out every other reference to the Bible for a B plotline that was actually interesting, it would be a very worthwhile trade.
The hollow buildup leads to a hollow series finale. Without spoiling anything, it’s predictable, and the parts of it that aren’t predictable feel like they are supposed to be meaningful and ultimately fail to be. Manifest really tries to hit home some extra-lite social commentary about caring for others and banding together, and it almost seems too aggressive to say that those moments are devoid of feeling because the implication is too negative. Apathy is a better sentiment, and no one who has enjoyed a TV show for three-and-a-half seasons should be apathetic toward the final episode of the show.
This is not to dismiss the work it takes to create a mystery of any kind, even one that falls flat at the end of whatever investigation it has dragged a set of protagonists into. Mystery-box shows are often overly complex setups for major letdowns. There is a certain amount of disbelief that people are willing to suspend, and once a show has a grasp on what that is for their audience, it isn’t a good idea to push it. Manifest is not Riverdale or Legends of Tomorrow, it cannot do whatever it wants and expect its audience to enjoy the absurd ride it wants to drag them around on, especially when the ride is more boring than anything else.
Were there another season of Manifest on the way, this could have been a passable penultimate season. Instead, the last 10 episodes of the series are dull and repetitive, and it’s hard to tell if the show is moving too fast or too slow (somehow, it’s both). Unlike other shows that have had their lives cut short, I do not think that Manifest deserved another season to get its act together and sculpt a better final season. Season 4 is the longest season in the series, and the writers should have taken advantage of that instead of trying to cram in as much as possible. If you can’t pay for a checked bag, you shouldn’t bring one to the gate and try to frantically smush everything you need into your backpack and your carry-on when they won’t take it on the plane for free. You either have the space or you don’t, and Manifest needed to know what to leave behind.
All 10 Episodes of Manifest Season 4 Part 2 Premiere June 2 on Netflix.
Kathryn Porter is a freelance writer who will talk endlessly about anything entertainment given the chance. You can find her @kaechops on Twitter
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