'Manifest' Gets to the "Origin Story" of Its Central Mystery in "Connecting Flights"

Manifest-Publicity-H 2018
Craig Blankenhorn/NBC/Warner Brothers

[This post contains spoilers for the Oct. 22 episode of Manifest, "Connecting Flights."]

In Monday’s hour of Manifest, “Connecting Flights,” the NBC freshman series finally, officially confirmed that young Cal (Jack Messina) was getting mysterious messages that were guiding him, similar to the ones his fellow Flight 828 survivors received — and he first got a sign via a flash of light when he was on the plane.

The episode also flashed back to the five years 828 was missing, as those left behind learned about the plane’s disappearance and struggled to move on. Notably, it shed light on Danny’s (Daniel Sunjata) years-long romance with Grace (Athena Karkanis) and his growing bond with her daughter, Olive (Luna Blaise).

Manifest also had a big week offscreen, as NBC ordered an additional three episodes of the drama. Creator Jeff Rake spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his season one plans, the complicated triangles and where the show goes from here.

Starting with the final moment, what can you share about that light Cal saw and how it will play into the show going forward?

The specific light effect is something I probably shouldn't elaborate on right now. But I will say we think of this moment as the original calling. It's the origin story of the callings that are impacting all of our passengers. We have been following it through the prism of Michaela [Melissa Roxburgh] and Ben [Josh Dallas], and to a lesser extent, some of our other passengers. Now, in episode five, we confirm what we suspected about Cal: In that final moment, we see that Cal is the first passenger to experience a calling. The visual is something that we'll hold on to for now — what he's looking at. But in terms of his utterance, "It's all connected," that’s going to remain not only thematic, but also a pivotal plot point as we move to the next four episodes and beyond.

Is the light something only Cal could see, or if someone else on the plane looked in that direction, would they also have been able to view it?

In our mind, it is something Cal was specifically and singularly meant to experience. I would think about it in terms of something that was intended for Cal's eyes only.

It was mentioned in the episode that it's only been about 10 days since the plane returned. How much time do you anticipate the first season encompassing?

The calendar of season one is fairly compressed. We stay within the first three weeks or so throughout the first nine episodes, [which is] when we go off the air in the fall with our [fall] finale. When we come back in January, there will be a small passage of time; episode 10 takes place about 10 days after episode nine. And then from there until our season finale in [episode] 16, it'll only be a matter of probably two weeks. So season one all transpires, basically, within six weeks of return. You can expect a greater passage of time when we come back for our [not yet ordered] second season.

How are you contending with the real passage of time, especially in the case of your younger actors growing up in real life? How is that impacting the story you might be telling?

That is a complicating reality. We will do the best we can. We hope the physical world, somehow, lines up with the story we want to tell. If necessary, we would adjust accordingly. We’re hopeful we have more time with Jack embodying the idea of a 10-year-old. But when we come back in season two, it'll be organic to our storytelling that he's gotten bigger and older.

Given you know how the series ends, are you pre-taping any of those reveals — or other key moments — now before Jack ages out of Cal’s plane age?

It would be cool if we could bank footage right now to come back to down the line. One of the storytelling strategies we've been adhering to, and hope to adhere to, is to marry flashback elements — specifically things that happened on or around the plane — to events that are happening in real time. Ideally, we'll be able to do that down the line. But you're certainly right; we may reach a tipping point where we would no longer have the opportunity to organically flash back to the plane, with our youngest actors. [It's] TBD. You're pointing to a tricky issue with the confluence of production and storytelling.

Looking to storytelling, what goals did you have with the deeper dive into Danny’s relationship with the Stone family in the flashbacks?

I talk about the show as, among other things, exploring the concept of infidelity without moral culpability. I think that’s very much in play with the Danny story here. It's our goal to be portraying a grounded, real-life scenario of what might transpire in a household when a family has been spread apart and inexplicably brought back together. In my mind, this story of Grace and Danny is right at the center of that.

We don't blame Grace for moving on; how can we? Nor can we blame Ben for being upended and torn apart by the fact that this man, Danny, took on such a significant role within the family unit. Nor can we blame Danny for feeling emotionally connected to Grace and Olive and feeling a need to stay a part at least of Olive’s life. The goal here was to portray a family dynamic where everyone is standing with the angels. There are no villains within such a triangle; we understand all of their points of view, and there is no right or wrong, at least in terms of everything up to date. The question of right or wrong starts now.

From this point forward, what is the appropriate course of action? To what extent does Ben owe it to his daughter and wife to let this guy continue to let this guy continue to have a role in the family? To what extent does Danny have the obligation to step back and let the former family find its footing and become its own thing again without his interference? I think of this episode, where we tell this origin story of Danny and bring it up to present day, as a reset. It's going forward where we can judge these characters based on the decisions they make. We'll see more of Danny and this uncomfortable tug of war play out in real time.

Olive is in many ways at the center of the Ben-Danny dynamic, and she made it clear to her mother that she viewed Danny as a second father. How will she play into things?

Part of the story we're telling involves Olive's ability to recover from her years of trauma in the aftermath [of the plane going missing]. We explained she has had a lot of emotional issues as she battled depression, she’s been medicated, she has been battling a lot of demons. The idea is Danny was quite pivotal in helping her navigate a path back to mental health. He became an important emotional figure. That meant a lot to her and continues to mean a lot to her. That’s a metaphor for children who have grown up in divorce or separation and have had to deal with the conflicted feelings of being bonded to another adult figure who is not their birth parent. But part of the story here is for a lot of families, the non-traditional blended parenting ... is often very helpful and needed. We tried to honor both sides of that equation.

Ben isn’t the only Stone sibling with a triangle: Michaela is still connected to her former boyfriend Jared (J.R. Ramirez), and his now-wife/Michaela’s best friend Lourdes (Victoria Cartagena) seems to be picking up on the bond. What comes next for that trio?

As we saw in episode five, Jared has been willing to put himself on the line, professionally, for Michaela. He’s wearing his heart on his sleeve. She’s such an important person in his life that he’s willing to risk his career to protect her. We’ll see him continue to move in that direction, in a way that will prove challenging to protecting his career and his very safety.

In terms of their personal life, and the complicated romantic triangle that exists between Michaela, Jared and Lourdes, it all moves to an even more complicated place as Jared goes deeper down the rabbit hole with Michaela to solve these underlying mysteries. They gradually get closer, and his increased acts of loyalty and selflessness will tug at Michaela’s heartstrings. By the time we get to the fall finale, they’re going to find themselves unable to deny the emotional pull. And that will take us to the most complicated and morally complex plateau they’ve been to since we first met them.

The last few episodes have focused on Flight 828’s stowaway. Now that he’s gotten to safety, is that chapter closed? If so, what other passenger stories are ahead?

The chapter of the stowaway is done for now. That story was part of our continuing to explore the backstory of other people on the plane and how their lives, unexpectedly, touch our core group of passengers. Thomas, the stowaway, was the first new passenger who we hadn’t already been familiar with when we came out of the pilot. He was the next layer of the onion to be peeled, in terms of characters we didn’t know about. Once we get to episode six, we’re going to meet another passenger who will be brand new to us [and] who will be a mystery to even the core passengers we know. He and a small group of other passengers will be the focus of episodes six through nine, as we come to discover, to quote Cal, it’s all connected.

What else has you excited about the next batch of episodes?

Ben thought he had a comprehensive list of the passengers add their whereabouts. He’s going to discover there’s a gaping hole. And that’s going to prove quite pivotal.

Manifest airs Mondays at 10/9c on NBC.