'Manifest' vs 'Lost': 5 lessons NBC's missing plane drama can learn from cult-favorite 'The Lost'
Hatched from the brain of Jeff Rake, the series tackles the aftermath of a missing plane situation — Montego Air Flight 828 — that lands after a turbulent but routine flight.
Four years ago, when the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing vanished into thin air, people around the world were left baffled. Media reports dubbed the incident the greatest aviation mystery and till date, every now and then, there is a curious update about the missing plane that had 239 people on board.
The memory of this incident might be refreshed this fall when NBC premieres its upcoming drama, 'Manifest' that premieres on September 24 at 10 pm. Hatched from the brain of Jeff Rake, the series tackles the aftermath of a missing plane situation — Montego Air Flight 828 — that lands after a turbulent but seemingly routine flight. What the 191 passengers and crew on board the flight didn't know until the landing is that more than five years have passed since the time their plane went missing mid-flight, thus setting up the plot for a high-concept drama.
One may even say that the premise of the upcoming series is in the veins of a certain cult-favorite show called 'The Lost'. During the six-seasons-long airtime of the ABC series (from 2004-2010), revolving around the struggles of the surviving passengers stranded on an island after the plane's crash, 'The Lost' not only found a devoted fan-following but also a place in the good books of the critics. So much so that eight years since the series finale, speculations surrounding a Lost revival is still rife.
There are possibly a dozen reasons responsible for the show's success, the high concept drama, the complexity of its narrative, the introduction of sci-fi elements ahead of its time, and the grappling backstories of the characters involved. While all these qualities might be (almost) a decade old, their relevance in terms of lending the necessary intrigue to the plot remains undebatable, especially when it comes to a setting as similar as that of Manifest.
Between a missing plane drama and the resulting impact on a bunch of hand-picked individuals, it's obvious that there will be parallels drawn between the two series. We certainly don't mind the comparisons - and neither does series creator Rake, but hopefully, the NBC series will be mindful of these vital lessons that 'The Lost' has left behind.
Concept of the overlapping timelines
In 2018, there are at least a hundred shows/movies dabbling in the concept of knotty time structure and overlapping timelines. In fact, the peacock network's very own family drama — 'This Is Us' — has a similar premise, following the story of the Pearson family across three generations with each arc unfolding simultaneously. Upcoming Avengers movie, the 'Infinity War' sequel is also expected to play heavily with the concept of time, perhaps even involving some time travel.
Indeed all of these serve as fodder for riveting television drama, something that 'The Lost' had introduced way back in 2004. Instead of employing flashbacks and flashforwards, the show used flash-sideways, alternating between the current series of events and those in an alternate future. It was Lost's way of establishing an afterlife based on the experiences of the characters from their time on the island, which was very real BTW.
Whether or not 'Manifest' will follow suit, it is yet to be seen. But it surely won't hurt to borrow the flash-sideways to explain the missing time, when key characters Michaela (Melissa Roxburgh ), Ben Stone (Josh Dallas), Saanvi (Parveen Kaur), Grace Stone (Athena Karkanis), and Olive (Luna Blaise) are lost in an inexplicable nowhere.
During an episode of 'The Lost Boys podcast', co-host Jacob Stolworthy argued how 'The Lost' added to its appeal with its lateral complexity. At any given point, a ton of sub-plots would be unraveling alongside the main island-centric storyline in the ABC drama. “Those who liked Lost absolutely loved it and pored over its every detail. They still go on about it as fondly today,” he said.
And indeed 'The Lost' was high on introducing recurring elements and motifs. On the surface, these aspects didn't have any direct bearing on the show but it would go on to add to the show's literary subtext. From dysfunctional family, backgrounds to use of black-and-white to denote dualism and internal conflict, and apocalyptic references, the symbolism was in abundance and added complexity to the ongoing narrative.
How and when 'Manifest' can pick up from these references is yet to be seen. But there is plenty of opportunities, given the ensuing conflicts that evolve following the plane's return after a period of five years.
Backstory of the fated passengers
Usually, in the scheme of such sci-fi oriented drama, an emotional connection with the occurrences is established with the help of personal struggles and backstories. 'The Lost' had a stock of such arcs, whether it is Desmond Hume's efforts towards preventing an unknown catastrophic event or Kate's dysfunctional family background or even the unspoken war between Jack and Locke, the narrative was rife with feelings that connected the real with the reel.
Just the same way 'Manifest' is setting up the plot, focussing more on the various relationships than the mythology or any possible government conspiracy. As Rake teases, "Manifest is inspired by 'This is Us'. Manifest is inspired by so many of the great relationship dramas that we've enjoyed on television over the years and I'm taking great pains in the storytelling to present a very grounded, relatable version of what would happen, should something as mystifying as a disappeared plane suddenly returning."
Element of mystery
Indeed, viewers will be looking forward to the implication of the incident on the personal lives of the passengers and the crew but that doesn't mean 'Manifest' can't allude to mystical and mythical elements while explaining the plane's disappearance.
One interesting such element in 'The Lost' was the Smoke Monster, an unseen entity that roamed the jungles. Also, there was a mysterious group of inhabitants on the island called "The Others". Together, these subtexts kept the intrigue and the curiosity alive.
The conflict between science and faith
How do you explain the disappearance of an entire aircraft or the survival on a remote island? Is it a product of some unknown organization or did the earth gulped down a flight full of passengers? The highlight of any high concept drama is the friction between what one sees and what one believes.
In the trailer for the NBC series, 'Manifest, the survivors discuss that they might be the chosen few for a reason, leaning towards faith, which is immediately contrasted with the hallucinations and the voices in the heads.
At the heart of both shows, is a cryptic storyline. And if Lost's success is any proof, such complex and evoking narrative often heightens the drama, encouraging curious questions from viewers, even long after the show has come to an end.