Manifest creator takes us inside that tense season finale, poses big questions for season 2
Talk about a turbulent ride, Manifest-ers!
After months of love triangles, government surveillance, and enigmatic callings, the first season of the NBC drama came to an explosive finale Monday night, leaving us all with a lot of unanswered questions: Will Zeke survive? Will Jared? Will Michaela?? Will the Stones pack up and head to the beach? Will those gravestones (and the dead Stones underneath them) come to be?
Since waiting around for season 2 next fall for answers is going to be as rough as not knowing where your disappeared loved ones have gone for five and a half years (okay, fine, we exaggerate!), we caught up with Manifest executive producer and creator Jeff Rake for some insight.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with one of the smaller revelations: Grace [Athena Karkanis] is pregnant, and Ben [Josh Dallas] might not be the father…?
JEFF RAKE: We leave it up in the air; that’s for the audience to theorize about. That is a complication that the writers and I had contemplated throughout the season. There was a minute in time where we talked about this happening earlier in the season and not creating an unknown factor. After a lot of thought, we decided that there was a lot of complications already throughout the season, and we kept in in our back pocket. It felt like an appropriate time to play that card, particularly in light of the fact that after a long period of struggle and stress within the marriage, Ben and Grace are finally, by the end of the season, in a really solid place. And that, to us, felt like the appropriate time to throw something challenging and unresolved at them, and we’ll see how it plays out.
Poor Ben, though. I feel like, being the good guy he is, he’ll step up and love the child as his own even if it’s not his.
We’ll see. A lot has been thrown at Ben and he’s tried to work it out with noble intentions, but at some point the weight that you’re carrying on your shoulders becomes too much to bear. So we’ll see how it plays out.
Okay, let’s talk about Griffin and that epic water-spewing scene. How did they make that look so realistic?
We were downtown in Wall Street on set that day, and it was one of the coldest days I can remember. I particularly felt bad for the wonderful Marc Menchaca, who plays Griffin, because it was cold enough already and we were dousing water all over him. That was a cool practical special effect: They hooked up a device — that is sort of an inverted version of that dental rinse spray pump thing — to the side of his face. It was very effective. Then we supplemented it with visual effects, and the combination was very effective. It’s a powerful scene and it’s shocking and cool to look at, but at the same time, it bears a lot of mythological significance, as we see that for mysterious reasons, he has come to an untimely end, and the question is, has he been undone because of his actions?
That was my next question! Did he die because he was about to reveal the power of the callings to the world, or because his time had come and that was always when he was going to die?
That’s something I’m not going to answer. But I’ll restate it back to you in the way that I think about it, that can maybe help viewers deconstruct the mystery and the dilemma in front of our heroes: The question is, on the one hand, did Griffin end up the way he ended up because of what he did over the course of these episodes and therefore was there a cause-and-effect relationship between the way he chose to abuse the calling and what resulted? Or, in fact, was he going to go at this moment because of the numerological significance of the 82 hours and 8 minutes which paralleled his time back? Or both? That’s a fundamental that Ben and others will be struggling with for seasons to come.
So why did the callings even pick Griffin to bring back if he was going to jeopardize their work? Is he just a cog in a bigger machine?
That’s one way of putting it. The question that you just asked assumes the premise that the work of the callings is for a fundamental good, which might be the case, but Ben and Grace theorize back in episode 15 that maybe we’re misinterpreting the callings; maybe there’s not some inherent good here. Rather, there is an ability for them either be utilized for good or bad purposes. The idea that consequences can result from either of those interpretations is again something Ben and others are going to be struggling with. If the callings are inherently good, how does it make sense to give it someone who’s not good? Maybe we can’t assume that the callings have some positive morality associated with them. Maybe it’s just some kind of raw power to be harnessed, and the individuals involved have more agency than they realize when it comes to figuring out what to do with that power.
And now they’ve been confronted with a death day too. Is that something they’re just going to accept? Or are they going to try and defy it?
All of the above. It seems to Ben that there is this death day associated with his return, that they’ve been gone for five and a half years so they have five and a half years back. That poses a number of questions. Number one: How can that be confirmed? It’s a theory; is there anything they can do in season 2 and beyond to either prove or disprove that this is in fact the case? I’m not going to speak to that right now, but that will be an open question going forward. The second question would be: If this is in fact a real thing, can it be undone? Is there some mechanism that Ben and others can utilize to undo what seems to be a potentially sealed fate? Those questions fall in the bucket of those who will actively try to take a run at defining the terms of this date and try to defy it. There will be proactive people within our ensemble who will stop at nothing to get these answers and find a way to overcome them. That’s one school of response. But if this is true for Ben, Cal [Jack Messina], and Michaela [Melissa Roxburgh], and Saanvi [Parveen Kaur], and everyone else we know from the plane, it’s also presumably true for the other 180-something people on that plane.
We’re going to meet a lot more of these people in season 2 and beyond, and one can imagine that in that large group there would be subsets of people who would have very different responses once they come to terms with this concept of only a limited time back. There’ll be the carpe-diem nihilists who will just live in the moment for better or worse; some people will become reckless, some will become lawless, some will try to make up for lost time. It’s that question that’s been asked in other contexts in fiction before, “What would you do if you only had a limited time?” Within our imaginations and our experience of people that we’ve known who have been burdened with a limited time, we know that people will go in all sorts of different directions. For some people it brings out the best inside of us, and for others it brings out the worst. I think we can expect to see a broad cross section of people acting out in a broad cross section of number of ways to process this information.
And Ben has the added burden of whether to tell people all this.
That’s exactly right, and that’ll be one of the first fundamental questions that Ben faces at the top of season 2.
So if the passengers only have five and half years left because that’s how long they were gone, then Zeke [Matt Long] only has one year?
That would stand to reason.
Okay, so if Griffin died the way he was supposed to in the river if the callings hadn’t brought him back, does that mean the passengers and Zeke will die the way they were supposed to too?
That would be a reasonable interpretation.
All right, so the big cliffhanger was Michaela hearing “stop him” and running into Zeke and Jared’s [J.R. Ramirez] fight. Which one of them was she supposed to stop?
We have left that entirely to your interpretation. We’ll have to wait for the B-side to see. We heard the bullet go off, we’ll have to wait and see where it landed.
Did the bullet hit someone, though? Is one of them dead?
That bullet did not hit the ceiling.
Ah! This is torturous. What can you say about Zeke and Michaela’s connection? The definitely had a moment in that episode.
That was a moment. They both were aware of it. I love how that moment ended up playing out. I thought the actors and the directors did a great job. There’s a lot going on, we almost see in real time the bond growing in ways that is surprising to them and powerful, and then yet ultimately overwhelming to them both. The moment is there, and then they both become self-conscious and it breaks. There’s something undeniably palpable and powerful between the two of them, and they’re going to have to figure that out for themselves.
How suspicious should we be of Zeke? There are things he’s hiding…
I’m always trying to play shades of gray within our characters and relationships, and like a lot of characters we got to know this season, Zeke is a gray character. He has a checkered background that he has acknowledged, at least to some extent, and it just begs the question of what constitutes goodness in a person and what constitutes badness? There’s a spectrum there and he lies somewhere in the middle, like others on the show. The calling is a tool that can be used to steer him in one direction or another. That will be one of the questions of season 2, to see if he veers towards the darkness or towards the light.
Did the finale play out the way you always intended, or did anything change over the course of the season?
The board strokes all ended up playing out the way I had intended. I would say we probably spent more time with Saanvi than I had envisioned when I first wrote the script because, like the viewers, all of the writers fell in love with the actress playing the role. We just found her incredibly interesting to watch and we wanted to know more about her, and as a result Saanvi’s character became even more integral to our story. I was somewhat surprised in the first half of the season that a lot of viewers were taking such strong sides in the Ben and Grace of it all. A lot of commenters on social media were particularly critical of Grace in a way that I had not entirely intended. This was another relationship that I intended to play as gray and complicated and I found to my surprise that a lot of people were seeing it more black and white. We certainly took pains in the back half of the season to make sure we firmed up the relationship. We tried very hard to rehabilitate that relationship because I always wanted to tell the story of a marriage that was fundamentally strong and solid and was challenged by a complicated circumstance. I like to think that that’s where the season ended up.
The gray area of the relationships is interesting because I had always just seen Ben and Saanvi as friends, but a lot of fans online are shipping a relationship between them.
I welcome all of that speculation. For me, so much of the dramatic tension of the series lies in the grayness of these relationships. So the fact that people are reading more into certain partnerships or platonic alliances, I think is cool. Once the show airs, the viewers are entitled to their opinions as much as I am. Once it’s out there, we’re all entitled to our beliefs in terms of who is bonding, who is maybe finding chemistry with someone that might be more than what was initially anticipated. Hopefully we have a long life in the series, and some of these theories may play out.