“Manifest,” An Ethics TV Series Unethically Cancelled By NBC


In the era of streaming, nothing is more annoying than a TV series having its final episode be a cliffhanger, with no resolution because the series was cancelled. Right now, it looks like NBC’s time- and ethics-warping missing plane drama “Manifest” will join the cursed group of shows forced into being cruel teases forevermore. Yesterday, NBC ended the series after its third season of what was planned to be a six-season epic. Sure enough, the final installment was a special two-hour cliff-hanger that raised more questions than were already lingering, since “Manifest” is a “Lost”-style many-layered mystery. To make things worse, the first two seasons were just unveiled on Netflix, where audiences were sucked in and have made it an instant hit. Presumably Season Three will arrive on Netflix soon, but I, for one, don’t start watching movies that I know will be missing the final reel, reading novels that have had the last three chapters ripped out, or following a baseball season that I know will be cut short by a player strike.

“Manifest” premiered in September of 2018, and focuses on Montego Air Flight 828 from Jamaica to the US, which lands safely after flying through a frightening storm that appeared without warning and vanished just as quickly. When the crew and passengers land and disembark, they learn that in the span of a few hours, five and a half years have passed for their friends, families,colleagues, and the rest of the world. (Yes, it sounds like a “Twilight Zone” episode.) A 10-year-old boy finds that his twin sister is now 15. A woman on the plane, prepared to accept her boyfriend’s proposal of marriage, finds that he married her best friend years ago. The woman’s bother learns that his wife is romantically involved with a man whom she met at her bereavement group. And he’s bigger and better looking than he is…

The ethics problems created by these and other developments were more than enough for me, though the writers’ handling of them was not always ethically competent. The father of the woman whose former love is married to her best friend, for example, advises her to “fight” for the man she loves, meaning “break up their marriage.” Is this a Golden Rule situation? Does the Golden Rule help when all parties involved are in situations that have no precedent? Is it an absolutist situation, governed by Kant’s Rule of Universality: You don’t break up a marriage just because you feel mistreated by fat; what if everybody did that? But her former boyfriend feels that he was cheated by forces he doesn’t understand too. Does that justify betraying his wife? Or is there a special time warp exception that justifies voiding a previously happy marriage? Whe his daughter expressed ethical objections to his advice, he says, “If I found out your mother had married another man, I’d have done everything in my power to get her back.”

Pop Ethics Quiz: Which rationalizations was he using?

The show raises theological issues as well, along with giving us government plots, mad scientists, supernatural beings, and the specter of something cosmically sinister at work. But I’m not watching another episode until I know that “Manifest” will have an ending.

9 thoughts on ““Manifest,” An Ethics TV Series Unethically Cancelled By NBC

  1. If the show is a hit on Netflix, Netflix may buy it and continue it. Canceling shows that ended a season on a cliffhanger is so common with Science Fiction shows that it is practically a trope of the genre. Firefly, Dark Matter, Farscape, Revolution, The Expanse….the list goes on. Sometimes the programs are later given a movie to complete them, sometimes a different network picks them up, and sometimes they just end. It is infuriating.

    I love SciFi television, but I won’t watch it until it’s finished being made anymore. I hate being teased with a great story that just never gets finished, and SciFi does this so often that the programs that don’t get canceled midway through are the outliers.

    • One of the very best Netflix series, Mindhunters, has been suspended after two of what was supposed to be 5 seasons. The writer-director decided he wanted to do other projects.

  2. (shrug) If it’s not pulling in the ratings, or profitable, you can’t blame them for ending it. If I had a nickel for every series that ended without a resolution, I’d be doing ok. Automan was ahead of its time, Wizards and Warriors sucked, Buck Rogers’ second season was cut short by a writers’ strike and when they resumed it had lost its audience, Grady never found an audience, Time Trax suffered from awful writing, Seaquest 2020 was a bad idea from the start, Law and Order Trial by Jury was a novel idea, but didn’t work (also lost Jerry Orbach early on).

    • “Everybody does it.” There’s no reason every season can’t wrap up and leave a clean slate for the next season. For decades, that what all TV shows did. On Netflix, “Stranger Things” wrapped up each season sufficiently that you wouldn’t have been hanging if there was nothing else.

    • Ten plane passengers awake to find that everyone else on their Boston-bound jet has vanished.

      “The Langoliers” (1995)) was a two-parter for ABC, directed and scripted by Tom Holland (Fright Night, 1985), based on Stephen King’s novella in his anthology, “Four Past Midnight.” It had – for the characters – an interesting variety of bewilderments at the beginning, a fraught thinking-man’s what-would-you-do-if… middle, and a swift but surprising (and, on reflection, satisfying) ending, It also had a single fatal flaw of the kind that made me throw my last tv set in the garbage (small tv, large can) which was neither King’s nor Holland’s fault, but like the illustrators of cheap novels, the artists who designed the Langolier creatures themselves never read either novella nor script and seem to have been fixated on Pacmen with … never mind. It’s a small thing compared to the story which was, now I come to think of it, more science fiction than horror or maybe the best of both worlds. Creatures in both genres should always be read, seldom heard, and never seen by grown ups.

      And Null Pointer is correct, I think, in assuming that Netflix will undoubtedly tie your “Manifest’ up neatly . . .or else stretch it into a five-year series beginning with the childhoods of the passengers they will have already focused upon and spawning spin-offs as necessary. They have money to burn – the virus that isn’t quiiite gone is responsible for the spike in profits and will probably maintain a good deal of it while people continue to avoid theaters and tire of all two thousand forty-seven tv channels. They have discovered the perfection of diverting the stream coming through the computer so it flows through their tv sets

      Don’t give up yet, Jack!.

  3. ARRGH!!!

    My wife and I just started watching this on Netflix this past weekend.

    The show is a reasonably interesting SciFi show. I’m a big fan of SciFi that has something to do with time. I hope Netflix takes it and finishes it.

  4. The number of shows that I can remember that had noble, natural endings is far between and few in number. Most long running episodic shows “jump the shark”. By far, most serial shows are cut short. My cynical self seems to parallel a number of other opinions here. I try not to get invested early. Too much pain, man, too much pain. I have enough pain 🙂 I want good fiction to escape with that has low acquisition cost (power on, click, click, click, watch) as I am sure many of us do.

    While the major TV networks have a worse record to date, I don’t think it will take much time for Netflix and other streaming services to catch up. Netflix has already canceled (this month/end of last) a new and recent series I was silly enough to binge-watch that debuted in May.

    Why do I never learn?

    • This is a streaming issue now. If a streaming service is going to promote a series that ends incomplete, it should include a warning to that effect from the start. Otherwise it’s false advertising.

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