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.