Manifest: Off Radar

"Pomogni mi!"

You know that funny feeling you get when you go down a rabbit hole and don't see the rabbit? This week, we get to chase Ben down just such a hole, discover a bit more about Cal's newfound abilities, (finally!) let a couple of non-passengers in on the secret of the callings, experience a plot twist or two, and learn some conversational Bulgarian.

Our story begins at at o-dark-thirty, when Cal's fever dream wakes everyone up.  He has a temperature of 103 and he's shouting "Pomogni mi!", "Make it stop!" and "Not the red door!"

At the hospital, Cal's primary care physician works feverishly to get Cal's temperature down while Saanvi, Ben, and Michaela quickly figure out that Cal's utterances are a calling of a sort. Saanvi remembers that one of the other passengers used the phrase "pomogni mi" when he was looking for someone to help him with his customs form.  That particular gentleman is a Bulgarian named Marko.

Marko is one of a busload of people from the flight who left the hangar on a government-supplied bus and just disappeared.  Actually, they're being held in a secret location, being experimented upon by some researchers from a large corporation called Unified Dynamic Systems.  It would be an understatement to say that UDS is not complying with HHS regulations governing research on human subjects.  When Marko gets zapped by the electroshock machine and cries out for help, Cal echoes it.

Ben goes on one of his trademark analytical binges and figures out that the bus is hidden in upstate New York.  Michaela ropes Jared into going with her to look for it.  They come across a barn with a red door, guarded by what Jared calls "a bunch of Blackwater wannabees" with automatic weapons.  In the midst of this adventure, Michaela finally tells Jared about the callings.  He seems remarkably comfortable with the concept.

Ben takes a photo Michaela shot of the barn and a missing passenger and goes to the NSA offices to confront Director Vance, demanding to know where Marko and the others are, and threatening to go to the press.  Vance and his aides profess to know nothing about any of this, and Ben is escorted out.

We've all seen this trope play out dozens of times.  After being confronted by the hero, and denying everything, this is the part where the evil government conspirators are supposed say something along the lines of "he knows too much, we have to [insert favorite euphemism for murder here]."

Except not here--Vance and his aides really don't know what Ben is talking about.  There is indeed an evil government conspiracy, but it's occurring in a different department, not the NSA.  Vance sets out to find out what the rival agency is up to, and gets close enough that UDS shuts down the operation in the barn and relocates to another black site.  This interrupts Marko's torture, and when that happens, Cal's fever spontaneously breaks and he stops having Bulgarian-language nightmares.

At the end, Ben is puzzled.  He followed the calling, and thinks that he's accomplished nothing--not realizing that the chain of events he set in motion did bring Marko some relief.  Of course, when UDS gets back up and running, it won't be good for Cal.

The best part of the episode, however, is the interaction of Ben and Grace.  He's driven by a strong need to do something to help his son, and maybe a little OCD on top of that; Grace is emotionally brittle and needs Ben to stay and be supportive instead of racing off looking for answers.  They have a series of pointed discussions which feel absolutely natural because both of them are at least partly right, and both have the best of intentions, yet they are hurting each other.  In the course of one discussion, he reads Grace in on the callings, but she's too upset to fully comprehend what he's saying.

"828" Watch

The number appears on the backdrop at the "Flight 828 Investigative Forum," a gathering of scientist-pundits who apparently like to hear themselves talk.

Also on the manifest.....

"Pomogni mi" is Bulgarian for "help me."

This show has some darned good acting and directing, and pays attention to little details.  Jack Messina, who plays Cal, and Nikolai Tsankov, who plays Marko, did an outstanding job of matching movements and posture in the scenes where they are having parallel episodes.  Athena Karkanis (Grace) also gets a gold star for her excellent performance in this episode.

Government departments and their inhabitants prioritizing what Vance calls "inter-agency sack races" over their stated mission and the public interest?  Is that really a thing?  You bet it is.  Happens all the time; much more than most politicians and career civil servants would ever admit.  Ask me how I know.

Unified Dynamic Systems, which (according to Jared and Michaela) makes microwaves, washing machines, jet engines, mouthwash, and lots more, sells insurance, and has tons of government contracts might look a lot to you at first glance like General Electric, which makes microwaves, washing machines, jet engines, and lots more, runs its own investment bank, and has tons of government contracts, but they're absolutely, totally, and in all other ways completely different and it's inconceivable anyone would think otherwise.

A "unified dynamic system" would be one in which every element of the system would interact with all the other elements--in other words, one in which "it's all connected."  So, is "it's all connected" just a reference to General Electric Unified Dynamic Systems, or is there another layer?

In 2013, Unified Dynamic Systems General Electric co-owned NBCUniversal (parent company of the NBC television network) with Comcast.  GE sold its stake in NBCUniversal to Comcast that year, and so now, in 2018, NBCUniversal is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Comcast.  Is the timeline of Flight 828's adventure, combined with an expy of GE as a villain in the fictional universe, a meta-level reference to the network's corporate history?

I can't help but notice something annoying.  In the last few episodes, at least one of the regular characters has been absent.  In "Unclaimed Baggage," Cal didn't appear on screen, and was said to be off camping with his grandfather.  Saanvi was mentioned, but never seen (apart from a still photo), in "Connecting Flights."  This week, when Cal went into his first Marko-channeling episode, it was mentioned in passing that Olive was on a sleepover at a friend's house.  Plausible enough, I suppose, but then she's absent for the whole rest of the episode.  Her beloved twin brother may be on his deathbed, and she doesn't come to the hospital to see him?  Not what you'd expect for this character the way she's been presented so far.  After three episodes in a row where someone's conspicuously absent, I suspect this is a consequence of budget constraints: the production company budgeted $X per episode for guest stars, but if the episode script calls for guest stars that will cost $X+Y, they cut one of the regulars to stay in budget.  C'mon, guys, either bump up the acting budget (the ratings to date certainly justify it) or at least think through all the details when breaking the story.

Who in the devil is Fiona Clarke?--apart from being the second of the "828-ers" to pop up on a television newscast in the background of a scene.

No Biblical references the last three episodes; at least, none that I picked up on.

When characters use the acronym "UDS," it sounds to my ears awfully close to "UDF," the initials of United Dairy Farmers, a chain of convenience stores operating in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky.  A convenience store serving as a front for a government black site?  Pretty daring concept if you ask me.

Quotes

Scientist at the Flight 828 Investigative Forum: "Of course it's a wormhole."  Said in a tone of voice reminiscent of the "triple dog dare" playground confrontation in A Christmas Story.

Ben: "I don't know if I can explain. I don't think you would believe me if I could.  I know I wouldn't."
Grace: "Have you not been following the news story about the dead people who came back to life on a magic airplane?  I'm ready to believe just about anything at this point."

Ben:  "Buses don't just disappear."
Saanvi:  "Why not?  Happens to airplanes."

Conclusion

This was probably the show's best episode since the pilot, perfectly balancing the myth arc with the personal relationships.  We're about due for the mid-season twist, and it will be interesting to see what that twists the show into.

Three and a half out of four fictional corporations with obvious real-life counterparts.

Baby M is not a shareholder of either GE or Comcast.

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Baby M, what an enjoyable review. I loved all of the links. And I'm indeed going to ask you how you know. :)

I found myself frustrated with Grace despite the fact that every single thing she did and said was totally justified. Do I just not like the actress? Am I identifying only with Ben and Michaela and Saanvi, and not seeing Grace's side of things?

I really, really did like the twist that Vance didn't know WTF was going on. I expected Ben to leave the room and for the mustache-twirling to commence.

Baby M said...

How do I know? My father was an elected official, and I spent a few years in government service before moving to the private sector.