Manifest: Point of No Return

"If we're gonna find these people, we're gonna do it by working together."

It is sometimes said that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."  But are they, really?  By making friends with an enemy of your enemy, you always run the risk that the enemy of your enemy is also your enemy.  However, sometimes you don't have any better options.  If you're lucky, the enemy of your enemy will turn out to be, well, if not quite your friend, at least someone you can do honest business with.

Which brings us to the curious collaboration of undercover accountant Ben Stone and NSA Deputy Director Robert Vance.

But first, there are a few other subplots to take care of.  The precinct captain sends Michaela to the roof of a synagogue where another 828 passenger, Harvey, is threatening to jump--and she gets a calling at the same moment: "Don't lose him."  He keeps saying that "people are dying" and that he's the cause of it.  She does everything she can to talk him down, but he throws himself off the building.

Michaela and Jared go to Harvey's apartment, where they find "I AM THE ANGEL OF DEATH" spray-painted on the bedroom wall, and clippings of two obituaries.  It turns out that Harvey spent the previous Monday drinking in the local pub, and telling anyone who would listen about the callings.  Two of his drinking buddies died within the next couple of days--one staggered out into the street with a stratospheric blood alcohol content and got hit by a bus, the other died of an undiagnosed heart problem--and Harvey came to believe that he caused them to die.

Though there's a rational explanation for everything that happened, and Harvey was clearly not thinking rationally, Michaela becomes convinced that he was right, starts kicking herself because she "failed the calling," and worries that Jared and Grace are at risk because they've been let in on the secret.  This is probably driven by some residual guilt over her role in Evie's death, and it doesn't help Michaela's emotional state when the pub's bartender dies in a freak accident with a power line and Michaela learns that Jared and Lourdes are trying to start a family.

It's Cal's first day back at school--a K-12 charter school that Olive also attends--and in contrast to his aunt's story arc, nothing bad happens.  Cal ends up eating lunch with his old friends, and trading Doritos for string cheese just like back in the day.

Ben and Grace also make time for a Friday night date which goes off perfectly, and really advances their relationship's story arc.

Now for the big part: Vance enlists Ben's help in understanding the SP data, and they set aside their mutual suspicions and get to work.  With a little help from Fiona Clarke, they determine that the experimenters are using "electro-cortical stimulation" to try to replicate the callings, and that this procedure is extremely dangerous to the folks on the receiving end. Ben social-engineers his overstressed supervisor Jar-Jar Ronnie into delegating some UDS work to him so he can comb through the property records and locate the new secret lab.

Fiona plants a bug in the SP office, and then Vance has Ben run a search for "Singularity Project + Experiments + Flight 828" on the accounting firm's VPN that connects it to UDS.  This stirs up SP enough that Vance overhears (via the bug) a mention of Brooklyn.  Ben can't find where UDS acquired any Brooklyn property, but that's because the electronic property records are a couple months' out of date.  Ben swipes Ronnie's UDS building pass and pays the company a late-night visit.  In the real estate department, he locates the building in among the un-scanned files.

It's a good thing he does, because the episode ends as Marko is being hooked up to the electrodes again.

"828" Watch

The arc number is seen on a computer screen when Ronnie is looking at an 828 fansite, and on some of the magazine clippings in Harvey's apartment.

Also on the manifest....

This week's gold star for acting goes to Rich Topol, who played Harvey.  He only had the one scene, but he put a lot of depth into his portrayal of a broken man.

Interesting that Harvey's scene took place on the roof of the synagogue he attended all his life.  Another example of how Manifest isn't hostile to faith as a lot of popular culture can be.

What do you suppose the incidence of mental illness is among the 828 passengers?  I'd expect it to be much higher than the general population.

Director Vance has been an adversary to the passengers, and probably could have accomplished more by openly approaching people rather than going through all the surveillance and subterfuge, but give the man credit for one thing: he has always acknowledged that the 828 passengers have all the civil rights of any other citizen.  In one of the early episodes, he shot down a proposal to imprison the passengers indefinitely for just that reason.  He also expresses a degree of regret to Ben for treating the passengers with suspicion.  Respect for civil rights and a willingness to admit mistakes are good attitudes to have in a government officer.

Jar-Jar Binks Ronnie Wilcox complains that GE UDS is "slow as ass to update their records."  Sounds about right.  Organizations tend to become less efficient, and more rigid, and more unpleasant to deal with or be in, as they get bigger.  That's one reason I'd rather work for a company with twenty employees than one that has twenty thousand.

Ben ran that cage-rattling search from his work desk, then used Ronnie's RFID building pass to get in to UDS.  If  someone at UDS or SP or whoever is behind the experiments starts seriously looking for who is trying to spy on them--well, I would not want to be Ronnie or his life insurance carrier when that happens.  If something awful does happen to Ronnie, it's going to hit Ben pretty hard.  He doesn't particularly like "my idiot supervisor," but the guy's not evil or anything, just annoying.  Ben does not strike me as the sort who can be indifferent to the sight of an innocent (albeit annoying) bystander becoming collateral damage on account of Ben's actions.

Last episode I thought Ben and Saanvi were awfully quick to trust Fiona Clarke, but so far it seems she's one of the good guys and they've made the right decision.  Emphasis on the "so far" part.  That enigmatic comment to Kelly from last episode's flashback--"This flight isn't happening to you, it's happening for you."--still has my spider senses at DEFCON 4.

I can't shake the feeling that Ben's espionage tradecraft is a little too minor-league to be so successful so quickly.  For Heaven's sake, man, at least read some Tom Clancy before you try running with the big dogs!

Does anyone at The Singularity Project or the agency behind it do periodic sweeps for listening devices?   If they do, Fiona's fingerprints are all over that bug, and her insurance carrier will have reason to be nervous.  If they don't, well, all I can say is that's pretty pathetic operational security for evil conspirators engaged in diabolical avant garde experiments on human subjects.  Doesn't anyone read their Tom Clancy any more?  (These kids today!  No appreciation for great literature.  Grumble, grumble....)

Quotes

Michaela, to Ben: "Your family needs a new normal.  Let Cal go to school.  Focus on your wife.  You are lucky that you have her."

Cal, to his old lunchmate: "Are you gonna make a Dorito sandwich?"

Vance, to Ben: "I suppose this foolish bravery thing of yours is rubbing off on me."

Michaela, to Jared: "What if it's the universe pulling the strings?"

Conclusion

The Ben-Grace date night subplot, Cal's first day at school, and Michaela's reaction to Harvey's jump and the deaths of his bar buddies, were all well done and very believable.  I also like the idea of Vance and Ben working together.  It makes perfect sense that Vance would approach Ben, and keep that collaboration on the down-low, given what Vance knows.  However, the whole undercover-accountant arc still feels rushed.  It should have been stretched out over at least one more episode, unfolding at a slower pace, and Ben should have gotten a calling or two to help him navigate the situation, or had at least one good solid gasp-inducing close call along the way.  I also think the writing on the wall in Harvey's apartment was a bit too Criminal Minds for this show and that subplot.  Nevertheless, the pieces are in place for a slam-bang mid-season twist in the next episode.

Two point seven five out of four purloined RFID building passes for the undercover Ben plot arc; three out of four Dorito sandwiches for the rest of it.

In his day job, Baby M does not work with Jar-Jar Binks or anyone remotely like him.  Which is a good thing.

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I think I'm ready for some sort of explanation of what is going on here, while I realize that it might not come until the show has run for several seasons. This isn't good. :)

I liked Cal going to school and sitting with his old friends, all of whom are five years older than he is. It was much better than what I expected, which was massive rejection and rude curiosity. Olive was looking out for him. Good for her.

Patrick said...

I agree Billie, it was refreshingly sweet to see Cal's old friends act so warmly towards him. Olive is definitely one of my favorite characters on the show. This show seems to be very good at avoiding the expectations of both sci-fi shows and normal dramas, or at least putting a fresh spin on them. The Michaela/Lourdes/Jared triangle is the closest to "stereotypical" they get, and even that has managed to avoid feeling like a Lifetime movie. I just wish Jared & Lourdes were more interesting as characters.