Manifest: Upgrade

"Faith is compromised by pessimism, Alice.  Let's be optimistic.  Put the gun down."

In the first 90 seconds or so of this episode, both Zeke and Cal have the same calling, a vivid vision of a very unfriendly black wolf.  It's a metaphor, but a metaphor for what? or who?

While Ben and Michaela and Zeke are discussing the wolf metaphor, Saanvi gets a visit at her office from a lady named Alice who bears no small resemblance to Kathy Bates.  Alice's husband Jacob has cancer, they've been told it's not treatable, and she's desperate and obviously distraught.  Even though Saanvi is a researcher and doesn't normally treat adults, she takes pity on Alice and agrees to go see Jacob.

Jacob's cancer is too far gone, but Alice is a Believer and is convinced that Saanvi has mystical Flight 828 powers that allow her to cure the incurable.  Alice also has misinterpreted Stephen King's Misery as a how-to book, and when Saanvi tries to leave Alice whacks her across the face and then pulls a gun on her.  (It also has apparently not occurred to her that beating up or shooting one of the 828 passengers might be the Believer equivalent of sacrilege.)   Jacob, to his credit, tries to talk his wife into releasing Saanvi, but Alice is too emotionally overclocked to listen to reason.

"I exploit you/Still you love me...."
When he hears that workaholic Saanvi can't be found in the hospital and is missing appointments, Ben's spider senses kick in.  He manages to identify Alice as Saanvi's last visitor, and tie her in to The Church of the Returned.  The Church is a storefront congregation of Believers presided over by fellow 828 passenger Adrian, last seen a few episodes ago, who has started a new career as an object of worship.  Based on his conversations with Ben, it's pretty obvious to us in the audience that Adrian is deliberately running a scam.

With a little help from the search tools in the NYPD database, Ben and Michaela locate Alice's apartment.  Ben rather cleverly talks his way in and, by pretending to be there to help Saanvi perform an 828 miracle, distracts Alice enough that Michaela can disarm her and end the standoff.

On the romantic triangle front, Lourdes notices a certain lack of enthusiasm on Jared's part (IYKWIMAITTYD) and deduces that he had a dalliance with Michaela.  She goes to the police station to confront her now-former friend, and it goes about as badly as you'd expect.

While all this is going on, Zeke tries to make sense of the wolf by talking to Cal.  Cal is in a bit of a funk because he is worried that the callings come true because of his drawings.  Zeke and Grace help set him straight by, among other things, having him draw a picture of a pile of money on the family dining table.  After the cash fails to materialize, Cal draws a picture of the wolf jumping at Michaela.

As the episode ends, Michaela is called to the river.  Four days earlier, while our protagonists were up in the Catskills looking for Cal, there was an armored car robbery, followed by a high-speed chase, followed by the getaway vehicle plunging into the East River.  The divers have finally located the van in question, and a crane fishes it out of the river.  When Michaela opens the driver's door, expecting to find a corpse, the driver lunges at her.

"828" Watch

The arc number is all over the Church of the Returned, of course.  Lourdes and Jared's house number is 3528, which if you add the first two digits (3+5) is an "828" sighting.

Also on the manifest...

This week's gold star for acting goes to Parveen Kaur for a short scene near the end of the episode where Saanvi's post-Alice PTSD hits her like a ton of bricks.

The black wolf is obviously a CGI visual effect, just not-real enough to take up residence in the Uncanny Valley. Where's this Uncanny Valley, you might ask?  TV Tropes explains:
In 1970 Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori proposed in "The Uncanny Valley" that the more human a robot acted or looked, the more endearing it would be to a human being. . . . However, at some point, the likeness seems too strong and yet somehow, fundamentally different — and it just comes across as a very strange human being. At this point, the acceptance drops suddenly, changing to a powerful negative reaction.
Source: TV Tropes article "Uncanny Valley"
That's why zombies are more frightening than Daleks.  It's also why the human characters in the Incredibles and Toy Story films are stylized and cartoony even though the settings and other objects on screen are rendered realistically: stylizing the CGI people keeps them from falling into the Uncanny Valley and alienating the audience.

Might the Wolf of Uncanny Valley have been a deliberate choice on the part of the VFX crew, and not a special effects fail?  If they'd simply rented a trained wolf and had it look menacing and growl in front of the camera, it would have looked like . . . a trained wolf growling.  Your mileage may vary, of course, but for me the Uncanny Valley effect makes the CGI wolf more unsettling than a live wolf would be.

(It also occurs to me that "The Wolf of Uncanny Valley" would be a good name for a heavy metal song or a Twilight-wanabee young adult book series.)

There were some throwaway references to the armored car robbery in the last two episodes--a background radio news broadcast in "Vanishing Point," for example--which established it in-universe without being too obvious as foreshadowing.

We need to have a talk about your recent behavior, Jared.  Asking your ex-fiancee/crush to stay the night just a few hours after your wife leaves you because you cheated on her with that very same ex-fiancee/crush?  Not to put too fine a point on it, that's so tacky that it needs a "Wet Paint" sign.

If Adrian, the fraudulent pastor of the Church of the Returned, and Cody Weber, the wannabe demagogue behind SprayPaint828ersHouses.com 828DemandtheTruth.com introduced in the previous episode, were to come into physical contact with each other, would the result be mutual annihilation like with matter and antimatter?  That would be a wonderfully convenient solution to both problems.

Quotes

Ben: "Cal had a calling last night, too.  We found him on the floor .  He said 'It's coming.'"
Michaela: "What's coming, a wolf?"
Zeke: "I know I've been gone a while. We get a lot of those in Queens?"

Ben: "Adrian is a false prophet, a wolf in sheep's clothing.  Matthew 7:15."
Michaela: "Look at the atheist remembering Bible verses." (A beat.)  "You looked it up, didn't you?"

Conclusion

While traditional faith communities (and the other "little platoons" that hold societies together) have declined in influence in recent years, the human need to find meaning in life hasn't gone anywhere.  As both G.K. Chesterton and John Cougar Mellencamp observed, if you don't believe in something, you'll believe anything.  If something like Flight 828 happened in real life, it's all but inevitable that some sort of "movement" would form around the event or the participants, and it would probably take about 45 seconds after that before some charlatan starts exploiting the phenomenon for personal profit.  All that being said, I can't shake the feeling that the Believers, and the Church of Lining Adrian's Pockets, are a little too one-dimensional and should have been fleshed out better.  Aside from that complaint, it was a good episode with a lot of good character moments.

Three out of four submerged getaway vehicles.

Cookie the Dog, who is Baby M's immediate supervisor, is a descendant of wolves.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Gonna try real hard to write what I was thinking when this episode aired, since I've seen the two remaining episodes of the season by now. :)

Still not sure what to make of Zeke at this point, but the idea that this phenomenon isn't limited to Flight 828 is definitely interesting. Is it a natural(-ish) phenomenon? Is it man-made? Supernatural? Divine? Are the affected people chosen by happenstance or for some specific reason?

I liked how this episode handled Cal's very reasonable fear that he was making bad things happen by drawing them. And it's great to see the entire family working together on stuff related to the Callings.

The whole Misery subplot went about as I expected, the only two things of note for me were the church scam that one 828'er is running(and boy I cannot WAIT to see him get his just desserts) and Saanvi's trauma which will likely be with her for a while.

The current dynamic between Michaela, Jared & Lourdes is pretty much what I was terrified would happen since the first episode. Zeke's entry into the story just screams "romantic rival for Michaela's affection", so I expect this subplot to hit all the cliche beats. Dammit.