Flight 828 could have taken off from Jamaica in 2013 and landed just about anywhere — but “Manifest” creator Jeff Rake chose New York City for a reason.
At the center of a series strung together by cliffhanger questions involving the mysterious disappearance of Flight 828 and the supernatural abilities of its passengers is a story about diversity, as Rake puts it.
Five and a half years ago, brother/sister duo Ben and Michaela Stone set out for Manhattan after a family vacation, a choice that’s helped the NBC series intertwine a variety of cultures, languages and faces in the stories of their more than 100 fellow passengers.
“New York City has one of the most diverse populations in the world,” Rake says. “The show primarily lives in Queens, and there are numbers to support that the borough of Queens is literally the most diverse community — racially, ethically and languages spoken — in the entire globe. I read that a couple of years ago and it stuck with me.”
“Manifest” plays with the idea that the government may have interfered with the flight and/or have had a major role in the genetic alteration of the passengers. Those who flew into a massive storm on 828 returned home with the ability to hear voices and see visions of the future. Ben and Michaela, specifically, refer to them as their “callings.”
But the series also exposes an Indian doctor’s struggle with PTSD and anxiety (Saanvi Bahl, portrayed by actress Parveen Kaur of Mumbai, India); follows a Cuban-American NYPD detective (Jared Vasquez, portrayed by J.R. Ramirez); and explores an African-American man’s struggle to combat stereotypes.
“For me, this is a show about all people,” Rake explains. “It’s about intersectionality and the intertwining of disparate lives. The story made so much sense to me in Queens, where that is so true in terms of the demographic.”
Blending cultures and religious beliefs may also be helping Rake explain his series’ mystery. The ultimate question of “why” (why this plane; why these passengers) is seemingly being answered through a mix of various scientific and religious beliefs, including connections to astrology, the Chinese zodiac, the Bible and Greek mythology.
Rake has revealed he mapped out the entire plan for his series, stretching a hopeful six seasons, before even pitching it to NBC. A diverse writers’ room may be helping to fill in the gaps and touch on important cultural stories in between big reveals.
The story frequently returns to the message “’All good things will come to those who follow the path,’ which is another way of saying, ‘everything happens for a reason,’ " Rake explains. "It’s a classic Judeo-Christian mantra that appears in different words throughout world religions."
“Manifest” finished its debut season on the network in February and hasn’t yet been renewed for a second season. The season finale totaled 5.95 million viewers, according to early Nielsen data.