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'Manifest' creator and stars explain the surprising season 4 premiere
Manifest's Season 4 premiere has time jumps, grieving beards, flashbacks, and more! We unpack it all with the creator and cast.
The Season 4 premiere Manifest on Netflix gave 828ers — that is, longtime fans of the twisty supernatural drama-mystery series — a lot of new things to chew on. There was a two-year storyline time jump, physical changes for an array of known characters, and some major plot revelations. SYFY WIRE went directly to creator/showrunner Jeff Rake and series stars Melissa Roxburgh (Michaela Stone) and Josh Dallas as Ben Stone to unpack the unexpected start to the season.
***Spoilers below for the Manifest Season 4 premiere episode, "Touch and Go"***
Manifest started as a broadcast series. Did moving to a steaming network have you contemplating making major changes to the series' tone or rating?
Jeff Rake: The only real heavy lifting in terms of storytelling was to reorganize how we were going to roll out our storytelling, and so that was the first order of business. We got the good news, high fives all around, and happy tears. And then we just had to reorganize our storytelling.
I think Netflix would have been supportive of any direction we went. That said, one of the first things they did explicitly say to us was, "Look, we're delighted for you to just keep making the show that you've been making. It's working." And that was my strong inclination as well, particularly from a tonal perspective. I didn't want to mess with success. I reminded myself that it was our success on Netflix that brought us back. We just set out to keep doing what we've been doing. We just kept writing the show the same way, same length, same act breaks, with some light profanity, just for fun, which we didn't do in the past. But other than that, it's the same show.
The two-year time jump was very surprising considering how Season 3 ended with Grace's (Athena Karkanis) death and Cal (Ty Doran) aging up by years. Was that always part of your grand plan?
You know, you might not expect this, but one of the biggest challenges that we've always had in the writers' room was to move the calendar along toward the death date of June 2, 2024. What's hard about that was that our season-ending cliffhangers typically demanded resolution in near real-time. And so that made it really hard to move the calendar along because a cliffhanger almost always demands immediacy in resolution. That's always been a challenge for us in the middle of a season and between seasons. Even with a full six seasons, it was never gonna get us in real time to June 2, 2024, so we had to build in time jumps whenever we could manage that. For Season 4, we settled on two years. And almost in the next breath, we settled on the flashback format, so that in this block of 10 episodes, there'd be key flashbacks that would catch us up on the story.
Josh Dallas: Yeah, A lot has happened in these characters' lives from Season 3 to the beginning of Season 4. We find our characters in various states of emotion.
Let's talk about Ben's Unabomber look that opens the season and clearly lets us know that he's really not ok.
Dallas: I wanted to show it physically as much as I possibly could. And of course, I was growing my own Josh grief beard after the cancellation. [Laughs.] When we got renewed by Netflix, this was a perfect opportunity to just keep on growing that hair. Jeff Rake agreed. We thought that would be a good physical place to start with him to show that he really has given up on many aspects of his life, wanting to run away from where he was. The loss of Grace hit him so very hard. He is left with this profound depth of anger about not being able to have the life that he was supposed to have with her. He had already missed out on five years and now she was taken from them. She was supposed to be there. She was supposed to be by his side. We find him in Part 1 of Season 4, questioning everything. Not only the callings, but God and the universe and his own goodness versus his own evilness, and whether Adrian (Jared Grimes) is right about them, that they are agents of the apocalypse.
In Ben's obsession to find Eden, he has distanced himself from Michaela which is a very surprising dynamic for the siblings.
Dallas: Yeah, he focuses on one thing, and that's finding Eden. His anger, unfortunately, allows him to push away everyone else in his life, including his family, including his kids that are still there, including his beloved sister, his co-captain, his partner, his best friend. And he leaves her on her own and knows it. But he does it in a way where he knows that she's so smart and so strong and so capable, that she doesn't need him to do this. I think he's wrong in that thinking. And I think she would probably say the same thing. But he's sort of stuck.
Melissa Roxburgh: Yeah, there's a role reversal. Michaela was a hot mess in Seasons 1, 2, and 3. [Laughs.] She never really quite gets it right. Ben is always there to help her and give her advice and pick her up. And this time, it's her turn. Given the time jump, it's been two years of her watching him so distraught about all of this, and so buried in his quest to figure it out that he's lost sight of everyone else. Having gone through so much grief of her own, she is trying to relay to him that there's still life to live, that there are still people here wanting to connect with you. The ones that you've lost don't outweigh the ones that still need you.
But that opens the door for Aunt Michaela to help introduce older Cal to the audience and how he works in the storyline now?
Roxburgh: We get to see a really cool dynamic between her and Cal, because he doesn't know where to turn. I think that there's tension between Olive (Luna Blaise) and Cal. There's tension between Ben and Cal, so he really has nowhere to turn but Michaela. There's a lot of humanity and humility and just pain that comes in the scenes between those two characters. It's heartbreaking what's happened to the whole family.
Come back to SYFY WIRE on Monday for our post-mortem of the Manifest midseason finale, "Inversion Illusion," which leaves audiences with some major twists and changes. The first 10 episodes are now streaming on Netflix.
Looking for another sci-fi mystery? Stream La Brea on Peacock.