"STOP!" — How the Manifest writers are using signs, words, and actions
Nov 9, 2018
There seems to be a connection between the way the writers are using stop signs, having characters stop what they are doing, having the characters use the word "STOP" in the dialogue, AND the red markings in certain scenes (using a variety of objects). Once a viewer is aware of this connection, these clues are even more noticeable on re-watches.
This connection is made very explicit in episode 9 after the TAC unit stands down and says all is clear (no signs of the missing passengers in the warehouse):
- Dr. Fiona Clarke says, "STOP, everyone...".
- Ben says "WHERE DO WE LOOK? [to find the missing passengers]
- Cal suddenly appears on the scene and points to the RED SPOT on his drawing. (109.3)
On the surface (like the writer's use of the color red), seeing stop signs, hearing a character say STOP! or seeing someone or something STOP, attracts attention. This appears to be some sort of signal to the viewer to stop and think what really is going on in a scene or in a character's head, and how something (i.e. a storyline) might be changed, as a result.
On a deeper level, the strategy is potentially interesting in identifying points of a character's timeline that have become disjointed or divided by the time anomaly. Although it's still too early to speculate, in these scenes the viewer is made aware not only of the current action taking place, but a previous action or a sequence of actions from a different storyline (i.e. related to the 5 1/2 year gap during the plane's disappearance).
STOP skill strategy
There is no denying that each of the characters are in a very stressful situation that is not going to change any time soon. Part of what makes Manifest so enjoyable to watch is that the characters have to figure out how to move forward without making things worse.
In psychology, a popular distress tolerance strategy is called the STOP skill. The word "stop" is an easy to remember mnemonic.
- S: Stop! — Don't let your emotions control you.
- T: Take a step back — Disengage oneself from the urge to react impulsively.
- O: Observe — Notice what people are saying and doing, what you are thinking and feeling
- P: Proceed Mindfully — Act with awareness
All of this is being conveyed in the Manifest storyline. This makes sense because the series has excellent writers. The characters are real and believable. Thus, distress tolerance skills like the STOP skill seem a good fit. There cannot be a psychiatrist in every episode helping Michaela "process the magnitude of changes in [her] life in the last five years" (cf. 102.6)— although I wish we would see more of Dr. Bortel. The next best thing is the STOP imagery which the writers are able to implement through visual expression (i.e. actually seeing a stop sign or a red color object), as well as, action and dialogue.
Let's look at four examples of how the writers have strategically placed a stop sign in the background of certain scenes:
- When Michaela describes to Jared what it has been like since she has returned, in the background behind Jared is a STOP sign (101.16),
- When Michaela and Jared show up at Mr. Garrison's metal working facility, and Michaela hears again the voice "set them free", in the background behind Michaela is a STOP sign (101.19),
- At the scene of Kelly's murder, in the background behind a handcuffed Isaiah (a "believer") is a STOP sign (103.6), and
- When Michaela and Jared arrive at the place where Harvey is about to jump, in the background is a STOP sign (108.8).
Each example is a brief summation of the STOP distress tolerance skill which involves dialogue and/or circumstances central to Manifest's endgame. Although these instances seem to revolve around Michaela, in one way or another they apply to every character affected by the time anamoly.
- In the first instance, we have Michaela whose life has been "turned upside down" (Dr. Bortel's metaphor) and how she struggles daily on keeping her emotions under control.
- In the second, that same character takes a step backward to properly discern what the calling "set them free" is about.
- In the third, she takes notice what people are saying and doing, thinking and feeling, e.g. believers like Isaiah and others who think the 828ers have returned from the dead, and "owns her truth" (cf. 103.22).
- In the final instance, she tries to understand what Harvey is feeling so that she can proceed mindfully (i.e. knowing when or when not to, and how to connect or not connect with others). Except this time, she fails miserably.
Only the back of a stop sign is seen in the fourth example (unlike the others where we actually see the word "STOP"). Michaela who misinterprets a calling is so sure of herself and why Harvey wants to jump (it is as though she completely runs a stop). Tragically, she handles this crisis all wrong, and makes Harvey want to jump even more (cf. related article "Bridging the Gap: How Michaela saves Carlos, but loses Harvey).
Instances where an action STOPS:
The word "stop" is not used in Michaela's first calling, although it is implied. Just after Michaela hears the voice in her head and yells out for the bus driver to go slower, culminating in "Slow down! Now!" a boy runs out into the street. If the bus had not been able to stop, that boy would have been run over. Notice, too, that the boy's ball is the color red (101.11)
Michaela's “Now!” suggests immediacy. Whenever we hear the characters say "stop" or we actually observe them stop a course of action, this happens in real time. But realize this—every "now" is connected to a "then," which is how the character(s) got to this point in the story. Every character has a backstory. They also have a future (a destiny that will be forever connected to the now and then.) If all this sounds complex it's because it is. All the more reason to take those stop signs, stop actions, and stop words in the dialogue seriously.
The forward momentum of several character arcs come to a STOP, at least in part, in episode 105. In "Connecting Flights" we are given a series of flashbacks which helps fill in the backstory of Olive, Grace, Danny, Jared and Lourdes. We are also privy to several scenes involving Steve and Karen Stone. By the fifth episode, the viewer is invested into these characters and the payoff is much higher than if the writers had incorporated these scenes in episode one before the plane reappeared. The writers have done an excellent job at keeping the right balance.
Another kind of stop-action involves the actions of characters. Consider, for example, three important scenes in which Olive STOPS what she is doing. Note that each of these scenes also has an accompanying red marker which serves the same purpose as the aforementioned stop signs (click on links to view photos):
- Olive STOPS walking up the stairs, turns around, and has a conversation with her dad (104.20),
- Olive STOPS climbing the wall, and falls (107.8),
- Olive STOPS short of going onto the backyard deck when she sees her mom and dad talking. She stands around the corner and listens (109.20),
In the first example, the scene begins with Olive's shoplifting incident and then takes the viewer backwards in time as Ben tells Olive how he stole a boomerang. In the second, the scene focuses on the relationship between Olive and Danny and how ever since Ben returned, her relationship with both of her dads has been "touch and go" (cf. 101.17). As Olive climbs higher toward the red rocks, she loses her focus, stops and falls. Interwoven into this scene is the July date that Danny and Olive have set where they will be climbing rocks at Arcadia. In the final example, Olive learns overhears her mom and dad talking about separating, and it appears all they are concerned about is Cal. Again, we have a scene in which we are taken back in time, when all the attention was on Cal after he was diagnosed with leukemia.
Instances where the word "STOP" is used in dialogue:
Here is a listing of all the uses of the word "stop" which may or may not be significant. I will let each reader judge for him or herself as to which of the following are connected to the strategy that I outlined above.
JARED: I’m not gonna STOP asking, so why don’t you save us both some time?
TAMI: I didn’t attack her. I-I was trying to get away. I push her and she fell. I-I didn’t have the money. I thought she was there to collect, but she wasn’t. She said she was going to STOP him now that she’s back. She said she was sorry. (103.16)
MICHAELA: Actually, that’s why I’m here. I need your help. Jared is taking the fall for something that I did um, a mistake I made. He thinks he’s doing the right thing, but it could mess up his whole career. You gotta—You gotta tell him to STOP. (105.11)
FIONA: What Singularity’s doing is wildly theoretical and dangerous. We have to STOP these people, no matter what.
MICHAELA: I need you to STOP. I need you to STOP taking care of me, okay? I shouldn’t be here. If I hadn’t come back, you wouldn’t be scared for your life right now. All of this is my fault.
JARED: Mick, wait
MICHAELA: No. No, STOP. You’re trying to start a family with Lourdes. (108.23)
PASSENGER: Make it STOP, please! (109.15)
Excellent analysis. Your comments are why I'm addicted to the show.
The storylines within the show's mystery stimulate the audience's imagination to engage in a 'collective thought' process when it comes to thinking outside the box.
I'll be paying close attention to how characters on the show, in the future, use their "distress tolerance skills" when it comes to using S.T.O.P. as a personal stress management tool.
Thanks for the excellent analysis.