When the first season of “The Flight Attendant” came out in 2020, I had a healthy amount of skepticism. The untold edict of most Hollywood mysteries is to make them as Hitchcockian as possible. It is easier said than done, as the execution of such an edict is hard to do. Harder still, if you are adapting a novel that is simultaneously light-hearted while also dealing with extremely potent and dangerous issues.
“The Flight Attendant” (Season 1) worked because of the lead actress’s performance and charisma. It’s Kaley Cuoco’s biggest role after “The Big Bang Theory,” and she manages to knock it out of the park. Her character is a suitably Hitchcockian one – a deeply flawed everyday woman who gets involved in events way over her head by becoming an unwitting witness. The central inciting incident of that mystery leads to a massive unfurling which only serves to heighten the ante while also managing to keep the globetrotting aspect and the general sexiness of the show intact.
The second season begins a couple of months after the events of the first. Cassie Bowden is now an asset for the CIA. She has joined an Alcoholics Anonymous program and is now a year sober, and she feels that her life is on track. But in one of the clandestine missions that Cassie can accomplish due to her job as a flight attendant, she witnesses a woman who looks like her doppelganger (at least from the back), responsible for blowing up a building. Things take a darker turn when she realizes that CIA agents are being taken out one by one by her doppelganger, and Cassie is the one getting framed for it. To compound her troubles, her friend Megan (Rosie Perez), who is now in hiding due to having passed sensitive information regarding national security to the North Koreans, wants to return home and asks for her help. It also doesn’t help that Cassie is in a mentally fragile state, and she is still seeing people in her head. However, instead of seeing Michael Huisman’s character Alex Sokolov in the first season, now she sees versions of herself, who continuously taunt her throughout the show, poking fun at her newfound sobriety and her inability to keep her life together.
The plot of the show is labyrinthine, but the story is simple. I dare say, it is even predictable, especially to people inundated with thrillers. Creator Steve Yockey and director Silver Tree expand the show by going inwards. This show spends an ample amount of time exploring Cassie’s flaws and foibles, and how easy it is to make a wrong decision. Cuoco’s ability to make Cassie a vulnerable character ensures the viewer’s sympathy for her doesn’t wane even as the mistakes she makes would force you to tear your hair out in frustration. Her relationship with her best friend Annie (Zosia Mamet), Annie’s boyfriend Max (Deniz Akdeniz), and her brother Davey (T.R. Knight) are the highlights of this show. The show’s 7th episode also finally introduces Cassie’s mother (Sharon Stone), which comes off as a very cathartic and climactic point in Cassie’s rocky relationship with her mother and her reckoning with her alcoholism.
“The Flight Attendant” Season 2 also increases the roles of Annie and Max in the investigative aspect of the narrative with Cassie. That had the risk of becoming a very extraneous and unnecessary subplot, but the writing manages to tie their arc into the main storyline very effectively. It also helped that Mamet and Akdeniz have fantastic chemistry together. You buy into their relationship because they are both so opposite to each other that their characters complement each other exceedingly well.
However, the negatives of the show don’t usually change from the negatives of the first season. Megan’s subplot was unnecessary in the first season, and while there is more connective tissue in the main plot this time around, Megan’s story still feels like a distraction from the main plot. That subplot does manage to bring back Michelle Gomez’s fan-favorite character for three episodes. There is another subplot regarding a creepy stalker of Cassie in her alcoholism group, which feels completely tacked on in the final act, and it does not help that the character of Jenny (Jessie Ennis) feels like an extension of her character in Mythic Quest, just prone to violence far more in this world. The show, in its second season, while devoting itself inward, decreases the globetrotting aspect of “The Flight Attendant” by a tad bit. That could also be the real world inserting itself with its pandemic-filled issues affecting the production of the show. From that respect, Season 2’s pivoting itself to a more internalized story feels like the smarter choice.
When “The Flight Attendant” ended its first season, I did not want a second season because the first season was a complete story from the beginning to the end. I was afraid of a sophomore slump. For the most part, while the show does take some predictable routes and detours that come out of nowhere (the Cassie and Benjamin scene), the show manages to be as addictive and breezy to watch as it was in the first season. It also never deviates from making Cassie a flawed character trying to be better and failing at it, thus making her character a Hitchcockian protagonist again. Whether they can continue with this premise in the third season is debatable, but a show resembling a well-written paperback novel is few and far between. So treasure it with absolute certainty.