HBO Max’s first foray into the miniseries genre is The Flight Attendant. Based off of the book of the same name by Chris Bohjalian, the first three episodes of the series are uneven, but in a way that feels intentional like the rocky texture of peanut brittle. For those who hadn’t watched the trailer, it’s possible that the first bit of Episode 1 (“In Case of Emergency”) made the series seem like a trashy rom-com with Trainwreck vibes.
Like Amy Schumer’s character in Trainwreck Amy Townsend, Kayley Cuoco’s Cassie Bowden is also a New York City party girl with certain a level of disorganization, rudeness, and alcoholism that render her unlikeable on the surface, but also remarkably human, and therefore easy to root for despite her more brazen flaws.
Quickly The Flight Attendant’s tone changes, though, after Cassie wakes up next to a dead one-night-stand named Alex Sokolov (The Haunting of Hill House‘s Michiel Huisman), and thus The Flight Attendant begins its layover-laden journey towards justice for Alex’s death! Just kidding, Cassie cleans up the ocean blue bottle that looks like the murder weapon, and then slips out. But she’s innocent, right?
Always Have a Lawyer Best Friend (With a Hacker Boyfriend)
Conveniently, Cassie has her lawyer best friend Annie (Zosia Mamet) on speed dial to help her through this ordeal. Besides helping Cassie, Annie also acts as the voice of reason for this series. Regularly, she calls out the FBI Agents’ (Merle Dandridge and Nolan Gerard Funk) unsavoury techniques of questioning, or calls out the inconsistencies in Cassie’s story (e.g. “so, why did you clean up the murder weapon?”)
In Episode 3 (“Funeralia”), we also meet Annie’s boyfriend Max (Deniz Akdeniz), who is conveniently a hacker, but also presents some deeper questions about Annie. Who exactly does Annie work for since she’s so well connected? What’s with that mysterious flip phone that rang in Episode 1? Does Cassie never meeting Annie’s boyfriend before just mean that Annie has trust issues, or is there something deeper there? My overall question is: can Annie be trusted?
In between Cassie trying to duck out of the airport for FBI questioning, putting together which unknown actor she slept with, and not at all suspiciously going to Alex Sokolov’s funeral, she continues to get phone calls from concerned brother Davey (T. R. Knight) who is coming to New York City soon to visit Cassie with his beautiful mixed-race, queer family.
Very aware of her alcoholism—and its actual severity—Davey knows Cassie better than seemingly everyone else who treats Cassie like this fun, drunk, party girl. Davey seems to know there is a darkness there to unpack. Seemingly a foil for Cassie as the “together child,” the first three episodes don’t give Davey any red flags of behaviour, and everything seems to be picture perfect in his marriage. But everyone is hiding or running from something in this show, so what’s his secret?
Surely, he’s not just going to be just phoning Cassie for the rest of the series asking her how much she’s had to drink. Those deer/hunter/dead dad flashbacks of Cassie’s have to add up to something even if that’s just some sort of eulogy on childhood trauma for the Bowden siblings.
Xannies & Pinot
Elsewhere, in a somewhat strange B-plot, is Cassie’s flight attendant BFF Megan Briscoe (Birds of Prey‘s Rosie Perez) who is engaging in some sort of corporate espionage. I’m not too sure what to do with Megan quite yet. She betrays Cassie to the FBI, and then also is quick to sell her husband’s company’s secrets. Her character seems to be doing everything she can to get ahead, but she also laments at how incredibly lonely she is to Cassie. Is she doing this solely to manipulate Cassie? And if so, why? Is Cassie really important enough to be manipulated?
Surely this plotline of the middle-aged-mom-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown is adding up to something. I think Megan bribing teenagers with Xanax for unmarked hard drives must not just be for the awkward laughs. Whether or not I care about that reason currently is a different story, but again it will add up to something. Perhaps that will just be that the company she’s secretly giving her husband’s facial recognition software designs to will have some connection to Alex Sokolov’s mysterious company. Whatever it is, I don’t trust her and I don’t think Cassie should either.
Our elusive big bad/obvious villain right now remains the mysterious Miranda Croft (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina‘s Michelle Gomez) who Cassie originally thinks is Alex’s ex-girlfriend, but it turns out she’s not after Episode 3. Miranda is this mysterious Scottish woman who happens to be half cleaning up Cassie’s trail in Thailand, but also half stalking her, and potentially plotting to kill her (see: the switchblade at the end of Episode 2).
We don’t know too much about the backstory of Miranda at this point, other than the fact that she was at dinner with Alex and Cassie the night before Alex died, and that she has some tie to the mysterious company Alex worked for. But not everyone will talk about Miranda’s existence, save for Stephanie Koenig’s character Sabrina once Cassie gets a few drinks in her.
My gut tells me the big cheese isn’t out there doing the grunt work, so I do think Miranda is a hint of the actual big bad that is around the corner in this series. Or the seemingly actual big bad. Again, I don’t trust Annie fully. The only person I trust thus far is Griffin Matthews’ Shane. He’s this fun, gay flight attendant who hooks up with a cater-waiter at Alex’s memorial, and enjoys Rome when they’re there. Really, he’s living the life I want right now so I inherently trust him, but I digress.
There’s also something fishy going on in the Westchester house of Alex’s parents during his memorial. I’m not saying his parents aren’t grieving enough, but there’s something off in how staged the whole thing feels. And then there’s of course when Cassie gets basically trapped in the upstairs office with both of Alex’s parents and some staff, which Annie somehow makes go away?
I don’t know if there’s going to be some lesson about legacy and business here that gets unravelled as we learn more about Alex’s death, but I don’t trust the family. Perhaps they’re innocent in the actual crime, but they might be complicit in the forces that brought upon Alex’s death. It feels a little paint-by-numbers to say Alex was too nice for his line of work, but I think that will be part of it. Alex seems genuinely nice, but at this point his character is also the one that Cassie built in her head, and is just a reflection of her subconscious. Maybe the real Alex wasn’t such a nice guy?
It feels over simplistic, but I don’t think anyone is who they say they are in this show (or in reality). Nor do I think a person is best summed up in how we remember them. We are unreliable narrators in most, if not all things.
So what does The Flight Attendant add up to so far? Well, a lot of questions. Some obvious, some frustrating, and some just unnecessary. But I think The Flight Attendant has a lot of story left to tell, and that no one is truly innocent. Not even Cassie. I mean, I don’t think she killed Alex, but we haven’t seen the full flashback of this childhood hunting trip with her dad. Did Cassie kill her dad? Is her brother involved?
Or is that what they want me to think? Is the real twist of this show going to be disarmingly human, and less soapy? I’m not sure at the moment. I think it could go either way, but right now I think it has potential to be a bit smarter than it’s letting on. I guess we’ll have to wait a while to find out, though. See you next week for Episodes 4 and 5.