When shows stick the landing of a perfect first season, I always have mixed feelings about them continuing. That’s especially the case if an ending (and the season as a whole) feels so flawlessly swift, with not an ounce of fat in sight and in its cadence, and it wraps up so satisfyingly that a worthy followup seems impossible. That was my fear with this season of The Flight Attendant, since the first one achieved such an effective amount of turbulence. That’s why I worried about the upcoming Russian Doll followup, too, and it’s why I wasn’t crushed to not see another season of Watchmen, and to be frank, I would have been alright to not have more of The Flight Attendant.
How could this show, as gleefully dark and funny and surreal and absurd as it was, possibly sustain the same level of success? I mean, my god, this series — meant to only be a limited series, as based upon Chris Bohjalian’s book of the same name — started off with a horribly bloody murder, following an ill-advised, boozy one-night stand, and it just barreled into more mayhem from there. Mystery abounded, and Cassie had her butt saved by numerous parties, including Shane (Griffin Matthews), who revealed himself as a CIA asset by season’s end. And the source material was a pitch-perfect vehicle for Cuoco to finally strut her charismatic stuff and prove that she was underrated as a power player, post-Big Bang Theory, as more than the voice of animated Harley Quinn.
Now, I know that I’m a worrier, so naturally, I had apprehension about a second season. But there were a lot of reasons to worry, including the story going off-book, but also, Cassie got sober. That changes a lot, meaning, is she still capable of attracting such chaos? And could it be done convincingly? Well, yes. That’s where one must remember that the first season found some of its wildest moments in Cassie’s head, when she got all hallucinatory. This also, paradoxically, lent a sense of balance to the chaos that swirled around her. She visited her past trauma, and she talked with the dead guy, and it was kind-of therapy for the audience, too, since the show otherwise may have been too absurd to convincingly process without that inner discussion. There was some closure there, so with this second round, something similar needed to fill the void.
Without spoiling too much, the show does go there again, and it pulls off the twisted feat. Cassie’s inner life is as active as ever, and in fact, it’s hyperactive in a way that no one would want to endure. Furthermore, Shane set Cassie up with a side gig for the CIA, so there’s spy drama and never any possibility for a dull moment, even more so than with the first season, which focused on a smaller scope in terms of Cassie’s ass being grass. While attempting to go on the straight and narrow, Cassie discovers another nefarious plot, coupled with plenty of mystery, to keep her on her toes, as the story jets toward new shenanigans all over the globe (including in Iceland).
Yep, one thing that this show does super well is that it places characters into scenarios and surroundings that are exceedingly more glamorous and adventurous than a flight attendant could realistically experience, side gigs and all. And that continues here, although not as much flight-attending happens as during the last season, and unfortunately (at least in the first six episodes), there’s not enough of Shane and Rosie Perez’s Megan (who is back on her bullsh*t when we do see her again), but there is a new character (played by Mae Martin) who I want to hang out with sometime.
Also, I am pleased to report an abundance of Zosia Mamet’s Annie on the scene. She’s a mess of defense mechanisms and trying to put her life back together, and she’s somehow even more self-defeating than Cassie. Zosia’s terrific, and Deniz Akdeniz still does best as Max by allowing the ladies to shine over him. That’s another thing I love most about this show (and one that’s amplified in this round), which is that most male characters act in furtherance of the ladies’ journeys, and it never feels like things were painstakingly plotted out that way. It’s simply how the story rolls in an organic way, and this show achieves perhaps one of the smoothest executions of this feat.
Visually speaking, The Flight Attendant is still a stunner, too, and I recall thinking that the first season felt like a sunshine-splashed, Kaley Cuoco-starring version of Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina. The morbid humor was there, of course, the opening animation sequences threw off the same vibe as the Netflix show, and Michelle Gomez (who portrayed Madame Satan for Sabrina) was on hand for seemingly nefarious reasons. In actuality, the show’s aesthetic actually takes inspiration from the 1990s Cowboy Bebop movie. Those sliding frames and disjoined visuals only accentuate the story that’s meant to never let you let that guard down, and the signature visual cue feels comforting while also signaling that one should never feel too comfy in this universe. The smallest details, like Cassie’s ringtone, still act as a bridge to the familiar; all of it a chaotic work of art.
More than anything, this season feels like Kaley Cuoco is having such a good time toying with our expectations of her. She must have seen those articles that marveled at her post-Big Bang Theory success. So, let’s just say that The Flight Attendant continues what we’re used to from the show, but it also subverts the very subversive expectations laid out in the first season. And I marvel at how the powers that be really let Cuoco, as an executive producer, really take the ball and run with it. She’s no mere hired gun, and she’s helped to engineer this show into what it is today, from being one of HBO Max’s canaries in the coal mine into a staple for the streaming service.
I mean, sure, it’s great to have that massive WB archive and some tried-and-true franchises (Game of Thrones) promising to pump out followups, but damn, I have to say that HBO Max is really about pushing original stories with unapologetic ladies. There’s Jean Smart getting her leading-lady due in Hacks (can we get a crossover?) and Kaley Cuoco proving that the bubbly blonde archetype is worth smashing into smithereens. Likewise, she’s stumbling through Hitchcockian visuals and playing against the icy blonde and saying screw convention, and screw the idea of sticking for-or-against type. Cassie and pals are going up against something much darker than they could have ever fathomed dealing with this season, and fortunately, The Flight Attendant never feels heavy and remains a blast.
‘The Flight Attendant’ takes a second (weekly) voyage on April 21.