(Spoilers for Apple TV’s Hijack will be found below.)
Brace! Brace! Brace!
It’s what flight attendants shout when a commercial airplane is about to experience a crash landing. It’s also what anyone watching Hijack is likely whispering to themselves before each episode of the Apple TV+ limited series begins. Because this show? This show, starring Idris Elba as a grizzled and grumpy corporate consultant trying to thwart a hostage situation happening 30,000 feet in the air via scribbled notes on water cartons and in-flight video games? This show is wild. It’s a thrilling zero-sum game of the skies, filled with silly plot twists, two-dimensional characters, and seemingly everything that would make a TV series unwatchable these days.
And yet, it works. It works so damn well that, despite your best intentions, you’ll sink seven hours of your life into finding out if Elba’s Sam Nelson – an acquisitions negotiator with no real military training – can stop a group of proper British thugs from killing 216 passengers aboard a six-hour flight from Dubai to London.
But look, we’re not here to flash our critic credentials, wield some flowery descriptors about narrative arcs and subversive social commentary, and give you the high-brow analysis of why Hijack is the show of the summer. No, we’re shooting straight — unlike the actual hijackers of this story — and zeroing in on the unintentionally hilarious, plot-confoundingly absurd elements of this series that make it so fun to watch.
Idris Elba (In His Divorced Dad Era)
Most TV shows benefit from Idris Elba barking orders and sighing at the stupidity of the people surrounding him. He does that here, swaggering to his flight’s gate like he isn’t seconds away from missing the boarding call, and being such a nosy b*tch that he unintentionally stumbles upon the hijacking attempt before it even happens. He’s a guy carrying a ton of baggage. Not literally of course — he has one carry-on which is simply a Gucci bracelet for an ex-wife who’s clearly moved on. But he’s encumbered with enough emotional cargo to make up for it. He’s an everyman trying to play a hero, electing himself as both a mansplaining mediator and a mutiny starter in this tense, titanium-encased stand-off. He is Harrison Ford In Air Force One, Nic Cage in Con Air, Liam Neeson in Non-Stop, and Rachel f*cking McAdams in Red Eye — all wrapped up in a well-dressed, six-foot-tall package that oozes charm, charisma, and just enough entitlement to convince you that, yes, this guy would totally fly first-class.
A Surprising Amount Of Action
Every great on-screen hostage situation needs a bit of silly action to alleviate — or in this case, ratchet up — the tension. Hijack has those in spades. Early on, after handing back an attacker’s gun in order to curry favor with the criminals, Sam Nelson gets the plane’s pilot kicked out of the cockpit. It’s here you start to wonder — is Idris Elba a bad guy? But no, he’s just laying down the building blocks of his bigger plan, eventually finding a way to communicate with the captain via an in-flight video game filled with pirates and pixelated graphics and gameplayer chats. When a fellow passenger points out that the hostage takers’ guns might be fake, Sam engineers another elaborate scheme, communicating via hand-drawn bullets on cocktail napkins and overhead reading lights to determine if a threat is real. He takes advantage of a co-pilot’s Hungarian ancestry to try to land the plane in a foreign country after simply glimpsing her home country’s flag pinned on her uniform. But he’s not the only one fighting back here.
Within the first two episodes, a pair of Boomers in economy try to bum-rush the sole Arab-speaking hijacker with just some headphone wires and a handful of golf balls stuffed in a crew sock. Another passenger pretends to vomit in the on-flight toilet in order to pass a message to the back of the plane. One uses a pair of cuticle cutters to puncture a man’s lung. The plane’s captain pulverizes his own co-pilot’s face in order to save the life of the flight attendant he’s been having an affair with. The setting may be limited here but the action definitely isn’t.
On The Fly Medical Procedures
Air piracy is a dangerous game and plenty of people end up on the wrong end of a bullet … or a pair of scissors … or a Boeing headset, during Hijack’s run. Most are patched up with some gauze, saran wrap, and recycled ice but one unfortunate hijacker is injured so badly he needs the assistance of television’s favorite medical procedure: a cricothyrotomy. You’ve seen it on Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy, House, and ER but if you haven’t seen someone use a ballpoint pen to establish an airway at 30,000 feet, you haven’t truly lived.
Insane Plot Twists
What if we told you these hijackers took control of a 747 to crash the stock market? What if we then told you they were acting on the orders of two imprisoned criminals with plans to flee the UK for Africa, millions of dollars richer because of this stunt? And then, what if we revealed that a seemingly innocent middle-aged woman having a panic attack for the first six episodes of this show turned out to be a sleeper agent capable of crashing the plane into a London landmark on the texted whims of these British mafiosos? We won’t spoil everything here — all the shocking deaths, weird, six-degrees-of-separation connections, and completely incompetent police work — but we’ll leave you with this: you’ll never guess where, how, and most importantly, why, this show ends the way it does.
Apple TV’s ‘Hijack’ is currently streaming.