I’m usually not a fan of simple dramas, but The Flight Attendant grabbed my attention in the first episode and didn’t let it go.
It’s rare for me to enjoy a show that doesn’t have some sort of magical element to it. Science fiction, fantasy, horror – these are my usual go-to genres. If there’s not an element that can’t be explained through technobabble, I’m rarely interested in it. But when I do pick up a drama without the magical elements, it almost always tends to be from HBO. Six Feet Under, Big Love, and now The Flight Attendant. So if you’re like me (which if you’re a frequent reader of The Geekiary, you probably are), I’d give it a shot even if it isn’t your usual genre. It’s a unique story that deserves a chance. Maybe you’ll be as compelled by it as I am by the show.
As the title of the show implies, the story focuses on a flight attendant, Cassie Bowen. Cassie lives a free-spirited lifestyle, partying in the destinations her job takes her to, and having one-night-stands without a care in the world. Based on the title of the series, this seems like the entire plot would focus on this fun-loving flight attendant lifestyle, but things change rapidly in the first episode when one of her one-night-stands gets murdered while she sleeps next to him. This event triggers a complex and incredibly compelling story that explores the often messy trauma response process.
Let’s be real, right now the whole world is getting a lesson in healthy and unhealthy trauma responses, so much of the content is unfortunately very relatable right now. I don’t want to admit just how close to home some of the protagonist’s unhealthy behavior was for me, but there were moments where I definitely related to her a little too hard. For a lot of people, deep self-reflection about unhealthy coping mechanisms may sound like an absolute terrible way to spend 8 hours of your life, in which case, okay, maybe this show isn’t for you. But I personally enjoy that sort of self-reflection and haven’t been able to get many of the show’s moments out of my head. I process a lot of the real world through fiction, and this fictional story gave me a lot of material to work from.
Beyond the deep dive into human trauma response and coping mechanisms, the constant twists and turns with the plot are incredibly engaging. It’s the kind of plot twists that make you want to go back and watch the whole thing from the beginning to pick up on possible clues you may have missed the first time around, but I’m not quite ready to do that sort of deep dive. The heavy plot elements were enough of a gut punch that I need some space from it for a while, but it left me pretty stunned and dying to revisit earlier episodes to see how the pieces were put together. It’s a solid murder-mystery from start to finish.
The characters are well mapped out in relation to the plot and there’s basically no filler or fluff to drag it down. Every scene is important to the overall story. Every character has a part to play and they all feel remarkably believable. From Cassie’s brother and his husband and children, to her supervisor struggling to be seen in a world that rewards the young and beautiful, to her high-profile lawyer best friend struggling with the moral dilemmas thrown in her lap, there’s a depth to everyone around her. No character is left as a surface level archetype, even if it may feel that way at first glance. To me, characters have always been more important than even the plot to any given story, so without these rock solid characters, I wouldn’t care about the plot no matter how good it is. With The Flight Attendant, I am thoroughly satisfied.
Like other HBO dramas, it threads the needle between drama and comedy delicately. The main character is a bit ditzy and carefree, which leads to a lot of funny moments, but the story she’s navigating is extremely high stakes and it doesn’t take that lightly. Even when the source of the comedic moments is something serious, like the character’s terrible coping mechanisms, it still manages to address the serious side of the situation at some point in the narrative. Alcoholism, for example, isn’t a punchline despite it leading to scenarios in the story that would make you laugh. It’s treated with the seriousness it deserves, even when there’s an occasional chuckle from the surrounding circumstances.
If I had to compare it to another show, I’d compare it to Six Feet Under not just for how it balances the humorous and serious elements, but for its use of dialogues with dead characters as a storytelling tool. No, this story is NOT a fantasy story – these characters are dead and they aren’t visiting people as some sort of ghostly being. These conversations are used to explore the protagonist’s inner dialogue and it’s incredibly effective.
This narrative tool may be one of the reasons the show pulled me in so much as Six Feet Under is one of my favorite shows of all time, and the use of this tool is an incredibly important part of why. It allows a look into how the characters function in a way that a normal narrative format simply can’t. These are dialogues that happen within the character’s own mind, confronting their traumas head-on in a deeply personal way. With Six Feet Under there’s a new corpse for the characters to commune with every week as the very premise of the show lends itself to a new death every episode, but The Flight Attendant is narrowly focused on the death that sent her on this tightly-written journey in the first place. Through these conversations, Cassie digs into her own life experiences and is laid bare in a way she couldn’t be otherwise.
The Flight Attendant was released back in November, but I only just now caved and gave it a watch because it didn’t seem like my thing. Don’t make the same mistake I did and put it off. It’s currently streaming on HBO Max.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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