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The HBO Max comedy-drama-thriller juggles a lot of stories at high altitude
When last we saw The Flight Attendant's Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco), an alcoholic flight attendant with a penchant for making terrible decisions, she had just survived a truly hellish (for her) and delightful (for us) time trying to clear her name after waking up in a hotel bed in Bangkok next to the bloodied body of Alex (Michiel Huisman), a hot passenger with whom she had a one-night stand. Through dumb luck, disregard for her own safety, the help of her savvy, cutting lawyer friend Annie (Zosia Mamet), and a few other much more qualified allies, Cassie figured out who killed Alex and why and helped to stop him before she, too, could end up dead in a hotel room. In between that globe-trotting thriller, she also found time to confront her deep-seated childhood trauma in regards to her father, much of which is linked to her alcoholism. In the end, Cassie realized she needed to make some major life changes, while also fielding offers to work for the C.I.A.
If you read that and were like, holy hell, that is a lot to put into one show, you are not wrong! Season 1 of The Flight Attendant, based on Chris Bohjalian's 2018 novel of the same name, walked a tense tightrope of tones that could've easily been at odds — a fun, fiery, well-paced thriller, a sharp dark comedy, a family drama — but worked in perfect harmony thanks to tight writing and Kaley Cuoco's excellent performance at the center of it all. After pulling off something like that, it takes guts to come back for more.
Season 2 of The Flight Attendant kicks off with Cassie just two days away from being one year sober, and in an AA meeting that acts as a clunky exposition dump, we learn that not only is Cassie sober, but she's moved to Los Angeles, is in a healthy, adult relationship, and, while still a flight attendant, has taken up a side gig as a civilian informant for the C.I.A. Another guy at her AA meeting knows things can't be as rosy as Cassie paints them to be, and those of us who've seen her, as she describes it later, "multi-car pileup of a life" before know it too. The Flight Attendant, wisely, doesn't waste time before blowing up Cassie's life once again: On an assignment in Berlin, Cassie's mark gets killed in an explosion by someone who looks creepily just like her, right down to the tattoo on her back. But someone impersonating her while doing a whole bunch of murdering isn't her only issue: There's a Very Bad Couple stalking her, she gets pulled into her on-the-lam coworker Megan's (a still wonderful Rosie Perez) troubles, and there is much more family trauma to mine by way of introducing Cassie's estranged mother, played by an excellent Sharon Stone. Again — it is a lot to pack into one show.
Even more so than in Season 1, Cassie is stretched thin, and so is the show as a whole, at times. While in Season 1 every subplot seemed to be servicing the main one, giving the whole thing a palpable energy, there are a few storylines this season that feel a bit more meandering, and the pacing lags at certain points. Critics received the first six of eight episodes, and since a thriller really hangs its hat on how it sticks the landing, some of those subplots could come back around and wind up being more important than they seem. Season 1 was great at tying everything together, so I'm holding out hope.
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With this level of ambition also comes an even bigger ask for the audience to suspend its disbelief. If you weren't on board with how things worked themselves out in Season 1, you won't be in Season 2 either, which really pushes the credulity boundaries (just because a character notes that something is a huge coincidence, that doesn't exactly absolve the sin). But for those willing to go along for the ride, you're in for another romp of a caper, one that works because Cuoco delivers a knockout performance once again. Cassie is a woman constantly on the brink, and the way Cuoco can easily maneuver between the comedy and the darkness that still haunts her character buoys the show. That's especially true this season, since the "Cassie's subconscious" framework that worked so well in Season 1, in which she would visit dead Alex in her mind to work out some of her issues, gets a fun upgrade: Now Cassie's subconscious is filled with other versions of herself. It's an effective mechanism to utilize as Cassie struggles with her sobriety.
The Flight Attendant knows its other great strength, too: It has a killer (no pun intended, but I do apologize) supporting cast. Cassie might have moved to Los Angeles, but the show doesn't hesitate to get its other major players out there. Mamet's Annie and Annie's boyfriend Max (Deniz Akdeniz) return — Cuoco, Mamet, and Akdeniz's chemistry is so much fun — as well as Cassie's brother Davey (T.R. Knight), who has his own crisis to deal with this time around, and undercover agent Shane (played by Season 1 scene stealer Griffin Matthews). There are also some great additions to the cast this season, including Shohreh Aghdashloo as Cassie's sponsor and Alanna Ubach as Cassie's hellish colleague Carol, as well as some familiar faces I won't spoil here.
So, sure, you may find yourself (still) rolling your eyes at some of the inexplicable decisions Cassie makes, but at least you'll have fun doing it alongside a cast of characters who make the wild ride worthwhile.
Premieres: Thursday, April 21 on HBO Max (first two episodes)
Who's in it: Kaley Cuoco, Rosie Perez, T.R. Knight, Zosia Mamet
Who's behind it: Creator Steve Yockey
For fans of: Zippy mysteries, characters who don't have it all together
How many episodes we watched: 6 out of 8