What a difference a series makes. Kaley Cuoco used to be known almost strictly for her comedic chops, making audiences laugh on ensemble sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory and 8 Simple Rules. That quickly changed with her starring role in HBO Max’s 2020 hit The Flight Attendant, a darkly comedic mystery thriller, on which she also serves as executive producer.
Cuoco is still making us laugh, but the series (created by Steve Yockey) has allowed her to spread her wings, displaying facets of her acting abilities previously stowed away. Viewers ate it up, as did critics, planting the series and Cuoco firmly on the awards radar with numerous prestigious award nominations; including SAG, Emmys, Golden Globes and many more. After such a celebrated maiden flight, it is no surprise that the series, which was originally planned as a limited series, quickly had a second season approved for takeoff.
Passengers will be happy to learn that season two of The Flight Attendant is scheduled to be taking off soon with a season two that retains the addictive mix of intrigue and humor while adding even more heart. For those unfamiliar, Cuoco plays Cassie, a flight attendant who, let’s say, enjoyed those little liquor bottles on the drink cart more than she should have. A functioning alcoholic in charge of hundreds of passengers safety thousands of feet in the sky is not really the best mix.
After a night of drinking, partying and drunken sex during a layover, she woke up in a hotel bed the following morning next to the her one-night-stand… dead. His throat was slit and she had no memory of what happened to him or her after a certain point. The season kept Cassie tangled in the middle of a web of intrigue, an international conspiracy, that had her jettisoning across the map trying to stay alive as she cleared her name. Not an easy task when people brush you off as a walking, alcoholic mess, leading Cassie to not only focus on fixing her situation, but also herself.
Fast forward about twelve months after the end of season one and she is a few days short of a year sober. The new, more focused and controlled Cassie has a new boyfriend named Marco (Santiago Cabrera) who supports her as she handles the daily struggles of sobriety, even attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with her. She continues her job as a flight attendant and, while it may take a little suspension of disbelief, Cassie now moonlights helping the CIA as she jettisons across the globe. It is a premise that is best breezed past because once you do, that’s where all the deadly fun begins.
It does not take long before Cassie is the unwelcome participant of another sinister situation. Ignoring the directives of Benjamin, her CIA handler (played by Mo McRae), she oversteps her boundaries, becoming involved with the person she is supposed to follow. Instead of observing from a distance, she shares a drink, watches him having sex with a woman who coincidentally (or not) shares the same long blonde locks and back tattoo, and then ultimately witnesses his explosive death. It not only catapults (figuratively and literally) her into the middle of another murder mystery, where she again is a suspect, it also triggers her buried emotional trauma and urges to drink.
The questions surrounding the shocking events are numerous and the answers are sparse, especially as she starts to suspect that someone is trying to impersonate her. Maybe that back tattoo wasn’t a coincidence. This time around, in addition to her friends Ani (Zosia Mamet) and her fiancé Max (Deniz Akdeniz) she is joined by some other familiar faces… several iterations of Cassie herself. Hitting her head during the explosion not only kicked off a murder mystery but an array of other sides to Cassie… literally, via hallucinated versions of Cassie in her subconscious.
They all hang out at the hotel bar in her head where she’s repressed them with the help of loads of alcohol. The young traumatized alcoholic Cassie (Audrey Grace Marshall), the non-stop party alcoholic version from season two decked out in a slinky party gown, a more refined version of herself which she fights to be more like, and other personifications psyche fighting for a first class seat in her head. It closer examines Cassie by playing Cucoa off of Cucoa off of Cucoa – who she was, is, thinks she is, and wants to be all in the mix. This gives viewer much more Cucoa (never a bad thing) and a more introspective look at Cassie at the same time; a clever and effective creative choice.
This season showcase’s Cuoco’s outstanding work. And while it may seem like a gimmick it also contributes to a season that takes a more revealing look at alcoholism, putting the disease front and center. There is the constant tug of war between staying sober and sliding back into her old ways as the pressure of the mystery swirls around her. With their signature dialogue, the writers even find a way to add humor to the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, which can be a bore, while never making light of the disease. The season impressively takes a smart and serious look at the subject while somehow combining conspiracies, relationships, and world travel to name a few.
While Cassie often goes more internal this season, others, like Cassie’s best friend Ani and her boyfriend Max are given bigger roles as extensions of Cassie’s central puzzle. Both Mamet and Akdeniz are a joy to watch. On one end they fumble their way through a potentially life-threatening mystery while simultaneously keeping invested in their all over the map relationship struggles. No spoilers, one of their scenes is a favorite of the season; it has some cool Hitchockian vibes balanced with a perfect amount of humor. I would gladly take more of them in season three.
Added to the cast are a handful of new additions that all raise questions of their own; Grace, (Mae Martin) a friendly but hard to read flight attendant, a suspicious couple who keep popping up all over the place (Joseph Julian Soria, Callie Hernandez), and Benjamin’s boss (Cheryl Hines). The additions do make this feel like an overbooked flight and throw off the balance a little (at least to this point) as we try to figure out just how they fit into the equation. Is this flight menu serving us red herrings or something a little more appetizing?
There is also Cassie’s former co-worker and friend, Megan (Rosie Perez), who is out clearing her name after season one’s revelations. She is an afterthought much of the opening episodes, but once her story gets flowing I was glad to have her onboard again. Perez is rarely anything less than stellar. Still, this is a bit of a packed flight and with two episodes left pondering if some of this baggage could have been checked at the gate for the next flight. I guess I will find out when we reach our destination. Yockey made it work last season, but can he do it again?
The series continues to make great use of the split-screen editing, which keeps breezy flow to the action while providing us different angles and honing in on additional story elements which add to the conundrum and character development all at once. Often accompanied by Blake Neely’s tense and bouncy piano, percussion-filled score that successfully adds intrigue to everything put on screen. And in a show where just about everyone has a secret, it all works.
The season is an enticing cocktail of intrigue and introspect served with a darkly comic chaser. It is simply addictive. While the mix may have been better balanced last season, it never hits any major turbulence of many returning series with great freshman seasons. The mystery often takes a coach seat to Cassie’s personal challenges which seems required especially if this series extends into multiple seasons. As I write this, I do find it strange that even after six episodes I still have not put a ton of thought into who is behind the murder.
And still, The Flight Attendant remains just as addictive as can be. Even as I tried to save some episodes for a later viewing, I found myself saying ‘just one more’ until there were no episodes left to watch. Sure, the destination may feel familiar, but the excursions are different, the surprises keep coming, the characters are fun to spend time with and the more moving moments really land.
Make sure your seat belts are fastened, your tray tables are stowed away and your seats backs are in an upright and locked position, The Flight Attendant season 2 is ready for take off and you’re going to want to be on this flight.
Season 2 of The Flight Attendant premieres April 21st on HBO Max. Also, look for interviews with the cast and producers in the days leading to the premiere.