It was impossible to accuse the first season of The Flight Attendant (Sky Max) of being understated. For latecomers to the party, and it was quite the party, Kaley Cuoco played Cassie, a hard-living flight attendant who woke up in a hotel room in Bangkok with the mother of all hangovers and no memory of what had happened the night before. Handily, Alex, the man with whom she had been having sex, was there to help jog her memory, though he was actually dead, and communicating with her mostly through surreal, hallucinogenic flashbacks. Then the FBI got involved, followed by the CIA, and it was a lot.
It was also really, really fun. Cuoco’s performance as Cassie was one of the year’s best, and despite occasions where the sheer excess of it all threatened to tip into silliness, it was a hugely entertaining caper with some clever, insightful explorations of a messy psyche. It did, however, wrap up the mystery of what happened to Alex fairly neatly, leaving the show’s inevitable return with a dilemma: how does Cassie get herself into another sorry mess, and how quickly can they get her there?
Based on this opening double bill, the answer is by turning up the dial as far as it will go, and then nudging it further still. It works, although such a spirited embrace of WTF moments does eventually deaden their impact. It is a year after Bangkok, and Cassie has moved from New York City to Los Angeles, where she is attending Alcoholics Anonymous, having been sober since the whole fiasco with the dead lover in the bedsheets turned her life upside down. This gives us both a sunny change of scene, and the prospect of a sensible Cassie getting on top of her issues. “Let’s agree to no shenanigans,” says her colleague Jada, who is having a hard time believing that Cassie is sober.
But The Flight Attendant would be nothing without shenanigans, and one remnant of the first season is that Cassie is now also working for the CIA as an asset, on the side. When she flies to Europe, she is given a mark in Berlin and told to report back on him, without getting “too involved”. About that: she can’t help but get too involved, immediately, and she finds herself in the middle of what comes across as a modern-day version of Charlie’s Angels. It knows exactly which buttons to press in order to thrill, and it is exhilarating to watch as Cassie tracks her mark across the city, only for it to end in a big-storyline-inciting disaster.
The first season was overstated, but this takes things to another level entirely. Those surreal conversations with dead Alex have been replaced by sober Cassie talking to versions of her former self: there’s party Cassie, depressive Cassie, even teenage Cassie, all popping into a version of reality that exists in her mind to goad her into behaving either better or worse than she is capable of doing. If this portrait of a fractured self isn’t literal enough, there is also a Cassie doppelganger in real life, who may or may not have stolen her identity and luggage, and who is pretending to be her in order to do terrible things.
Add to this rich concoction a Bond-esque plot about the CIA. Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Cheryl Hines plays a big boss newly aware of Cassie’s employment by the agency. She is not so thrilled about the prospect of Cassie as an asset and offers vague pastoral care that seems deeply sinister under the surface. Then there is the return of Rosie Perez as Megan, who is living a wild man of the woods existence and sending emoji codes via her estranged son on Snapchat. Mae Martin joins the cast, too, as new flight attendant Grace, who is a whizz at sourdough and benevolent drug dealing, but is very likely to have another identity, underneath the baking hobby.
Pulling all of this together, and pulling it off, largely depends on Cuoco’s performance as Cassie, which continues to anchor things impressively. She has a Jennifer Aniston-like energy that makes you forgive all of Cassie’s many bad decisions, and keeps you rooting for her, even when she repeatedly proves how unlikely it is that the government would trust her to deliver a Christmas card, let alone a sensitive international operation. Given the style in which this is presented, which is fizzy and zippy, often showing multiple versions of the same scene on screen at once, you do have to strap in for its giddiness. But if you can’t get giddy with a daft spy caper about explosions, undercover agents, global travel and a woman having repeated conversations in her head with several different versions of herself, when can you?