Hear Us Out: What if ‘The Flight Attendant’ Got Rid of Cassie?

·8 min read
HBO
HBO

Ever since HBO Max’s stylish comedy-thriller The Flight Attendant got renewed for a second season in late 2020, I haven’t been able to shake off the thought that it would’ve been cool to see the show go down the daring yet intriguing route of having each season center on a different character, whether it be someone new or a character we’re already familiar with, and the tumultuous events they find themselves at the center of.

Although I think expanding on what was originally meant to be a limited series is entirely unnecessary (remember Big Little Lies?), it was bound to happen due to the show’s success, and a good way to change it up is to do something out of left field—in other words, The Flight Attendant should’ve kicked Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco)—an (understandably) self-destructive woman who doesn’t follow orders and acts purely on impulse, even when fully sober—to the curb. Sorry babe.

The first season introduces us to Cassie, a high-functioning alcoholic flight attendant based in New York City who wakes up to find her one-night stand dead in bed while on a layover and gets caught up in international espionage, among other things, as a result.

There was truly so much to love about this show: it made audiences take Cuoco more seriously as an actress with a capital A, it had a gripping plot that serves as the perfect dose of escapism, and it consistently fills the screen with many gorgeous coats. However, this new season confirmed what I had been afraid of: repetitiveness. The same old, same old. Cassie has been put through intense situations that will cause her to unravel in the most damaging ways possible yet again.

(Warning: Spoilers lie ahead for Season 2 of The Flight Attendant.)

Traditional multi-season television has a way of sabotaging itself by putting fragile characters through cycles like this. Something bad happens to a character, said character starts to spiral, the problem gets resolved and the person reaches a decent place in life, and then it all repeats again to the point of exhaustion.

Season 2 of The Flight Attendant has fallen into this pattern early on. Picking up a year after Season 1, Cassie is now living a happier, sober life in Los Angeles and has a hot and hopefully normal boyfriend named Marco (Santiago Cabrera), in addition to still working as a flight attendant while moonlighting as a CIA asset. Everything seems to be going well for the first time in her trauma-ridden life.

That is, until she heads on an overseas assignment to gather intel in Berlin but obviously discovers something much more disturbing, causing her to once again fall into a pit of increasingly bonkers circumstances.

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The stakes are higher this time around, with the series juggling far more than it can handle in an attempt to meet our high expectations. This season is at its best when it’s a character study focused on Cassie’s personal journey with sobriety. I applaud the writers for crafting a messy, self-absorbed, and imperfect character you can’t help but root for despite having to witness her constantly make terrible decisions (she still hasn’t learned how to silence her phone).

In the fifth episode, she hits rock bottom when she relapses after a string of bad choices (including boning her handler) and other stressful moments that serve as the tipping point. While it’s a nuanced storyline that’s realistic in its portrayal of alcoholism, it feels tragic to watch her go back to square one and affirms my belief that this show hinges on repeatedly putting its protagonist through rough shit for the sake of our entertainment (blond characters named Cassie have a long history of absolutely going through it, from Skins to Euphoria).

In the first season, Cassie is reckless and digs a deeper hole for herself instead of trying to prove her innocence. Now, the same thing is happening to her all over again, not even taking the time to consider simply putting an effort towards making sure that she’s free of being buried in incriminating circumstances.

The Flight Attendant has a far-fetched plot and heightened atmosphere that makes it easier to nitpick—even the smallest things, like the fact that Cassie wears flashy coats while trying to follow shady people undetected. There’s only so much a person can handle with such a frantic story like Cassie’s until it becomes too much to handle, because the minute you begin to warm up to her she ends up doing something stupid that makes you want to scream into a pillow for eternity.

As a result, the attention to her storyline has led to some major sidelining of the rest of its ensemble, to the point that most of Annie’s (national treasure Zosia Mamet) lines consist of “um,” “okay,” and “like.”

This brings me back to my main point: I wholeheartedly believe that The Flight Attendant should’ve been an anthology series à la Fargo and The Girlfriend Experience.

The anthology series has had a rocky journey. Some start off strong then lose their steam (True Detective), while others succeed for the most part (Black Mirror). Regardless of the outcome, the anthology structure has always been a great way to approach various stories while maintaining a common tone between installments without making them feel overwhelmingly repetitive.

It also allows for experimentation and chances for different ensembles to shine, such as with The Afterparty and The White Lotus, which will both introduce new plots while bringing some previous members back for their second runs.

The Flight Attendant was initially based on Chris Bohjalian’s 2018 book of the same name that has no sequels, meaning it has zero obligation to continue following a certain narrative established by existing source material and had the space to take a turn for the unexpected. The first season told a complete story, and an anthology could’ve seriously elevated the series since it’s a format that presents endless opportunities for fresh narratives and worlds.

Of course, Cassie is the titular flight attendant, but there are many other flight attendants existing in the show’s orbit who almost exclusively exist to service her storyline and could seamlessly take over the pilot’s seat.

There’s Griffin Matthews’ Shane, Cassie’s coworker and fellow CIA agent—remember, our favorite blond trainwreck isn’t the only one on their payroll—who is criminally underutilized this season. I’d be so down with seeing an entire season dedicated to his exploits for the government as he hops from town to town, whether it be in the States (I bet he can make Utah seem exciting) or abroad (Shane in Paris when?). Plus there’s the drama of how it impacts his relationship with Justin, who isn’t aware of his boyfriend’s side gig. While The Flight Attendant makes him out to be someone typically prone to following all the rules, I know that deep down he’d be taking some risks that end up backfiring.

Alternatively, I’d do anything to get an entire season centering on flight attendant-turned-fugitive Megan Briscoe solely because Rosie Perez is worthy of it, even if Meg is annoying sometimes. This season, Cassie tries to rescue her from what she interprets as an urgent situation in Iceland but ends up being a false alarm that causes more turmoil. A season about her would follow the year leading up to these events, particularly how she ends up in Reykjavik, of all places, and how she ended up crossing paths with Utada (Margaret Cho).

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It’s already been established that the pair aren’t lovers, but here they would become girlfriends because they deserve that. To take things further, it would dig into what made Megan want to initially do business with the North Korean government and their relationship to her husband’s company; she might turn out to be as complicated as Cassie, if not more.

I now present you with option three: abandoning the whole flight attendant schtick and putting Miranda Croft (played by the wickedly brilliant Michelle Gomez), an elusive yet savvy assassin/businesswoman, in the spotlight. She’s a fascinating character with an extensive history of twisted stories just waiting to be explored, and she always steals every damn she’s in. Miranda is The Flight Attendant’s secret weapon, so why not give her a season—or, screw it, a whole spinoff—all for herself?

While I’ve been enjoying this entertaining season for the most part, I still think the decision to once again put Cassie through the ringer was predictable and disappointing, and the show had a chance to evolve into something much more interesting and unique without having to lean into familiar tropes. For all of the first season’s originality, its follow-up has been full of gimmicks (Cassie gets visitations from different versions of herself), cartoonish and one-dimensional characters, and tiresome storylines.

With only a few episodes left until the finale, everything is up in the air and there’s still room for the show to redeem itself, but there’s a major possibility that it will end on a predictable note that sets up a third season—petition for it to just be about Cassie in therapy, In Treatment style.

All I can do is hope that another season revolving around Cassie’s dumpster fire of a life doesn’t fall deeper into the pattern and result in a decline in quality. In the meantime, I’ll just be here daydreaming about the Megan season that could’ve been.

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