One of the newest shows on HBO Max’s impressive lineup of dramas, The Flight Attendant returns for its second season next week on the streaming giant. The series, which stars The Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco as the titular flight attendant, Cassie Bowden, whose life was turned upside down in season one when she woke up next to a dead body after a wild night out. After a globetrotting adventure full of murder, mystery, international espionage and corporate espionage, Cassie escaped with her life and resolved to give herself a fresh start, which is where season two picks up. Though the narrative lacks the immediacy of season one’s Alex Sokolov mystery, The Flight Attendant season 2 is as sharp as ever, with its signature offbeat visual flair and more devastating emotional poignancy than ever.
A year after her traumatic experience in Bangkok, Cassie Bowden (Cuoco) has seemingly moved on, starting a new life in Los Angeles where she’s celebrating a year of being completely sober from alcohol. In addition to a new locale, she also has a dreamy new boyfriend (Santiago Cabrera), and a part-time job working as an asset for the CIA, in addition to keeping her old job as a flight attendant. After tailing an asset in Berlin that results in her mark being blown up in a ‘gas leak’, Cassie is increasingly unsettled when a mysterious woman who looks nearly identical to her steals her identity and begins committing increasingly violent crimes.
For any viewers itching for more Flight Attendant after the rip-ride that was season one, where the show would continue narratively wasn’t exactly obvious – though Miranda’s (Michelle Gomez) note implied that she wasn’t done with Cassie, almost everything else about season one’s mystery was neatly wrapped up, which meant for season two, the series would have to invent an entirely new (equally compelling) mystery for Cassie to attempt to unfold. The show’s answer to this dilemma is decidedly messier than the singular 4C mystery of season one – coupling the ‘Cassie’s double’ mystery with a continuing story that follows Megan (Rosie Perez) as she hides from bounty hunters and the North Korean government after inadvertently selling state secrets.
The result of so many plotlines without a clear through line (besides Cassie herself, who is flying all over the world on a wild goose chase as usual) is a somewhat jumbled first few episodes that lack the decisive direction of season one’s mystery, though once season 2 enters the fourth episode onwards, its struggles to maintain narrative focus are alleviated somewhat as the story finds its rhythm again. It’s no tall order to come up with a mystery as compelling as who killed Alex Sokolov, but season two’s solution still gives Cassie plenty to do, even if at times it feels like the show is spinning too many plates at once.
One element that’s consistent (if not improved upon) from season one is Cassie’s inner turmoil as she struggles towards sobriety and deals with working through her childhood with an alcoholic father. Cassie’s alcoholism played a major narrative role in season one (plenty of her bad decisions that got the ball rolling came by way of her being black out drunk at the time) so it’s gratifying to see that such a large part of both the show’s identity and Cassie’s personal arc as a character isn’t merely dropped after she resolved to get sober at the end of season one.
Season two dives even deeper into Cassie’s psyche – replacing the Alex Sokolov inner voice from season one with a trio of Cassie clones that represent different stages of her life/aspects of her personality. It’s in these ‘inner voice’ scenes that The Flight Attendant once again pushes conventional boundaries with trippy visuals – though the massive bunnies and deer corpses from season one are gone, season two ups the insanity with water ballet dream sequences, massive talking teddy bears, and a literal mountain of booze bottles, making any time the inner Cassies appear a surefire avenue for visual spectacle.
The three of them torment Cassie in her attempts to stay sober and salvage her relationship with her brother Davey (T.R. Knight), giving Cuoco the chance to once again flex her dramatic muscles. Though the mystery elements in the second season may be lacking, The Flight Attendant brings the personal tragedy full force for Cassie as it delves even further into her past – particularly regarding her tense relationship with her mother, culminating in a gut-wrenchingly brutal scene that Cuoco knocks out of the park.
Cuoco is once again the heart and soul of The Flight Attendant, putting everything into the role and almost single handedly giving the series the energy, wit, and tragedy that’s become its signature. Her powerhouse performance is such a whirlwind that it’s easy to get tired just watching as Cassie stumbles through life, but Cuoco not only nails the role, but does so with ease. Other highlights are continuing characters from season one – Zosia Mamet as Cassie’s best friend Annie, a high-strung former defense attorney who struggles through relationship growing pains with the ever-charming Max (Deniz Akdeniz).
The most welcome returnee, though, is Michelle Gomez as the foul-mouthed femme fatale Miranda, who appears (though not as frequently as we’d like) to help Cassie out of sticky situations with her signature bone-dry humor and Gomez’s effortless presence that’s both intimidating and fascinating at once. Griffin Matthews also returns as Shane Evans, a fellow flight attendant and CIA agent who’s often a refreshing voice of reason – though again, not quite as well utilized as he could be.
Rosie Perez’s Megan remains one of The Flight Attendant’s weaker points – her hair-brained story about accidentally selling state secrets to the North Korean government feels unnecessary and tangential in relation to everything else going on in Cassie’s life, and Perez’s take on Megan doesn’t quite feel as natural or compelling as the rest of the cast, especially in comparison to the titanic that is Cuoco. Other weaker elements in season two are mostly new characters: Joseph Julian Sora and Callie Hernandez as a pair of bounty hunters on Megan’s trail feel half-baked, coming off as pointless and cartoonish more than anything else.
Still, even with slightly too much on its plate, The Flight Attendant season two remains fundamentally the same series that fans fell in love with in season one, thanks mostly to Cuoco’s pitch-perfect performance, and the show’s signature dialogue and visual flair. While season two’s mystery may not be as compelling or concise as season one, The Flight Attendant is still a flight worth boarding – but be sure to expect turbulence.
The Flight Attendant debuts Thursday, April 21 on HBO Max with two episodes. The eight-episode season continues with two new episodes on April 28, followed by one episode weekly concluding May 26.
Photo: Jennifer Rose Clasen/HBO Max