Spoiler Warning: This Q&A contains details about today’s Flight Attendant season finale “Arrivals and Departure” on HBO Max.
HBO Max, this is how you do it.
This is how you get it done right.
If you’re looking to lure new subscribers who’ll continually soak up the service, it’s with binge series like The Flight Attendant (as opposed to melting down Warner Bros. 2021 film slate) which dropped its final eighth episode today.
And for those looking for a sweet dessert this holiday season after filling up on a serious meal of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, this James Bond girl-in reverse spy comedy series with Kaley Cuoco does the trick.
An even bigger delight: after clocking 279 episodes on CBS/WBTV’s The Big Bang Theory, Cuoco shines like the sun here, showing nuances we’ve never seen before as alcoholic steward-in-the-sky Cassie Bowen who, after falling for that mysterious good looking guy in first class, Alex Sokolov (Michael Huisman), wakes up next to his dead body in a luxurious Bangkok hotel. And from there, we’re off as Cassie becomes a FBI person of interest, while thrusting herself and those around her, specifically her deadpan attorney Annie (Zosia Mamet), into a web of intrigue of arms dealers and corrupt political families. Not only does Cuoco continue to flex her comedic timing, but goes the distance in severe moments to show the pain of a young woman with a tortured past, who is battling hallucinations, and lapses of memory, judgement and reason.
In the end we learn that one of Cassie’s new boyfriends, Buckley (real name Felix), was actually the guy who slit Alex’s throat back in Bangkok, and he was after his money. Alex wrote down the coordinates to his bank account in his copy of Crime and Punishment which Cassie took with her from the murder scene. The book falls back into Felix’s hands and Cassie, and her newfound spy friend and former Alex associate Miranda (Michelle Gomez), hatch a plan to square off with him in Rome. Along the way, Miranda takes out her crime boss, and the master mind behind all this, Victor (Ritchie Coster). In a B storyline, Cassie’s flight attendant amiga Megan (Rosie Perez) feels so guilty about the trouble she’s gotten her husband, Bill, in after stealing intel off his computer for a rival corporation, that she decides to flee. Ultimately, Felix hunts Cassie down in her hotel room, shooting her Italian boyfriend Enrico. It appears Felix has already killed Miranda who is lying in the tub (read further down).
But then what is this? It’s Shane (Griffin Matthews), Cassie’s flight attendant co-worker, with a gun to the rescue who pings Felix down.
Turns out Shane is in the C.I.A., and if we see a season 2 of Flight Attendant, well, they’re interested in Cassie working for them as a human asset.
Here’s our interview with Flight Attendant creator and EP Steve Yockey:
In terms of the finale we watched today, how much does it mirror the ending of Chris Bohjalian’s book, or does it veer?
Steve Yockey: I got to meet Chris and I have a relationship with Chris. We met with each other, and I know he’s happy with the adaptation, but he wasn’t directly involved in adapting the book. We did go in a different direction with the ending. The finale has, I would say a funhouse of mirrors what happens in the book. There are significant changes. I think there’s a different killer in the book, and I think at the end of the book Cassie is pregnant. I don’t want to spoil the book for everybody. But there are significant changes that we made, but also in a way that it feels like our story. Our version of Cassie earns all of the changes in the story, and then hopefully readers of the book and people who love Chris’s book can also be surprised by the finale.
This was intended to be a limited series. But will there definitely be a second season?
Yockey: Nothing official yet. We certainly feel like…I’ve had some internal conversations with some of the producers and Kaley, and you know, that small group at this point about like how much fun that would be and where we think we could go with the show. But our sort of initial priority was we want to do this limited series that’s eight episodes of television that really feels like it has a beginning, middle, and an end, and is dramatically satisfying. Like, Cassie goes on this journey. She learns something powerful about herself, and she helps solve a mystery, and at the end of this finale we want people to feel like ‘I went on this journey and I’m happy,’ and so if they get to have more of it, it’ll be an exciting thing rather than well, they better answer these cliffhangers.
You left us some great cliffhangers, i.e. Cassie is being spotted by the C.I.A., Megan is on the lam. Can you tease more?
Yockey: Our goal always was to write basically a Hitchcock character that would normally be played by a man and just throw a woman into it and see what happened. We ended up with a lot of strong female characters at the center of the show, but no. I mean, it’s a little cart before the horse honestly. We haven’t dug into what a season 2 could be in earnest, but we certainly have ideas.
Moving forward, is Alex Sokolov going to continue to haunt Cassie since he’s ‘the guy who got away’ in her life?
Yockey: I feel like the journey that she goes on through these eight episodes is one where she comes to understand that she was getting to know who Alex was, but the person that she was falling in love with wasn’t Alex. It was herself. So, when she walks through the hotel suite in the final moments of the show and it’s kind of shutting down and disappearing behind her as she passes into each new room, I think that’s her bringing an end to the Alex Sokolov chapter of her life.
We really get to see different sides here of Kaley Cuoco in Flight Attendant as an alcoholic grappling with memory loss and hallucinations. She really wears the role and the camera captures that in every nuance of her face. She did a phenomenal job.
Yockey: She really did, and honestly what’s so great about it is that she found the book. She’s the one who said this project is for me. So, when I came to her and said look, my take on it is a little bit outside the box, she immediately got on board. I mean, she trusts her gut. She makes strong decisions. She’s super decisive, and that, I think is what benefits her as a person. But I also think, as a producer, but definitely as an actress, and she’s been on TV since she was 4 years old. So, she has the skillset, and I just gave her a lot of material to carry.
Please, continue explaining the origins of the project.
Yockey: The way that it happened was Kaley — I always refer to her as the boss at the end of the video game– I met with the vice president of her company, Suzanne McCormack, who was fantastic, and they signed off on my take. And then I talked to the studio, and then I talked to the network, and then I got to meet with Kaley, and that was fantastic because, three minutes into it I was like ‘Oh, I can write for this person. Like, I can write for this person.’ There’s just a sense of her energy in the room. She’s incredibly smart. She understands comedy so well. Her humor is lacerating at times, which is something that I love, even when I’m on the receiving end of it. She’s the real deal, and so then it becomes like okay, now that I’ve spent some time with you, I understand exactly how far I can go with this woman. Like, how much I can make these questionable decisions, and you know, things that people are screaming at the screen saying ‘No, don’t do that’ because you’re going to be able to carry this, and she did.
Tell us about those moments where you made her stretch.
Yockey: What’s great is that it isn’t even about making her stretch because she has this skillset. One might not get it from watching the multi-cam of her –multi-cams are incredibly difficult to pull off, as any actor that’s ever been on one can tell you. Even in the very first episode, Susanna Fogel, the director, was — I think there was this scripted breakdown that Cassie has in the hotel room in Korea when she’s getting drunk by herself and sort of really feeling the extent of Alex, the kind of what she saw that morning and the anxiety around it. It’s maybe a paragraph of description in the script. Susanna Fogel was like ‘I’m just going to let you go in the hotel room’, because we filmed in a real hotel room, not on the set, ‘and the only person that’s going to be in there is our DP and a cameraman, and we’re just going to do it’. And Kaley, for my money, blew the doors off. She really got to the heart of what this woman who has all of these secrets and is now being forced to carry another one, and is also drunk, and the kind of like, the kind of self-reflection that’s forced upon you when your alcoholic haze takes a turn, takes a dive, and I thought she captured it all so brilliantly, and honestly I didn’t have any questions about whether Kaley could pull it off. But after I saw that, I certainly did not make it any easier for her in the rest of the season because then I was like ‘Well, she can do anything I give her.’ So, I’m going to do it. Then you get to watch the next eight episodes where she’s just on a rollercoaster.
There’s a moment in the final two episodes when we think that Megan’s plight will come full circle to Cassie’s investigation into the Sokolovs. That never happens though. Was it ever an option for you?
Yockey: I think that there were people involved in the show who wanted that to be an option, and we just felt very strongly on the creative side that that’s what you’re expecting to happen, and in a show that’s sort of playing fast and loose with these kind of narrative tropes of thrillers, it was really fun for us instead to have those storylines dovetail in a plot way. Cassie and Megan ended up dovetailing in an emotional way when they’re sitting on a bed together in Rome, spilling their guts to each other and realizing that they’re both in hot water. Then you get to see the way that those two people coming together, sends them off in different directions. That scene where Cassie is listening to Megan, really makes her realize ‘Oh, I need to stop waiting for someone else to show up and take care of this myself’ and that’s when she goes to Enrico to get the gun. And then when Megan leaves that scene, you hear her cement her decision to pack up her stuff and go on the lam. So, it’s how these two women hit each other full speed emotionally rather than how do their storylines or plot mechanics come together.
Has HBO Max informed you of how well the show is doing because it feels like it’s the ‘It’ show of the streaming service?
Yockey: Because I spent much of my career as a playwright, one bad line in a review makes me want to walk into the ocean. So, I feel like I don’t really, I’m not tracking it in that way. But HBO Max keeps us informed, and it seems like they are very, very happy, and I think the studio is happy. So, we’re thrilled with the responses that the show’s receiving because it’s a weird show. I mean, it’s just an odd show, and people seem to really be enjoying it.
In regards to the finale’s resolutions – was this the direction you were headed in, or where there other options on the table? Was there an ending where Miranda was evil and not an ally?
Yockey: There are alternating narrators in the book, and we spend a lot of time with Miranda. In the show, we’re spending 90% of our time in Cassie’s POV, and the plan was for Miranda to become a character that was slowly revealed across the course of the season rather than being one of those key POV characters. It became necessary to simplify her backstory basically. So, instead of making Miranda this super kind of complex double agent, all this tricky stuff that’s in the book, we basically got it down to she’s a bad guy, but we love her. Then Michelle Gomez was built to play a role that’s described as she’s a bad guy, but we love her. So, she really went to town with that, and we’re really happy. I mean, it seems simple, but it became a real counterpoint to Cassie. You’ve got Cassie who is inherently a good person, but she’s struggling because she just keeps screwing things up. Then, because she won’t face the truths in her life, you’ve got Miranda who’s inherently a bad person, but totally comfortable with who she is and has none of the issues that Cassie does. So you put these two characters next to each other and they make really great foils for each other.
We didn’t know if Cassie was imagining Miranda or not for a bit. Then we see Miranda dead in the bath tub.
Yockey: It’s the kind of trick of that ambulance scene at the end of, almost at the end of episode eight when Shane says there was no one else in the room. You’re thinking ‘Oh my God, was Miranda made up?’ Or you’re thinking ‘Of course Miranda got away! Because that’s what Miranda does!’ And then we’ve got the great payoff with the book in the diner scene, which I think very clearly confirms that Miranda is still out there. [In regards to the bath tub scene] I think Miranda was playing possum. I’m sure Michelle Gomez probably has a different answer for you.
I know that the production had to stop due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resume six months later, with much of the plot not impacted. However, looking back, are there scenes you shot that now because of COVID, you could never do again?
Yockey: A lot of scenes are two handers, and I think some of the big set pieces that happen in the pilot in particular, like when she’s running through the airport in Bangkok, things like that would be very hard to do now. That the scene where Cassie meets Buckley in the crowded basement bar, that’s not something we could do again right now. When they’re dancing together, that’s not something we could get away with. And the big club scene in the first episode and the second episode. It’s a lot of the partying footage that would be difficult to achieve right now.