As someone who has experiences with addiction (not me specifically, someone I used to know, close to me), more specifically alcohol, the disease is equally as disastrous as other hard drugs or other vices that many turn to on hard times or being picked up casually which quickly turns into an addiction. It not only affects the person consuming the vice but everyone around them until the destruction is too much for anyone to bear. Alcoholism can affect jobs, relationships, social status, reputation, and the list goes on but there are also those who triumph over the disease and become sober and happy without the reliance on a substance once again.
I start this review of The Flight Attendant season 2 that way because addiction served as the main theme in the series first season with lead character Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco) consumed by her addiction to alcohol that stemmed from her relationship with her late father. It was alcohol that led Cassie to waking up next to a dead love interest Alex – a murder in which she didn’t commit in season 1. By the end of season 1, Cassie finally became honest with herself about her high-functioning drinking problem and took the necessary steps to address them. When season 2 starts, Cassie has earned her 1-year sobriety chip, or so she chooses to think – no one knows how excruciatingly difficult it is staying sober with temptation around every corner unless they’ve gone through it themselves.
While Cassie’s sobriety is thrown around into the overall narrative that season 2 encapsulates, the theme of addiction is severely undervalued and misused by the writing team. Sure, a shot of Cassie looking over at a bar or sitting by one while ordering a club soda with lime is sure to be triggering and Cuoco does phenomenal acting during those moments of temptation but it’s as if the writers are saying that her addiction doesn’t matter – they don’t care if Cassie is sober because when she’s drunk the character is easier to write for and far more interesting.
Who doesn’t love watching someone self-destruct since it’s not happening to them?
It does take nearly 2/3’s of the season to address the pain Cassie has caused herself, her best friend Annie (Zosia Mamet), her brother Davey (T. R. Knight) and her close family and friends by recklessly drinking her life away. I can only imagine her liver health at this point with her consistency. Chalk it up to a missed opportunity to express some raw, unresolved emotion that could have strengthened the overall season. Instead, season 2 is a stitched together genre piece that switches between an espionage thriller, a murder mystery, hallucinogenic self-nihilistic epiphanies, and a romantic comedy in one.
Maybe it’s because season 1 adapted the entire novel of the same name on which this show is based on but season 2 being a completely original continuation fails where others have too. Pretty recently with Game of Thrones and the show surpassing the novels after season 6 and the quality of the storytelling falling off a cliff shortly after. Since the espionage thriller, murder mystery was well handled in season 1 that complimented the alcoholism of Cassie, season two struggles to re-capture the magic.
Catching up with Cassie a year after the events of season 1, the flight attendant now lives in Los Angeles with a new haircut and and boyfriend, who is not a psychopath and overall a really cool guy and is a current CIA asset with low grade clearance who is only tasked with recon of targets. Cassie being obsessed with danger always pushes too far which infuriates her handler Benjamin (Mo McRae). Cassie regularly attends AA meetings and even brings the donuts per her sponsor Brenda’s (Shohreh Aghdashloo) request. Shohreh providing the only sense of a soul the show was hoping for.
With all of that, Cassie is still a liability – it’s who she is and always will be when coming to the conclusions as she confronts the other versions of herself.
Meanwhile, Annie and her “Fiancé” Max (Deniz Akdeniz) visit Los Angeles for a job opportunity and to meet Max’s parents only to get roped into one of Cassie’s now famous meltdown life crises. Cassie’s co-worker and fellow CIA asset (shh, it’s a secret) Shane (Griffin Matthews) is on another fellow flight attendant, well former co-worker, and treasonous Megan’s (Rosie Perez) tail for selling confidential and sensitive information to the North Koreans.
All of which fit into one 8-episode season and is a mountain to climb while introducing new characters that are squeezed in with supposed significant arcs that aren’t given enough time to develop and grow. If it sounds like a convoluted story, it is. The once brilliant lawyer who could talk her clients out of millions of dollars to represent them is reduced to a babbling incoherent girlfriend who can’t for the life of her express her own feelings. Whenever the focus is away from Cassie, the story becomes less interesting – there are demons a person is working through, let Cuoco showoff her skill as an actress with more of those moments with Davey and her mother Lisa (Sharon Stone).
It’s not the performances whatsoever – All performances carry the limping narrative and stylish yet quirky old transitions across the finish line. Cuoco and Mamet’s chemistry together is just as addicting as the vice portrayed – it’s the writing and direction of the show that takes a significant hit. If it was all fall out from Cassie’s alcoholism and her picking up the pieces and repairing relationships, season 2 would be infinitely more engrossing but we’re only left with an episode and a half of the addiction aspect that is more interesting than Megan and the North Koreans.
No doubt a third season will be on its way soon enough but without the fundamental internal struggle Cassie is facing to overcome, the story has run its course and the flight may have seen its final decent.
Developed By: Steve Yockey
Episodes Directed By: Silver Tree, Jennifer Phang & Pete Chatmon
Music By: Blake Neely
Cinematography: Cort Fey, Jay Feather & Anthony Hardwick
Starring: Kaley Cuoco, Zosia Mamet, T. R. Knight, Michelle Gomez, Griffin Matthewa, Deniz Akdeniz, Mo McRae, Rosie Perez, Mae Martin, Santiago Cabrera, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Where to Watch: HBO Max
Release Date: April 21, 2022
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Based On: The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian