When the new instalment of HBO Max’s madcap comic-thriller The Flight Attendant picks up, Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco) has traded her Manhattan shoebox for an LA bungalow with retro-chic appliances, her imaginary tête-à-tête with a dead one-night stand for a sexy, supportive boyfriend, and her nips of vodka for Alcoholics Anonymous.
A little less than a year has passed since season one’s tidy finale, in which Cassie cleared her name over the assassination of a First Class passenger while impressing the agents who surveilled her every move. In season two, she’s a flight attendant who moonlights as a CIA asset in the far-flung destinations that the fictional Imperial Atlantic Airlines services.
Besides Cuoco’s perfect screwball performance, the electric pleasure of season one was its pacing: a methodically plotted whodunnit that bounced between storylines at the speed of our protagonist’s own manic energy. Season two sticks to the same formula, unravelling the truth of Cassie’s reinvented life almost as soon as it’s established. First comes her sobriety. Cassie attends AA, yes, but flouts one of its bedrock rules of recovery: no major life changes in the first year.
In fact, rule-breaking is a recurring issue. In her CIA work, Cassie constantly oversteps, ingratiating herself with the marks she’s meant only to observe. Her disregard for authority was excusable, if not commendable, when she was fighting for her life in season one. But in season two, Cassie’s defiance is revealed for what it is: a compulsion to be always moving in any direction and to somehow outrun accidents of the past. She’s replaced alcohol with pure recklessness, plus Hot Tamales candy to curb her sugar cravings.
The mystery at the heart of the second season takes the same basic shape as season one, only wonkier. Cassie is again being framed, this time by a conspicuous lookalike. But it’s her personal battles that now drive the action. Still suffering from PTSD-induced hallucinations, Cassie’s fragmented subconscious locks her in a room with versions of her former self; party Cassie who was so hammered she fell asleep next to a corpse, teen Cassie who watched her dad drink-drive himself to death and depressed Cassie who doesn’t see a way out. Watching the Cassies bully each other into bad decisions lends the old character fresh depth. She’s still foundering, but without alcohol to distract her, we glimpse how exhausting it is to be both the storm and the sailboat.
Most of season one’s supporting characters return for the second outing. Zosia Mamet’s skittish Annie and her resourceful hacker-boyfriend (Deniz Akdeniz). TR Knight as Davey, the brother who compels Cassie to confront lingering family issues. Rosie Perez and Griffin Matthews are both back, but just like in season one, neither gets screen time commensurate with their appeal. And while the new season might be overburdened with subplots, it’s hard to wish away Shohreh Aghdashloo, charming as Cassie’s AA sponsor, or Sharon Stone as her icy, estranged mother.
“I’m still flying,” Cassie tells an AA meeting in the first episode of the new season. She means as a flight attendant, but the wordplay is the point of her declaration. As all shows with such efficient first seasons must, the second outing of The Flight Attendant walks the tightrope of modest reinvention, finding more road by shifting away from spycraft in the direction of character study. The result is a less tight whodunnit, but something that remains at its best when Cassie is complicating her own life, doubling down on mistakes while struggling to convince herself and everyone around her that she’s simply cruising.
‘The Flight Attendant’ arrives on Sky Max in the UK on 26 May