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5 Screenwriting Takeaways: ‘The Flight Attendant’ Soars As Latest Sexy Mystery

December 28, 2020
3 min read time

The Flight Attendant is an homage to throw-back filmmaking while also being a creation uniquely its own. Fans of Hitchcock, Mad Men, and any female protagonist with sitcom comedy chops (after all, star Kaley Cuoco did earn her stripes on Big Bang Theory) will spot those heavy influences in both the writing and the filmmaking. Cuoco’s fun-loving Cassie Bowden is having the time of her life flying and drinking her way through life — until she wakes up next to a rich dead guy who wooed her into a date after sitting in her section on the flight. The smart, sexy and fast-paced series has managed to meld its multiple genres and stylizations brilliantly to create a highly entertaining thrill ride of a series all its own. The Flight Attendant is like swallowing your filmmaking history pill with the promise of also being rewarded with cotton candy.

Here are your five screenwriting takeaways from the series that was just renewed for a second season on HBO Max.

1. How stylized filmmaking can help tell story
This show is slick with throwback editing reminiscent of Catch Me If You Can. The swinging ‘60s feel present in the look and feel of the show — from the elegant flight attendant uniforms, to the hotels with every detail in place, to Cuoco’s overall look and wardrobe — frames fly onto screen, and are often juxtaposed with one another, playing out two scenes simultaneously. It's a veritable visual treat in lieu of characters simply stating exposition. It also sets an explosive pace to keep up with and Cassie’s sometimes manic energy can be felt bursting from the screen, but that’s a good thing. It doesn’t allow the audience to dwell too deeply in her darkness or get too far ahead of the mystery. Here’s a case where style deeply suits the substance and it’s masterful to watch.

2. A captivating titular character
Cuoco found the material and executive produced The Flight Attendant, based on the book by Chris Bohjalian. It is indeed a showpiece for Cuoco, who gives her best performance to date. The character of Cassie is simultaneously infinitely watchable and infuriating as she seems to always make the worst possible decision for her own self-preservation. Regardless, you root for her as you are able to literally get inside her head. There’s never any doubt that despite her bad choices, she wants to do right by her dead paramour. One cannot take their eyes off Cuoco as she commands the screen in every scene, bouncing from tears, to laughter, to sexually frustrated, to totally alluring.

3. Gripping thriller tropes
Much of the show's appeal is watching Cassie try to escape the deep mess she's in. When she becomes a suspect in the murder of her one-time lover, Alex (played by the right amount of sexy and mysterious Michiel Huisman), she is simultaneously being followed by Alex’s murderers. Wherever Cassie turns she’s in trouble, yet she also somehow often remains blissfully unaware of the fact that she’s walking right into it. Part of the fun of The Flight Attendant is the cat-and-mouse game of it all, not to mention the fact that Cassie’s good-heartedness often makes her feel like a horror film 'final girl' trope. If someone told her not to walk upstairs, the first thing Cassie would do is walk upstairs. Nonetheless, the show keeps the audience guessing with its fast-pace, unexpected twists, and often with Cassie’s wide-eyed innocence itself.

4. Everyone’s a suspect in a fully-fleshed out supporting cast
Cassie’s co-workers are also a delight. There’s a triumphant turn by Rosie Perez’s Megan, who has problems of her own to deal with. There’s also Griffin Matthews' Shane, the gay flight attendant BFF who always welcomes Cassie’s presence and gossip. Then there’s Yasha Jackson’s Jada, who might be Cassie’s mortal fly-buddy enemy, but there’s no way she could be involved…right? After working the same flight (Alex’s last before his murder) all of Cassie’s co-workers become suspects, and when you live for gossip as much as flying, none of them are particularly good at offering an alibi for Cassie. Zosia Mamet’s Ani is also worth mentioning, as she offers Cassie salvation as her best friend and lawyer working pro-bono. Mamet scene-steals with the best lines. When Cassie declares, “I woke up next to a dead man. That’s bad on a personal level.” Mamet’s Ani replies: “That could happen to anyone.”

5. Narratives from the dead
In a Six Feet Under kind of move,  Alex serves as the voice of Cassie’s subconscious, haunting her from the great beyond. Cassie’s projection of the man at the center of the worst one night stand of all time contributes deeply to her own unraveling, and as we learn more about her past, maybe that unraveling was coming all along and Alex was just the needle that broke the haystack of the alcohol that has been sloshing over Cassie’s delicate mental state. Regardless, Cassie’s interactions with Alex are a highlight of the show. He presents himself at the most inopportune and shocking moments, never failing to send Cassie down an increasingly dangerous path. It doesn’t hurt that Huisman manages to be sexy charming even when covered in blood.

Final Takeaway: While The Flight Attendant’s Cassie is the kind of friend you sometimes just have to let go to voicemail because you know a late night phone call is going to be exhausting, the show delivers everything its catchy opening credits promise: if Cassie’s going to fall from the sky (figuratively speaking), she will indeed embrace terrible decisions, excellent fashion, too much alcohol, and a cavalcade of characters either out to support her or bring her down. Luckily for audiences, that fall is worth the watch.


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