SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the full season of “The Flight Attendant,” streaming now on HBO Max.
Since HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant” was inspired by Chris Bohjalian’s 2018 novel of the same name, it was originally designed to close out the mystery the titular flight attendant Cassie (Kaley Cuoco) finds herself in after waking up next to her murdered one-night stand in Bangkok.
And that it did, explaining who killed that man, Alex (Michiel Huisman), and why, as well as who was now after Cassie because she was a loose end. But, the show was not simply a whodunnit thriller, and its finale episode, “Arrivals & Departures,” left its characters in places that are arguably ripe for a follow-up.
After becoming an armchair detective of sorts to get to the bottom of Alex’s murder, the CIA came calling for Cassie through her undercover airline colleague Shane (Griffin Matthews). She also finally faced some harsh truths about her childhood, forgave her past self for some bad choices and decided to get sober. Meanwhile, one of the people who was originally after her, Miranda (Michelle Gomez), absconded with a significant amount of money but also found a newfound appreciation of Cassie. And Cassie’s other close colleague Megan (Rosie Perez) fled after federal agents caught wind of the secrets she helped the North Korean government obtain.
“There’s plenty of story out there if we decide to move forward with it, but right now it’s still in the discussion phase,” showrunner Steve Yockey tells Variety of a potential second season. “We’d want it to be as exciting as the first one.”
Here, Yockey talks with Variety about the journey he took characters from Cassie to Miranda and Megan in the first season of “The Flight Attendant” and what that potential second season could look like.
Kaley has been talking about wanting to do a second season for awhile, and you did throw a line in the finale about the CIA wanting to talk to Cassie. How much of a potential second season do you already have mapped out, should HBO Max renew the show?
Our initial mission was to create an adventure for Cassie that had a beginning, middle and an end. So my main concern was that her character arc — her journey, her internal journey and her investigation into what happened to Alex — had a complete, dramatic, satisfying ending in Episode 8. So I think that the way forward, really, for us if we decide to do another one is that it would be another adventure for Cassie, much like a Hitchcock character: how did she stumble into another misadventure and get caught up in it? That’s the fun of it for us. It’s not as if getting drunk and sleeping with a guy in Bangkok means you deserve to wake up next to a dead body; she’s not being morally punished for her behavior. It may look a little different because she’s really trying to live a sober life and make better choices, but you saw in the show she chooses the crazy thing a lot of the time and that doesn’t all have to do with alcohol.
Would you want to write that second season from scratch, or could there be a possibility of working with Chris Bohjalian on a new story, similar to how HBO’s “Big Little Lies” handled extending their story beyond the one book source material?
Chris has been incredibly supportive of the changes that we made from the story. We veered quite a bit from the source material. The important thing to us, in terms of the original book, was maintaining fidelity to the character of Cassie, and so I think that we would probably use our writers’ room to branch out on a new journey for the character that we created for the show.
To look more closely at some of those changes in the season, Miranda was not a dual narrator, but she still did become an ally for Cassie at the end. What inspired keeping that piece where they willingly enter each other’s orbit at the end, even with the prior changes?
It was clear really early on because of the depth we wanted to get out of Cassie’s story [that] it was really going to be mostly in her point of view. So, by making that choice, it eliminates the dual-narrator function and we couldn’t be cutting away. Cassie’s stumbling through this, so it’s hard to cut away to a character who knows what she’s doing, and so that was one of the considerations. Then we decided [Miranda] is going to be this looming threat and then we’ll slowly, over the back-half of the season, reveal her and in Episode 7 they can have this adventure together. She’s much more complicated in the book in terms of being a double agent and all of her internal stuff and things with her family and her relationship with her handler, but for us it was, if we have to simplify this character because we don’t have as much real estate as the book does, then we’re going to basically choose to make her a bad guy that we fall in love with. Ultimately Episode 7 is called “Hitchcock Double” because we’re putting these two characters together — Cassie, who is a good person but lying to herself, not ready to face the truth about things and having a lot of trouble; and Miranda, who is inherently a bad person but is completely fine with that and very comfortable in her life — and it creates this crazy friction.
How much did you want them to rub off on each other or learn from each other at the end to then inform changes they make in their own behavior?
I felt it was important that they pin-balled off of each other and are changed by each other. Right before they walk into the AA meeting in Episode 7, when they’re upstairs in church and Miranda says, “You don’t get to say goodbye to everyone” and Cassie says, “Well, maybe I’m not ready for that,” Miranda says, “Oh please, you already live your life like you’re on the run.” Cassie is hit in the face with that: There are things Miranda has seen by observing her over six episodes that she says that really land on Cassie as she’s spiraling. And in terms of the effect that Cassie has on Miranda, she really says it in Episode 8: “I have no idea why this woman has this effect on me.” But I do think it’s because Cassie is so wildly charismatic and is really struggling to do the right thing, and it’s been a long time since Miranda has had to think about doing the right thing.
You mentioned the dichotomy between how Miranda knew what she was doing and Cassie didn’t — but all throughout the season you also had Megan stumbling in her own ways and doing all the wrong things, too. How did you want her journey to parallel Cassie’s, and what does it say that when Cassie is finally getting it together, Megan is the one who runs?
We always pitched Megan as the star of her own little movie that’s running inside of her head. In a traditional thriller, you’re like, “When is this Megan story going to cross with the A story? When are we going to find out that Megan is actually part of the weapons-smuggling or that she works for Lionfish?” But our choice in the writers’ room, because we were playing fast and loose with these thriller tropes, was, “What if her story never crosses with the plot? What if instead it crosses in an emotional way?” So that’s why we ended up with the two of them sitting with each other in the finale. And really out of that conversation they realized all of the ways that they are the same, and they realized they have to fix this for themselves. And Megan, in talking to Cassie, really cements the decision that she’s going to run away and figure out how to make this better. They leave that conversation changed. But from the beginning Cassie didn’t want to be involved in this at all and was stumbling through it [while] Megan, on the other hand, really went into this with her eyes opened and really thought she had a handle on it, and then it spun wildly out of control for her.
And then there’s the Buckley [Colin Woodell] aspect to it. When did you decide it was him who was tracking Cassie and what did that do to how much of their quote-unquote-relationship was real versus him playing a part to get close to her to make his job easier?
The plan always from the beginning was to have it be Buckley. He was with us in the very beginning when we shot in Bangkok; he was really in all of those scenes. So it was always him, and it was always Cassie’s journey towards that realization. And also, we just loved the idea that this hitman became obsessed with her and instead of killing her, dated her, and when she breaks up with him he decides to do his job.
Cassie has lied to herself and others for so long, how honest is she being at the end of the season when she pulls out that sobriety chip?
It’s going to be difficult, and she owns that; she says it’s really fucking hard. She’s in a place where she’s had a real, personal breakthrough, but the show isn’t a journey of recovery where she’s better at the end; the show is a journey to recovery where she hits rock bottom and decides she has to make a change. The hope is at the end of the finale you’re on her side and hoping for the best, because that’s what she’s doing, too: She’s trying for the first time and hoping for the best.
Her initial reaction from the trauma was to run, as she had been doing her whole life, so how complicated was it to craft a way to get her to that real breakthrough?
You are watching her react to trauma for eight episodes, but I do think that [the trauma of finding Alex dead] also mirrors the trauma from her childhood, and we see what that was and what that did to her as a person. So I feel like by reconciling when she hugs her younger self at the end and says, “Look, you’re going to do a lot of things,” she’s willing to own it. She’s like, “you’re going to make a lot of mistakes that are your fault, but this one thing is not your fault.” And so, it was getting her to come to terms with that and saying it to her younger self and mean it. If she can do that, then I think that everything that springs forward from that will probably be positive.
Any good writer wants the main character to have the longest journey possible because it means the audience gets to go on the longest journey. So you want to start them as far away from a self-actualization as possible. So we started Cassie in a place where she’s late to things and falling asleep on trains and the plates are spinning and her brother keeps his distance. She’s in this world where everyone thinks they’re close enough. She had a pretty long journey to go on, but across the episodes, we really wanted to break down her emotional journey into a series of realizations and actualizations to earn the reveal of the memory of her dad. It’s the only memory we revisit twice. She goes to that memory in [Episode 7] but she isn’t ready to face it, and then in [Episode 8] she makes the choice: Instead of being assaulted by the memory, as with most of her memories that come to the surface over the season, she makes the choice to go there and interact with the memory and engage. And that, I think, is the biggest signpost that she’s on the right track.
That whole backstory of what she went through and what she blamed herself for in her childhood is such a dark place to have in the back of a character’s mind, yet she often presents herself as a light-hearted, fun-time person. How did you calibrate how to showcase how defined by these events she really was?
Genre-blending is one of my favorite things to do as a writer, but it is a question of tone. I think the trick is, you just have to keep a really firm grip on what your show is trying to say. So if our show is an exploration of Cassie’s life, it can be funny and it can be wild and it can also be really dark when it needs to be, because this is something that she’s buried inside her. I’m a big believer that people can keep secrets of anything, and you’ve got a character at the beginning of this season who is lying to herself. She does it in the hotel room, and then she echoes it in Episode 7 — she says, “It didn’t happen.” And that’s the same thing she decided when she was a little girl, and that’s why her memories are so different from her brother’s — she’s constructed this safer version of her childhood, and it all comes crashing down when she finds Alex murdered beside her. It’s OK for something to be emotional and fun; it’s OK for something to be serious and fun. All of the people in the writers’ room shared that sentiment.
And that does allow it to be escapist, as opposed to if it was just a dark journey into a damaged woman — people might think it was too much.
I would be like that. When I first read the book, what Chris does so beautifully is trap you in this woman’s paranoia and anxiety and tension, and she really goes on this journey of, “Could I have done this?” It’s dark, especially for a thriller read you might pick up at the airport. Kaley’s the one who found the book; Kaley got the show set up, and then I came on board. And so, when I was talking with Kaley, I realized this character could be dark because she brings this openness and charisma to it.