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Series / The Flight Attendant

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"You can't run away from me! I'm in your head!""
— A hallucination of Alex Sokolov to an increasingly disturbed Cassandra Bowden

The Flight Attendant is a 2020 Black Comedy/thriller series based on the novel of the same name by Chris Bohjalian, developed for HBO Max by Steve Yockey.

Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco) is a flight attendant for Imperial Airlines who enjoys the world travel but has a problem with alcohol, parties and sleeping around. On one flight she quickly hits it off with Alex Sokolov (Michiel Huisman), a handsome passenger en route to Bangkok. After a drunken night together, Cassie is horrified to find his dead, bloodied body laying beside her, unable to recall the events that led up to his apparent murder — or worse yet, if she is the one who killed him. Managing to sneak out of the hotel and make it back to New York City, nonetheless the FBI quickly open an investigation about the circumstances surrounding his death and start asking her questions, and her paranoia threatens to get the best of her.

Rosie Perez, Zosia Mamet (Girls), Bebe Neuwirth, TR Knight (Grey's Anatomy), Michelle Gomez, and Merle Dandridge (Half-Life) also appear in supporting roles. The series, co-executive produced by Cuoco herself along with Greg Berlanti and Susanna Fogel (The Spy Who Dumped Me), premiered on November 26th, 2020. Though initially intended as a mini-series, a second season was ordered soon after the first finished airing, with Cuoco set to return. The program's second season premiered on April 21, 2022. In the second season, Cassie Bowden is living her best sober life, while moonlighting as a civilian CIA asset. She once again finds herself drawn into international intrigue after inadvertently witnessing a murder while on the job. The series was quietly canceled in January 2024, over a year-and-a-half after the broadcast of its second season.

Trailer. Pilot episode.

The Flight Attendant contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Cassie and Davey's father, Mr. Bowden, was highly verbally abusive to Davey, often referring to him with insults such as "sissy" and "fag." He was also physically abusive at times as well and was just generally mean, not even allowing the boy to enjoy a birthday party without it just being more misery for him. He also got Cassie into alcohol and encouraged her to be mean to her brother while playing her up as his favorite, another form of abuse.
  • Achievements in Ignorance:
    • Cassie is so single-minded on trying to clear her name that she inadvertently unravels the conspiracy surrounding Alex's murder before anyone else could. Miranda had such a hard time keeping track of her movements and behavior she was certain she had to be in on the conspiracy, but she was "just a flight attendant."
    • Cassie got a package with a key and a message from Megan using emojis, using their shared history together Cassie decoded the message was able to track her down to a bar in Iceland. Megan is pissed when she arrives, as it was supposed to be instructions on where to take the key and retrieve a safebox. Figuring out where she was hiding was a complete fluke.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The second season onwards, now that the series has overtaken the book it's based on.
  • Adaptational Mundanity: Inverted with the "mind palace" scenes, which aren't from the book and were created for the series, which gives it a more surreal and fantastical feel than the source material.
  • Adaptational Nationality:
    • Miranda in the book is Russian, but here she's portrayed by Michelle Gomez, with her Scottish accent very much intact.
    • In the book, Megan deals with the Russians, not North Koreans.
  • Agent Peacock: It turns out that Shane was an undercover CIA agent the whole time, sent to monitor Megan for her treasonous dealings with North Korea.
  • The Alcoholic: It becomes increasingly clear as the series progresses that Cassie is an alcoholic and her father was too, having introduced Cassie to beer at an early age. She later progressed to the hard stuff.
  • And Starring: In the second season, Rosie Perez is credited this way for her role as Megan Briscoe. In the episodes in which Cheryl Hines appears as Dot Karlson, it is "with Cheryl Hines as Dot Karlson and Rosie Perez as Megan Briscoe."
  • And the Adventure Continues: In the book, Cassie becomes an informant for the CIA after everything that happens, but Chris Bohjalian has yet to write a follow-up. The first season of the series, however, ends with the implication of this happening, and promos for the second season confirm it.
  • Animal Motif: Rabbits and deers are both used in the cinematography. Both tend to connect with death; a dead deer is used as a reminder of the good times Cassie spent with her father, while a live rabbit is used to remind her of how her father died, since she saw a rabbit right after leaving the car crash that killed her father.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Cassie and Ani have a falling out after Max got hurt. Cassie ended up going even deeper into drugs and alcohol, and after another confrontation they just start pulling out personal knowledge just to hurt each other. When Ani tells Cassie to get out of her life, all Cassie can say is "You're going to really regret that when I end up dead." This really sunk into Ani, and a little bit later she admits to herself that Cassie was right and began looking deeper into the information they had gathered.
  • Artistic License: As anyone who knows anything about the airline industry will tell you, trips are based on seniority and the more senior flight attendants hold the better trips. 30-something Cassie is simply too young to hold the trips she's seen working on the show, especially the Asia ones. Even if New York where she is originally based is a hub for all three of the big American airlines (American, Delta, and United) and is known to skew junior among all of them, she would only really be able to go on these trips if she got lucky during her reserve blocks. But the show would not be as fun nor would she be able to get up to zany international espionage hijinks in Boise, Idaho like she does in Bangkok, Thailaind.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Done regarding the murder of Agent Schavez. While he's texting his superiors on Cassie's activities, he suddenly gets his throat sliced open by a switchblade held by a gloved individual. This seems to indicate that Miranda was his killer, especially since we see her looting his pistol from his dead body shortly afterward. In truth, it was actually Feliks who killed Schavez after Cassie pointed him out while at a bar, and Miranda just so happened to find his body in the alleyway.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: In "Blue Sincerely Reunion," when Esteban Diaz moves to hit Max in the face to try to get information out of him, Gabrielle Diaz tells him "Baby, stop," making it seem like she thinks he's going too far. Then...
    Gabrielle: You're gonna hurt your hand. We have tools for that.
  • Bat Deduction: Cassie got a message from Megan using emojis, and translating the code using their shared history determined she must be at a bar in Iceland they once visited. When she finds her close to that bar Megan is upset, as the code was supposed to mean something entirely different. Cassie fell backwards into actually tracking her down.
  • Better Manhandle the Murder Weapon: Cassie does this repeatedly, to the chagrin of everyone who knows better.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: At first, Buckley just appears to be a fun and dreamy guy who wants to run away with Cassie, and takes joy in getting wasted and having lots of sex with her. It’s later revealed that he’s a murderous psychopath who not only was the one who killed Alex in the first place, but has been stalking Cassie since the beginning of the show.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Shane busts into Cassie's hotel room and shoots Feliks just in time.
  • Black Comedy / Thriller: The series is a darkly comedic thriller with plenty of moments of levity, such as Cassie's alarm ("Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" by Wham!) going off right as she discovers Alex's dead body.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: After Cassie and "Buckley" sleep together for the first time at his house, the latter briefly goes on a somewhat disturbing story about how he used to adopt multiple cats, and even took care of them after they died, becoming known as the "dead cat guy". When Miranda tells Cassie a similar story about what Feliks used to do, she immediately realizes who Feliks really is.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Buckley Ware, a boy Cassie picks up while bar-hopping, turns out to be Feliks, the man who's responsible for both Cassie and Miranda's problems throughout the entire show.
    • Shane Evans, one of Cassie's coworkers at Imperial Atlantic airlines, is revealed to be an undercover CIA agent in the Season 1 finale.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Cassie used to go hunting with her father, and so despite not being especially familiar with guns she is capable of pulling the trigger.
  • CIA Evil, FBI Good:
    • Notably subverted. The FBI are Sympathetic Inspector Antagonists, but are ultimately pretty firmly on the side of good. The CIA, meanwhile, end up being Big Damn Heroes, and it's strongly implied that Cassie will end up working for them in the future.
    • Played with in the second season. Ultimately, the CIA regional director for Los Angeles turns out to be corrupt and the one behind the criminal conspiracy of the season to frame Cassie for a string of murders. However, she is ultimately found out and stopped by Cassie's handler, and the rest of the agency is established to be made up of good people. There's also Cassie's friend Shane, who is the one who recruited her in the first place and proves very helpful in unraveling things as well.
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: The Imperial Atlantic Airlines crew ends up being involved in two apparently unrelated conspiracies: Victor's weapons smuggling rings and the North Korean government's corporate espionage. This ends up being beneficial, as Shane's pursuit of the North Koreans puts him in the right place at the right time to bail Cassie out of her own perilous situation.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The hit-and-run that puts Max in the hospital ends up having nothing to do with the conspiracy, to Cassie's disbelief. It turns out it was just a high teenager, who ends up being apprehended by the police shortly afterward.
  • Daddy's Girl: Ends up being deconstructed. Cassie was very close to her father growing up, and he seemed to prefer spending time with her over Davey. As it turns out Cassie was treated as her father's drinking buddy, and she blamed herself for the car accident that took his life. She also came to realize how horrible Davey was treated, and she called him in tears to apologize. He readily forgave her, saying how their father treated her was not right either.
  • Dead Star Walking: Michiel Huisman (best known internationally for his role in Game of Thrones) is introduced as Cassie's love interest, but is killed off a third of the way into the pilot. That said, it's not quite a straight example, as a version of him continues to appear to Cassie in her mind throughout the series.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype:
    • Cassie deconstructs the Hard-Drinking Party Girl. Yes, she may enjoy drinking lots of alcohol and having great sex while not working flights, but that type of behavior is incredibly self-destructive and makes it difficult for many of her friends and family to take her seriously. Her casual dismissal of her friends outside of simple pleasures or quick favors also does little to sway them to her side, with Ani, Megan and Shane ghosting her at some point during the series due to them being sick of her.
    • Ani is a perfect example of how being a Crusading Lawyer is not always a good idea from a legal point of view. Sure, she might genuinely care about Cassie's problems to the point of trying to legally assist her, but the more hoops she jumps through to try and justify her client's eccentric behavior, the more the chances of her getting disbarred go up exponentially. By the end of the Season 1 finale, Ani's reputation is too far damaged to continue practicing law, which results in her quitting her the firm and being forced to look for a new job.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Downplayed with Miranda Croft. While she's still a self-serving spy at the end of the first season, she definitely cares much more about Cassie than she did at the beginning of the show.
  • Dead Person Conversation / Spirit Advisor: Alex becomes something of a conscience to Cassie after his death, at times helping her remember the the events that led to his death. She has to remind herself several times that he doesn't know anything more than she does, and she barely remembers anything from the night they spent together. He also acts as a sounding board to help her come to terms with her past and her current self-destructive lifestyle.
  • Dragon Their Feet: Victor, the de facto Big Bad and the one who ordered Alex's death, is killed in the penultimate episode of Season 1. The finale instead has Cassie contending with Psycho for Hire Feliks.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: In Season 2, Megan is shocked when Cassie shows up in Reykjavik with the key to a lockbox full of evidence. Cassie relates she figured out Megan's emoji code that she was meant to bring the key "to the Queen of Long Island." A disbelieving Megan relates the message was for Cassie to bring the key to their friend Cherri, who works at the Queens strip club in Long Island.
  • Establishing Character Moment / Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Viewers are introduced to Cassie through a montage of her partying all around the world, culminating with her waking up hungover in a subway car. She's frequently seen drinking thereafter, signaling that it's a regular habit of hers. Cassie's alcoholism eventually becomes a plot point and major part of her backstory.
  • Evil Brit:
    • Zig-zagged with Miranda Croft. She's established as being a very self-serving and cold Professional Killer who feels a need to fix any mistakes that she makes, and admits to have stolen identities and murdered people in her life as a spy. However, after getting to know Cassie for a little bit, Miranda starts to warm up to her and genuinely wants to help her out, though she still steals Alex's money and leaves her at the end of the show.
    • Played straight with Feliks, aka Buckley Ware. He's responsible for Alexander Sokolov's death, and he's revealed to have been stalking Cassandra since the very beginning of the show. He's a much more shocking example of this trope, as his real identity is only revealed in the last couple of episodes.
  • Fake Memories:
    • Many of Cassandra's happy memories of her childhood turn out to be much more disturbing than she thinks. At one point, Cassie sees her family happily celebrating Davey's birthday which is what she thinks she remembers. In reality, Mr. Bowden and Cassie were making Davey completely miserable by verbally abusing him and digging into his cake with their bare hands before he gets so much as a slice.
    • In the second season, Cassie has constructed a perfect life for herself in which she has a year sober. In reality, she's relapsed twice and has been suppressing the memory of having done so.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Max and Cassie become this as they work together to break into Alex's apartment and a nearby warehouse. After a heartfelt moment with Ani when he wakes up from his coma, Max's first thought is to ask how Cassie is doing.
  • Freak Out: Cassie is, understandably, very upset and disoriented after waking up in bed next to a graphically murdered Alex. This feeds into the overall story, she is not making decisions with a clear head and has regular hallucinations of Alex in an attempt to piece together what happened.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: If you look closely at the switchblade that kills Agent Schavez, you can see it looks quite different from Miranda Croft's butterfly knife, foreshadowing that she isn't the one responsible for his murder. Sure enough, it belongs to Feliks, who uses the exact same knife later on to try to break into Ani's apartment and to intimidate Cassie when he corners her in Rome.
  • Functional Addict: Cassie has a longstanding unhealthy relationship with alcohol, but by all accounts was exemplary at her job: great with passengers and always got to work on time (even if cutting it close).
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Van White likes to see himself as a Cowboy Cop, especially compared to Hammond being a By-the-Book Cop and even gloats that he accelerated to her rank in half the time. Hammond points out his "rough-and-tumble FBI agent" comes from trust fund ivy league grad white privilege. If she, an African-American woman, did anything even close to what White suggests, she would almost assuredly be forced to resign.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: The second season has a Central Theme that sobriety and atonement is HARD, and it's way too easy to celebrate progress when the chance of slipping is so easy. Cassie had to accept that she was a fundamentally flawed individual who has made bad decisions not just as a kid but in her entire adult life. This, though, lets her manage expectations for herself and find some peace and progress outside of celebrating AA chips.
  • Hidden Depths: A flight attendant is maybe not the more respected career but Cassie proves to have a knack with talking her way out of situations, recognizing faces, is conversational in multiple languages and really good with numbers (she has to remember her flight schedules for weeks at a time). She seems like she is spiraling out of control, and she is, but is able to keep on top of the story through persistence and quick thinking.
  • Idiot Ball: The first things Cassie does after seeing Alex's body in bed with her is to decide not to call the cops, clean the entire crime scene, and then buy a rather conspicuous scarf to cover her head and bolt, all on camera. She rarely ever puts the ball down.
  • Interrogation Montage: The FBI agents working on the murder case question Cassie along with her fellow flight attendants through a cross-cut montage.
  • It's All My Fault: Cassie blames herself for the crash that killed her father because she was his "drinking buddy," even though it was his drunk-driving that caused the crash.
  • Job Title: While the story is not really about Cassie's job, it does factor into a lot of things involving her lifestyle and freedom of international travel.
  • Master of Disguise: Buckley Ware / Feliks has been stalking Cassie in various disguises since the start of the series and killed Alex while heavily disguised.
  • Meta Casting: Kaley Cuoco spent 12 years on The Big Bang Theory as Penny, a Hard-Drinking Party Girl with unrealistic acting aspirations who falls in with a group of nerdy friends who help keep her grounded. As Cassie, she feels like a progression of Penny if she never had that support network and progressively spiraled out of control.
  • Mile-High Club: It doesn't take long for Cassie and Alex to meet in the airplane bathroom, though it doesn't appear they go beyond making out.
  • Motor Mouth: Sometimes Cassie gets going on a subject and won't stop talking. This has actually proven to be an advantage, as she is able to talk fast enough to hold on people's attention and her blunt line-of-thought monologues are so obviously unscripted that people tend to take her at her word.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Hardly 10 minutes goes by without seeing Cassie in some state of undress or otherwise in revealing attire.
  • Mushroom Samba: A case where only alcohol is involved, though. In episode 6 of season 1, a heavily intoxicated Cassie has weird flashes to both the night at the hotel and her childhood, driving her into a surreal version of the hotel where the two times combine to make, for example, a scene where both a deer and Alex are dead in the same bed in a room that mixes the hotel and the woods.
  • Nephewism: When Cassie and Max are trying to get into Alex's apartment, she passes herself off as his sister with the very creative name, Alessandra, an alias she previously used when visiting Unisphere Asset Management.
  • Not His Sled: Alex is killed by the Miranda in the book, but in the series it's Buckley/Feliks who does it. In the book, he's only sent to kill Cassie after Miranda spares her.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: The opening of episode 7, Miranda with Cassie at gunpoint, demanding to know who she works for, who wants the money and to know who wants her dead. Cassie begs for mercy as she doesn't want Miranda to kill her like she did Alex and Sabrina which confuses Miranda as she figured Cassie killed them like she did the FBI guy who Cassie didn't even know was dead or FBI. It's when she calls Miranda "Elena" and mixes her up with the files that Miranda realizes Cassie knows nothing of any of this.
    Miranda: Wow...we are so fucked.
  • Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure: Ani is doing everything she can to help Cassie, being both her friend and lawyer, but after Max got hit by a car and brought to a hospital because of Cassie bringing him along to a dangerous area proves to be a breaking point for her. This was on top of some sacrifices she made through her firm contacts. She tosses Cassie out of her house and refuses to help with her problems.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation / Adaptation Expansion: The book is a more straightforward case-of-mistaken-identity chase-based thriller. The series adaptation is a darkly comic and satirical thriller with the added Spirit Advisor Imagine Spot scenario that also deconstructs the Broken Bird type of character.
  • Ransacked Room: Miranda Croft ransacks Cassie's apartment and is troubled when she finds among other things multiple passports, convinced that Cassie is much more than just a simple flight attendant.
  • Really Gets Around: Because of her job, Cassie has Friends with Benefits in many different places around the world. She is also quick to find a guy at a bar or club to sleep with if she is having a bad day, which is often.
  • Roof Hopping: Cassie and Miranda end up doing this once in Episode 7 to escape an assassin, but it proves to be more difficult than normal and Miranda almost falls backwards in the attempt.
  • Running Gag: Cassie's phone (and her "Two Of Hearts" by Stacy Q ringtone) going off at the worst possible time.
  • Sanity Slippage: Cassie grows increasingly paranoid as the series progresses, and her hallucinations start entering Mind Screw more and more as she finds out more about Alex Sokolov.
  • Second Episode Introduction: Colin Woodell receives a starring credit for his role as Buckley Ware, but he doesn't appear until the second episode, "Rabbits," when Cassie meets him in a bar.
  • Self-Serving Memory:
    • A key problem with Cassie as she would criticize her brother's take on their alcoholic father, talking of how much he loved them with him scoffing "you have completely rewritten our childhood."
    • A hallucination makes Cassie realize that what she remembers as he winning an egg race as a kid fairly with her brother cheering her on was really her drunken father knocking Davey down to let Cassie win and realize she was romanticizing their dad too much.
    • Season 2 has Cassie honestly believing she's spent a year sober until forced to face the truth she's relapsed twice.
  • Sequel Hook: Miranda slips away after the confrontation with Feliks, leaving the book with the cipher (minus the pages with the bank codes) in Cassie's jacket without being noticed. Shane continues working at the airline despite Cassie knowing he's with the CIA, and he mentions she might be getting a phone call as a resource.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Cassie and Davey appear to be on good terms, and Cassie loves her nieces, but flashbacks show that as kids their father heavily favored her while cruelly harassed him. Cassie had blocked out many of those memories in favor of something happier, but began to remember the truth as other parts of her life unravels.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Cassie is the messy, aimless counterpart to her brother Davey, a clean-cut father of two, as seen through their phone conversation in the pilot.
  • Sinister Switchblade: Both Miranda and Feliks use butterfly knives to kill their victims.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Miranda is killed by Buckley/Feliks in the book, but survives in the series.
  • Steel Ear Drums: Notably averted in season 2. Cassie has temporary hearing loss and then bouts of tinnitus after being close to an explosion. So do her doubles, Grace and Dot Karlson, which becomes an important plot point when Cassie sets off an alarm to try to exploit Dot's tinnitus.
  • Straight Gay: Cassie's brother Davey is married to a man but neither he nor his husband show any stereotypical traits.
  • Stalker with a Crush:
    • Feliks/Buckley has been following Cassie for the entire show.
    • Jenny turns out to be this as she fell in love with Feliks, who then made her think he was still in love with Cassie so Jenny would kill Cassie for him.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: In "Rabbits," a photo is circulating of a woman seen in Bangkok that authorities want to speak with who looks suspicious like Cassie. Megan calls up Cassie, who is at a loud bar, and can barely hear her, but tells her about the photo and how she thinks it looks like her. Cassie denies it, sounding crazy and harassed, and when she presses the matter, she tells her "Honestly, if that was me in the photo, you know what? Then I guess my life would be free-falling down an insane pit of traumatic shit. So I guess I go out to a very, very loud place to drown out all the crazy stuff that's going on in my head, and you can bet that it would feel fucking crazy! But... it's not me in the picture."
  • The Unfavorite: Davey to Mr. Bowden, who called Cassie "the son I never had."
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Alex spends much of his screen time (pre and post-mortem) in the pilot episode shirtless, as he was half-naked when he died, though he's covered in blood and light gore for some of it.
  • Wants a Prize for Basic Decency: Ani accuses Cassie of this after Max gets hurt. Cassie dragged Max around to snoop into the various places the clues take them, and after getting hurt she did everything to get him help. This was largely an exaggeration by Ani, who was getting fed up with Cassie's inability to follow directions and was dragging other people into danger.
  • Wedding Finale: The finale of the second season ends with Annie Mouradian and Max Park getting married.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: The core premise of the series is that Cassie barely remembers anything from her night with Alex, and over time is able to reconstruct bits of events and conversations that help resolve the mystery. As a character, Cassie experiences this on a regular basis due to heavy drinking and partying, she is first seen waking up in a subway car. She later realizes that she has entire blocks of her LIFE missing due to her lifestyle.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: In "After Dark," before resigning from her law firm, Annie tries to give this to her assistant, Jennifer, telling her that she never should have allowed to her to call her "Jessica," telling her that names are important and that her name should actually be pronounced "Ah-nie," but when she was a kid the other kids kept pronouncing it "Ann-ie" and she finally gave up trying to correct them. She says that she shouldn't allow other people to tell her who she is, but Jennifer says that she doesn't think she can just become a "Jessica" and she'll miss working with her.


Video Example(s):


Why Did That Change?

At a low point and spending the night in jail, Cassie Bowden is forced to reckon with her past. She comes to see that the happy, shiny memories she has of life with her father Hank and brother Davey are largely a lie. Her father was an abusive alcoholic jerk who regularly insulted and belittled his own son, and abused her in his own way by turning her into his "drinking buddy" and getting her to collude in his treatment of Davey.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / AbusiveParents

Media sources: