It’s really tough to beat a stellar first season, as many shows often find themselves in an aptly-dubbed “sophomore slump.” But The Flight Attendant’s triumphant second season on HBO Max is somehow better than its first. By upping the ante with more mysteries to solve, and more holes for leading lady Cassie Bowden (star and executive producer Kaley Cuoco) to dig herself out of, the show’s second season sends its leads into vast pits of despair—while still allowing the show’s twisty and touching season finale to prove that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. Through the show’s consistently sympathetic portrayal of addiction and the satisfying conclusion, The Flight Attendant’s second season eclipses its first in both quality and heart.
Season 2, which picks up over a year after the events of the first season, finds Cassie in a plethora of new mysteries, including being framed for murder by a woman who looks exactly like her. While trying to unravel that mystery with the help of a vintage View-Master and her best friends Max (Deniz Akdeniz) and Annie (Zosia Mamet), Cassie must also deal with her friend Megan’s (Rosie Perez) espionage, unpack her own familial trauma, hold onto her fragile role at the CIA, and keep her day job at Imperial Airlines—all while trying to remain sober. With its anxiety-inducing score by Blake Neely and its unique editing and fast-paced thrills, Season 2 built on all the incredible elements of the first season and, somehow, made them better.
After Episode 7’s shocking cliffhanger, in which Grace was revealed to be Cassie’s double before shooting herself in the head, Episode 8 (titled “Backwards & Forwards”) is just as thrilling as you’d expect, and provides every satisfying answer to every burning question posed this season. In an improvement from their already-incredible first season, The Flight Attendant centers Cassie even further within the mysteries, while allowing her to come out the other side better than ever once again.
Throughout the season, Cassie’s Alcoholics Anonymous program continues to stress the importance of acts of service. Whether it’s helping an internationally-hunted friend reenter the country or offering to help her brother clean out her estranged mother’s house, Cassie has done her fair share of service, but not without sacrifice. The Flight Attendant’s biggest strength is its sympathetic portrayal of an alcoholic and how difficult it is to change, even when it’s their greatest desire. Despite the show taking Cassie into the darkest of places (particularly in Episodes 5 and 6), the second season rewards Cassie with her ultimate act of service: Deciding she deserves better.
One of the most triumphant moments from season comes in the finale, when Cassie recognizes that the many versions of herself that live within her subconscious are all a part of her, and that she must embrace the “deeply flawed, sad, alcoholic, narcissistic, thrill-addict,” who “doesn’t like [herself] very much,” in order to move forward. She reclaims those parts of herself by admitting out loud: “It’s who I am, and it’s enough for me.” Cassie’s conscious decision to accept herself, flaws and all, allows her to understand herself on a deeper level, paving the perfect path for her recovery in the future. The incredibly sympathetic and realistic portrayal of Cassie’s addictions and flaws allows the show to take as many crazy twists and turns as it does while still creating an incredibly hopeful and heartwarming outcome. A lesser show might lean into the darkness too much, but The Flight Attendant allows Cassie not only to make it out of her messy situation alive, but end the season 30-days sober, on better terms with her mother, and celebrating Max and Annie’s love at their Las Vegas wedding.
Of course, the finale wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for Cassie, especially after being confronted with her most personal villain yet: Dot Karlson, CIA director and coordinator of the plot to frame Cassie. Dot reveals to Cassie that she specifically chose her because she knew it would be easy to frame a woman who is constantly on the brink. She tells her that she planted the View-Master because she also knew Cassie couldn’t resist a good puzzle, much less one that would help clear her name after the trauma of Bangkok. By giving Cassie a villain that preyed on her weaknesses, the series confronts its main character with her own flaws in the cruelest way possible in order to trigger the self-preservation Cassie desperately needed to not only make it out of that specific situation alive, but also to make the changes needed to live a healthier and happier life.
Cassie’s act of service also manifests in how her friends treat her this season, particularly how the series portrays their own sympathies and understandings around the hardship of being Cassie’s friend. In the first season, one of the most devastating moments was when Annie and Max refused to put up with Cassie’s drunken adventures, insisting that it wasn’t worth risking their own safety to help Cassie. This season, Max and Annie are all-in while helping her, even leading to creating their own private investigation firm in the finale. Despite the set-backs Cassie faces throughout Season 2, Max and Annie’s unwavering support is instrumental in helping her recover—but that unwavering support comes from the work Cassie put in during Season 1 and beyond to regain their trust and help herself first.
In addition, Megan also finds herself on the receiving end of the work Cassie has put into herself throughout the course of the second season. The finale features Shane getting Megan into the witness protection program and reuniting her with her family. Even if Cassie’s Icelandic rescue didn’t quite go to plan earlier in the season, Cassie rejects her own narcissistic tendencies to ensure that her friend can live a safe and happy life.
Yes, Cassie still has so much work to do, but The Flight Attendant’s second season proves that she’s already on the right track to improvement. The hopeful ending also brings a beautiful joyfulness to an otherwise heavy series, allowing the audience to feel like they have made it out the other side with Cassie. In a masterclass of character work in the midst of a complicated plot, the series remains another undeniable hit for HBO Max and super-producer Greg Berlanti. Following this second season will be tough, but I thought the same post-Season 1, so I’m sure the third time will be a charm if this delightful thriller/comedy is allowed to head out on another trans-continental flight.
Anna Govert is an entertainment writer based in Chicago. For any and all thoughts about TV, film, and the wonderful insanity of Riverdale, you can follow her @annagovert.
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