The Flight Attendant made a very smooth, but thrilling, landing with its HBO Max finale this Thursday — with even readers of the source material getting a small surprise or two.
As the eight-episode adaptation of the Chris Bohjalian novel came to a close, Cassie (played by executive producer Kaley Cuoco) used herself as bait in Rome, to draw out Felix aka “Buckley.” After procuring a firearm from her Italian sometime-hookup Enrico, Cassie found herself ambushed in her hotel room by Felix, who had lugged Miranda’s lifeless (?) body into the bathtub. A fight ensued, and though Cassie alternately stabbed Felix in the leg with his own knife and then grabbed her gun to put a bullet in his leg, it was a gunshot that came from behind Felix — fired by an arriving Shane! — that ultimately neutered the threat.
In the aftermath, Cassie learned that Shane is actually a CIA agent who has been keeping an eye on their colleague Megan (who got duped into stealing files from her husband for some North Koreans). He also reports that Miranda was not found anywhere, dead or ailing, in the hotel room. But in the midst of a reconciliatory lunch with Annie at a diner, Cassie discovered the late Alex’s book had been slipped into her jacket pocket, with the code-riddled page torn out. Meaning, Miranda was alive and well enough to go get the hidden windfall!
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TVLine spoke with Flight Attendant executive producer Steve Yockey about the HBO Max hit’s big finish, the changes made from the novel, and the outlook for more Cassie Bowden (mis)adventures.
TVLINE | It sounds like you have been doing some gangbuster numbers over there, for HBO Max. Were you made privy to any specifics, or just the same superlatives that the rest of us saw?
We saw the press releases that you saw. So, we don’t have any additional information other than HBO MAX seems really happy right now. We were all happy that the show was so well received, and they’re happy about the numbers.
TVLINE | I went into this series ice cold, so I assumed that the “mind palace” device with Alex (Michiel Huisman) and Cassie was part of the book. But I hear it’s not. What was the decision behind that?
The stuff with her childhood, and also all of the Alex and mind palace stuff, was sort of a creation, because when you’re asked to adapt a book you think about, “What’s the best way to do this?” And what Chris [Bohjalian] does really beautifully is trap you in this woman’s anxiety and paranoia, herof self-reflection of, “Could I have done this thing? How could this happen? What are my life choices?” Watching someone sit on a hotel bed and worry isn’t fun television, so how can you blow that out and give it A sense of spectacle and scope? I had this idea that when people have trauma and PTSD, these images kind of freeze in their mind, and so this image of him in the hotel bed with his throat slit froze in her mind — and then the brain slowly normalizes it. Then she could just keep revisiting this same memory over and over and over again to try and process what happened to her.
TVLINE | Kaley said on a podcast that you guys did a lot of coverage, especially when you were trying to get a handle on the tone of the show. Is there an alternate edit of this series you could do that’s far more dramatic?
I mean, yes, there are moments we could make more dramatic, I suppose. But I think that why Kaley is so fantastic is that she gives you a lot of options, so when there are moments where you’re still like, “I think it needs to be this thing,” she can give it to you seven different ways. And then you really have choices about how things can come together. You can do anything with editing, so yes, we could give you a much darker version of the show, but I would never do that. It’s fun the way it is.
TVLINE | Kaley actually learned that from John Ritter. I did a magazine profile on her years ago, and she said one of the things he taught her [on 8 Simple Rules] was to always give options.
Yes, she often talks about John and the admiration that she had for him, both as an actor, in a scene, but also on stage, with the way he treated people. I can tell you that you couldn’t ask for a better No. 1 [on the call sheet]. She comes to set, she knows everyone, she’s super positive, and even if she’s been working 14-hour days for four days in a row, if she ever has a problem or is upset about something, the crew wouldn’t know. I know that she learned a lot of that by watching John.
TVLINE | You were one of the first, if not the first, New York shows to resume production after a long COVID break. What was the stickiest wicket as far as continuity?
Really, the stickiest wicket was hair. That sounds crazy, but we did a month of prep when we were coming back up, so it had been almost seven months, and those first few days was about having to match the footage because we were only three days into Episode 6 when we shut down.
But the thing that was foremost on everyone’s mind was quickly falling into the PPE routine, the testing routine, the new hours, and where the “zone” is on set. Television crews are extremely adaptable, especially when it means everybody gets to come back to work, so everyone was very focused and it was easy to do that stuff. After that, it became about the little things like continuity, continuity, continuity. Just making sure that we kind of went okay, it’s been seven months. So, I wouldn’t call it a sticky wicket, but it was definitely everyone’s hair.
TVLINE | It worked out well that Kaley’s sister Bri had already been cast as [Miranda’s colleague] Cecilia, since they are in each other’s “bubble.”
When we cast Bri, Kaley was like, “Listen, I’m not going to weigh in on this because I don’t want to tip it [as an EP].” Cecilia is one of my favorite characters because she doesn’t have a lot of real estate, but she packs a wallop in terms of personality, and when Bri came in and read for it I was like, “Yes.” She has that spunk. The character went through three different style iterations, in terms of trying to find what gives us the best impact, and so we changed her costume, and then tried something different, and it was great because Bri was so game to go along with everything. She was having a good time and always ready to work. That’s what I look for when we’re casting people.
TVLINE | The Cassie-Annie scenes were so entertaining. How did you envision their dynamic?
For all intents and purposes, I guess Annie would be the straight man, but she’s also hysterical because Zosia [Mamet] is hysterical. We wrote this character that was supposed to be a foil to Cassie’s spiraling energy, and we were having a hard time finding the right person because I think I, in particular, had a really specific idea of who Annie was in my head — very straight laced and uptight. When Zosia came in to audition, with like a white tank top and jeans, all of her tattoos visible and her hair up we were like, “What’s this going to be…?” And when she and Kaley started reading together it was like, “Oh! There’s Annie.” It was like one of those things where an actor kind of shows you who a character is. They’re fantastic together and they have such complementary energies.
TVLINE | I, for one, was wondering all season long when, and then if, Megan’s (Rosie Perez) storyline would ever dovetail with the main plot. Did you have any concerns about people getting impatient, wondering what that whole thing was about?
I would say the network probably had those concerns when we were writing the episodes, but they were very supportive of us and let us take some chances. In the writers’ room, we were playing with all of these thriller tropes in new and different ways, because we have a new and different kind of person at the center of a thriller, and in a traditional thriller or mystery, eventually Megan’s “little movie” that was going on inside our television show would suddenly cross plots. Those two stories would come together, but we decided, “What if we just keep it separate, and we let them cross emotionally in a way that activates both of their stories in the finale?” That’s how we ended up with the very emotional scene between the two of them, because at the heart of it the entire time Megan and Cassie are just wrestling with this idea of “Are we really friends?
But Megan also has this statement, “I messed up, I’m going to fix it, I don’t want to get anyone else involved,” and that makes Cassie realize she has to stop waiting for Miranda. I’m going to go find a gun and be ready when Buckley comes, because I know that he’s coming and I need to protect myself. Letting the stories cross in an emotional way instead of in a plot-based way felt like a good way to upend what people were expecting.
TVLINE | So, I was writing something on the show, and when I went to Google the name of the actor who plays Buckley (Colin Woodell), the results ended up spoiling me on who he really was….
TVLINE | Did you think about maybe changing that reveal? I assume it’s faithful to the book.
It’s faithful to the book, though he is not the killer in the book; he is just a person that is hunting Cassie. In the book, [Book Spoiler] killed Alex, so we made changes that we thought would not so much isolate us from people who had read the book, but give us that Game of Thrones experience where people who’ve read the book are like, “Oh yeah, just wait until this happens.” We thought it’d be fun for people who have read the book if we are also surprising them as well. But I am sorry it got spoiled for you.
TVLINE | Looking ahead to a potential Season 2, would the basic premise be, like, Shane is Cassie’s handler?
Well, Shane’s an agent, not a handler, so I don’t think he would be her handler. I think that in the event that we do a second season, there’s a lot of potential there to have fun with that thread of Cassie and Shane, but we’re just in the very beginning of discussions of what that could be. Everybody’s blown away with how well the series has been received, but we also sat down to make a show that had a beginning, middle, and an end, so I think that a second adventure would look something like if there were a whole new book, another Cassie Bowden: Flight Attendant adventure. What new trouble can she kind of stumble into, like a male Hitchcock protagonist? How can she get caught up in something that’s bigger than herself?
TVLINE | It does feel like it needs to be about her getting caught up in something, whereas if Shane’s telling her what to do, that’s too much structure and puts her too much in control of her world.
Look, the hallmark of our show already, after only eight episodes, is “Cassie makes bad choices,” and so I think that even in trying to be sober and really trying to make a change in her life, it’s still going to be entertaining to watch this person who makes choices that you would not make.
TVLINE | I know that I’d love to see more of Miranda (played by Michelle Gomez). Would that be on your wish list, too?
Hey, we kept her alive! Our show has a much lower body count than the book, and we kept her alive for a reason. Michelle was fantastic in the role.
TVLINE | Miranda turned out to be very funny!
Everybody loves a bad guy that you can get a kick out of, and I think that Miranda — because we had to keep her as a mysterious threat for the first half of the season — really got to shine in the second half. It would be great to have some more Miranda, absolutely.