The Filter Of [The Flight Attendant]

The Flight Attendant is maddeningly picturesque. Every shot seems filtered for Instagram, every outfit from the closet of an influencer, every backdrop felt like a destination worth travelling to see. The effect was to create a façade fit for the 21st century, one reliant on looks and glamour and how well a life can be sold on the merits of a few moments, photos, and images. If we could reduce a person’s experience to their apartment, wardrobe, and a quick blurb about how they live, then everyone in The Flight Attendant is worth the highest degree of our internet-induced envy.

But anyone who has a life knows that even in our most picturesque moments, where our wardrobe coalesces with a setting worth documenting during a story worth telling, the interior rarely matches the exterior. And this is the case for those in The Flight Attendant as well. The perfectly manicured wardrobes and glitzy destinations for glamorous flight attendants and high-powered lawyers hide nefarious secrets- feeling trapped in a family that doesn’t see you, deep-rooted fears of worth, childhood trauma from parents, work for the CIA, and alcoholism. 

And in this way, The Flight Attendant is the perfect mini-series for this decade. The first episode grabs your attention with fast paced plot, beautiful shots of partying in Bangkok, meeting rich men who take beautiful women to wherever they want to go and to do whatever they want to do. The show feels like an Instagram story come to life. But by the end, that filter is destroyed by a physical and metaphorical dead body in the bed. And as Cassie, the main character, wakes up from one hell of a bender in Bangkok to see that dead body and reflect on how far she has fallen, her carefully manicured façade comes crumbling down, like a photo without a filter or an influencer without makeup or a bikini photo without dehydrating yourself for 24 hours or a vacation Instagram story without researching the best places to visit and finding the best angles for your backdrop or… well, I think you get it.

And as that façade slowly crumbles, we see just how much it masks who Cassie, and her co-characters, really are. Each episode follows a deeper spiral into Cassie’s issues guided by that talking dead body in her mind, the one she found in her bed, to which she owes the beginning of the end of her running from who she is. Her partying seems less enviable and more sad and her drinking seems less like ‘girls being girls’ and more cringey and, eventually, like self-harm through alcoholism. Her flitting from country to country on a plane doesn’t look like a glamorous young woman living her best life, but like a high functioning alcoholic unable to settle down and come to grips with the harsh realities of her life. And as she tries to unravel the mystery of this dead man it exaggerates all these issues and makes her unable to maintain the lie any longer. Those wonderful wardrobes become simpler, going from dresses and layers of expensive clothes, to jeans and sweaters, her makeup fades, her wrinkles show, the settings become less picturesque, and normality sets in… sweet, blessed normality.

Because of this, most of this story is told visually, through these wardrobe and image choices by the directors and some terrific acting from Kaley Cuoco, who I severely underestimated going into this, she was beyond excellent and so was just about the entire cast- special shout out to Zosia Mamet and Griffin Matthews. But the plot was also incredibly engaging in a thriller storyline fit for an Elmore Leonard novel. And it carried well through three quarters of the series, but as Cassie unraveled and the lives of all she touched along with her, so does the plot. It makes less sense, gets looser, and ultimately limps home in the end. It all makes sense… kind of… but as so often happens in horror and thriller- the payoff didn’t do the buildup justice. But by the time the questions of plot holes and stability arose, I already realized the plot was secondary, or maybe even tertiary, to Cassie’s internal conflict, and the story being told visually of how we all nowadays are way better at telling the story of our lives than actually living them.

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