In the season 2 premiere of The Flight Attendant, Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco) is still working as a flight attendant for Imperial Atlantic, but now she’s officially moonlighting for the CIA. She travels to Berlin where her assignment is to observe a man at a hotel, but Cassie decides to go against CIA instruction and not only engages in her mark, but follows him all over Berlin. Fairly standard for an inexperienced operative, right?
Watching the newest season of the HBO show is like watching a slasher film, where I found myself uselessly yelling at my screen for the unwitting characters to run and not hide in the closet. But yet, it’s more exhausting to see Cassie actively go against sound advice because her recklessness is a product of her privilege, namely as an attractive white woman who can access her mark’s hotel room by fabricating a lame story, repeatedly dodge her sponsor’s calls, follow half-baked theories with no logic, all while clearly lying to her colleagues and boss. And somehow she manages to get out of sticky situations largely with no dire consequences.
Characters like Cassie, who frustratingly repeat their mistakes, can exist in television, but let’s stop having them represent the paradigm of empowerment because they were able to overcome a harrowing, difficult situation. Their privilege allowed them to do so, let’s not forget it.
Cassie in season 2 is just as erratic as last season, but given that her character had woken up to a dead man after a one-night stand, her behaviour seemed excusable. Further complicating her behaviour last season was her battle with alcoholism. This time around though, we find Cassie sober, living in LA, and in a healthy, by her own standards, long-term, relationship with Macro. She seems to have her life together and is routinely going to AA meetings. But now Cassie seems to have replaced alcohol with adrenaline, and despite having a lot of resources and people to turn to, she is just as flighty and careless as before.
“Just because you took away the alcohol doesn’t [automatically mean you take] away the risk-seeking behaviour, the not-thinking-things through, the acting from impulse and then regretting it later … She just doesn’t have excuses for it anymore,” show creator Steve Yockey told Vanity Fair.
It begs the question, if Cassie is the same chaotic character from season 1, then what exactly makes her an asset to the CIA? Obviously as a flight attendant, she has discreet accessibility to varying countries. But while her entrance to these countries may not raise questions, her behaviour and actions sure warrant them. Even after her handler berates her for lying to him, Cassie brushes it off and is surprised that her employment could be terminated. She minimises her actions even with looming repercussions. While on a pleading tangent, she even admits that working with the CIA is the “only exciting thing” in her life, as if the severity of the situation is the equivalent to a teenager begging to stay out past curfew. Her outlook on her responsibilities sends up numerous red flags, and for her to feel so brazen to share this with her boss shows the privilege she holds.
Arguably, her lack of hindsight exacerbates the issue of Cassie’s privilege. At times, she doesn’t seem like she wants to learn or grow and takes things for granted. When Shane reminds her of the stakes, she continues to create puzzling situations for herself and him with the confidence that the consequences won’t catch up just yet. In Iceland, she actively works against his case and leaves him with a dead body as a parting gift, which he of course clean ups. And when Cassie finally does reach out to Shane in episode 5, clueing him in on all the potential danger she’s in, you can’t help but question the privilege she has to fumble an intense situation with the convenience that someone else, mind you a Black man, will clean up the mess she unnecessarily escalated.
Most marginalised groups, especially Black and Brown individuals, wouldn’t dare to follow Cassie’s reckless behaviour because the luxury that is afforded to her wouldn’t even be a possibility. If Cassie were a person of colour, the series would take on a more bleak tone rather than the kooky adventure we currently find ourselves on. The real hard truth is we see Black and brown adults in real life harassed — and sometimes killed — over baseless accusations of trivial theft like of a book bag or candy bar. Realistically, Cassie would probably be in jail by episode four or at least fired, and the show would shift to a more somber note where Ani (Zosia Mamet) and Max (Deniz Akdeniz) work to exonerate their friend.
Cassie isn’t totally irredeemable. Her wide-eyed charisma draws you in, and the extreme lengths she goes to help a friend is admirable. She also has moments of true vulnerability in admitting when she relapses. But the lack of accountability with foolish decisions in life-threatening situations makes her aggravating to watch. As the season 2 finale approaches, I’m not holding my breath that this is the end of the road for Cassie and her disastrous choices.