Apple TV+ terrorist thriller Hijack finally takes off this week, introducing real challenges and intense, investigative set pieces as the people on the ground try to figure out if the plane has been taken over, and if so, why — and what can be done about it.
The calm, cool and collected interloper played by Idris Elba takes action as the plane he’s on descends further and further into chaos. The episode, entitled “Draw a Blank,” is the best this show has yet been.
Hijack recap: ‘Draw a Blank’
Season 1, episode 3: Air traffic controller Alice Sinclair (played by Eve Myles) has drawn her conclusions, done her math and decided that she’s seen enough. Flight KA29 from Dubai to London has been hijacked. She calls counterterrorism expert Zahra Gahfoor (Archie Panjabi) with her findings.
If Zahra sounds a little skeptical, it’s because she investigated this flight earlier in the day and was told by numerous authorities it was under control. After a little persuading, Zahra goes to her superior, Lydia (Poppy Roe), and asks her to take immediate action.
Meanwhile, aboard KA29, corporate negotiator Sam Nelson (Idris Elba) is still brainstorming ways to dismantle the hijackers’ plot. An old man tells some of the first-class flyers that he thinks the hijacker’s guns aren’t real. The man’s name is Yussuf (Nasser Memarzia) and he was in the Egyptian military for years. He’s dealt with his fair share of kidnappings. In most cases, the terrorists didn’t load their guns or used blanks.
A plan to take down the terrorists
Sam’s seatmate Hugo (Harry Michell) comes up with an idea to test Yussuf’s theory. He fakes sick, writes a note on toilet paper, and throws it to coach. Hugo’s note tells everyone to look for a shell casing. When they took the plane, a hijacker named Jamie (Aimée Kelly) fired one of the guns. If the bullets are real, there should be a shell casing.
Flight attendant Arthur (Jeremy Ang Jones) overhears this discussion and says they did find a bullet. Naomi (Mei Henri) spotted it, and one of the hijackers (Jasper Britton) took it. If they can get the bullet back, maybe Yussuf can help them identify if it’s real or not.
They get a drawing of the bullets to Naomi, and she confirms that they’re blanks. Sam makes use of a commotion in business class and heads to the back of the plane to search for something to use as a weapon. Hugo, of course, wusses out.
Sam makes a stand against the oldest of the terrorists, then tells him he knows the gun is loaded with blanks. What Sam can’t see is Stuart (Neil Maskell) trading the blanks in his gun for the real deal up in the cockpit. When we hear a gunshot, we don’t know who fired it — or what they hit.
Nothin’ but blue skies
Now this is a little more like it! Hijack spends all its time this week on practicalities and suspense instead of table-setting. Idris Elba’s cool demeanor cracks when Neil Maskell makes an example of him in front of the other passengers. And that was good to see, if only because it allows Elba a chance to do some real acting instead of looking very cool in all the ways you can take that.
The investigation of the bullet situation made great use of the plane’s cramped quarters and the watchful perspective of the terrorists, roping the audience into a tense operation we can’t control but want to see completed. And then all the English ground control hubbub and invoking of high-ranking politicians and all that moves at a breathless enough pace to keep things interesting.
The only weak link in this episode was the involvement of Elba’s wife and her new boyfriend. The characters have yet to pay anything like dramatic dividends, and instead just drag Hijack down. Let’s keep this plane in the air.
Watch Hijack on Apple TV+
New episodes of Hijack arrive Wednesdays on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.