New Apple TV+ limited series Hijack stars Idris Elba as a man caught in an explosive hostage situation in the sky. Elba plays a corporate negotiator on one of the worst days of his life, as armed terrorists seize the airplane he’s flying on from Dubai to London.
He has six hours to foil their plan — and possibly save his marriage. Can he pull off one or the other, or both? And more importantly, will it be thrilling? Time will tell…
Hijack recap: First 2 episodes
Season 1, episodes 1 and 2: Sam Nelson (played by Idris Elba) is in a real funk. His wife Marsha (Christine Adams) is leaving him for another guy, a detective named Daniel O’Farrel (Max Beesley), so Sam’s flying back to London from a job in Dubai to reconcile.
Sam works as a corporate negotiator, and “highly strung” doesn’t begin to describe him. When a fellow passenger on the plane, Hugo (Harry Michell), pisses him off by playing a game on his phone too loudly, Sam looks ready to throttle the guy. Then he notices something strange on the flight. Two guys (Neil Maskell and Jasper Britton) having a chat, despite the older of them flying coach and muscling his way into first class for the convo. Sam doesn’t like the coiled intensity of their body language.
What Sam doesn’t realize until it’s too late is that the men were talking about a bullet. A teenager named Naomi (Mei Henri) found it in one of the bathrooms. She showed it to Marcus, who said he was going to report it to the flight crew. But instead, he went to tell his accomplices that they have to hurry up their operation. They pull out guns and take the plane and its several dozen passengers hostage.
Attention, passengers: There’s a hijacking in progress
First, they go after a flight attendant named Colette (Kate Phillips) because she’s sleeping with the pilot, Captain Allen (Ben Miles). Rules and regulations state the flight crew can’t let the gunmen into the cockpit, but they use Colette as leverage. Despite a valiant effort from his co-pilot, Anna Kovacs (Kaisa Hammarlund), Allen opens the door to spare his mistress.
Sam manages to get a text message to Marsha before Allen turns off the plane’s Wi-Fi. She shows it to O’Farrel, who gets in touch with an old acquaintance named Zahra Gahfoor (Archie Panjabi), who works in counterterrorism. Sam tries to ingratiate himself with the terrorists, but they don’t want the assistance he offers. However, he manages to contact the pilot and convince him to shift the course of the plane by a few degrees so anyone examining the flight plan will notice the odd discrepancy.
By now, enough has gone wrong that various ground-control crews are starting to notice. A Dubai official notices that his best security check employee left in the middle of her shift, thus missing the import of the weapons that the hijackers used to take the plane. When he goes to her house, he finds her and her whole family dead — and the men responsible kill him next.
In England, air traffic controller Alice Sinclair (Eve Myles) notices the wonky flight pattern. Then she wonders why the plane’s Wi-Fi went dark, and why the pilot so infrequently comes to his headset when called. The game is afoot down below.
‘The pilot is a problem’
Hijack is a peculiar one. Obviously, because the motivations of the hijackers have not been revealed, there is little sense of the real-world implications of the show yet. And that means what we watch this first week is a very by-the-numbers hostage thriller, which just demands an explanation. Why this? Why now?
Idris Elba, perhaps reasoning the same lack of purpose, seems unconcerned to the point of boredom in his role as the smartest guy on the plane. Because his character must keep a cool head and seem like he knows exactly what he’s doing, there isn’t much chance for the hijackers to perpetuate much menace. How can they seem scary to us if Elba doesn’t seem that bothered?
That same unhurried, unemphatic energy is all over the show. Christine Adams and Max Beesley don’t react to Elba’s texts with much urgency. And when Beesley gets in touch with Archie Panjabi, the two of them are more bent out of shape over their relationship fizzling than by the possible threat of terrorism on a plane.
While these might actually be realistic responses, they don’t exactly scream excitement. I’m invested in Hijack. After all, this is a good cast and I do want to know why the plane has been taken. But it’s a strangely rudderless affair for something meant to be high-stakes.
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.