Flight Instinct: Into The Night

Editor’s note: spoilers

A terrified soldier hijacks a flight to Moscow, convinced the dawn will kill everything on the planet. No one believes him, but everyone believes the gun in his hand. Until the reports start coming in…

I am always there for the pulp maxim of ‘start late, finish early’ and that is the magnetic north on Into The Night‘s frantic, frequently checked compass. Other shows would spend a full episode confirming Terenzio (Stéfano Cassetti) was telling the truth, using it as the first episode closing sting. Instead it’s implied in the first two minutes, confirmed by the top of the pilot’s third act, and the show is off to the races and away from the dawn as fast as it possibly can go. No episode cracks fifty minutes, each starts with a serious situation and ends with a flat out ‘WHAT NOW?!’. Time and again the show takes its basic premise and expands it, digging into the unforeseen consequences of a global catastrophe writ both large and small.

The broad strokes gives the story its shape. The hijacked plane finishes the first episode at RAF Kinloss in Scotland, gaining assistance from a trio of airmen left behind when it was evacuated. Airmen, it’s revealed by the middle of the next episode, that war criminals left to die by their colleagues. Dealing with them costs more than one character their life, and brings the simmering racial tensions between Terenzio and Ayaz (Mehmet Kurtulus) to the fore. The characters are in constant debate over who’s in charge, where they should go and the logistics of keeping an understaffed airliner in the air for, as we find out in the final seconds of the season, almost a full week.

This is where the human stories come in, none more successfully than Sylvie’s. Played by Pauline Etienne with exhausted competence, Sylvie is a former military pilot who volunteers to help when Terenzio forces them to leave with half the crew missing. She’s grieving the recent loss of her partner (his ashes are in her luggage as the show opens) and fluctuates between terrified, determined and bloody furious.

Sylvie, to touch on That Thing Happening Right Now, is very much the heroine 20FUCKINGWHATNOW?! needs. She’s the rock the show is built on. One of the show’s highlights sees her put in the impossible position of landing the plane for the first time so they can get Mathieu, the captain, desperately needed medical attention. The moment she realizes what she has to do is this glorious cathartic beat of apocalyptic exasperation and you can’t not instantly like her for it.

Heroes do the impossible. Authentic ‘real people in shit situations’ heroes do the impossible and then need a long sit down and a cup of coffee afterwards

And speaking of heroes, this asshole isn’t one. Or is he?

If Sylvie is the point where the show’s plot collides with humanity, Terenzio is the point where the show’s tropes collide with reality. Cassetti is the other strongest player here, his character shifting constantly under your gaze. Terenzio is categorically responsible for saving their lives, but that’s just a side benefit for saving his own. Terenzio is instrumental in keeping them moving, but also can’t resist butting heads with Ayaz and manipulating the other passengers. Terenzio is fundamentally concerned with keeping Terenzio alive. In order to do that, he hides behind what’s always served him well: being the loudest, meanest dog in the pack.

This airline, it turns out, does not take dogs.

The show is at its finest when Terenzio is at his worst and that’s especially true of the fifth episode. Back in Brussels to refuel, he leads a team to NATO HQ where we learn he and the other staff were abandoned. Terenzio, to all intents and purposes, is destroyed by this revelation. A man who has dedicated his life to service, abandoned by those whom he serves. It doesn’t justify what he does, at all, but it does contextualize it. He leans on the machismo, on the ridiculous ‘well YOU never won a war’ chest-beating that culminates with him and Ayaz beating each other half to death. He leans on it not just because it’s comforting, but it’s all he has and in the end, it isn’t enough.

The show’s willingness to change and interconnect narrative levels like this is impressive. The show itself? Sometimes isn’t. Ayaz being revealed to be a criminal is lazy in the exact way the racial clashes in the show are not. Horst, another passenger, becomes something of an all purpose scientist whose sole job is to explain how screwed they are this episode. Osman, a cleaner trapped aboard when the plane takes off, basically has nothing to do for the back three episodes besides help carry things. None of these are show-stoppers but when the rest is so consistent, they do stand out.

That being said, Into The Night is an enjoyable ride (if you’ll pardon the lazy metaphor). It’s clever, quick paced, fundamentally compassionate and does things you don’t expect it to on average once an episode including the final episode’s most narratively-required scene of mass partial nudity I’ve ever seen. I have no idea how a second season could work, but I’d love to watch it.

Into the Night season 1 is on Netflix now.

This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid . If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.

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