Idris Elba seems to be everywhere these days. From Luther to Sonic, he’s sinking his teeth into every genre. Hijack is no exception. This 7-episode thriller on Apple TV Plus depicts him as a passenger on a flight from Dubai to London who finds himself embroiled in a sophisticated hijacking by a criminal gang with hidden intentions.
Elba (who also executive-produced the series) is the centerpiece of the storyline; it begins and ends with him. His character Sam Nelson takes charge of the situation as soon as the hijackers make themselves known, biding his time and planning with other passengers and the terrorists. Nelson’s job is never tangibly laid out, simply labeled as a negotiator for major businesses. What is he doing in Dubai? We don’t know. Why does he strangely not have any luggage? We never find out. All that matters is that he puts his negotiating skills to the test, trying his best to prevent the hijacking from going seriously wrong.
Hijack isn’t solely focused on Sam, of course. There are over 200 passengers on the plane and countless people on the ground to deal with. It’s just not practically possible for writer George Kay (who also co-created the fantastic Lupin for Netflix) to explore every character with the same depth. Kay smartly focuses much of the character anatomy on the five terrorists onboard and a smattering of the passengers. The terrorist gang combined is a significant threat, but its leader Stuart seems especially unhinged. Stuart is played by Neil Maskell, who viewers may recognize from his unnerving turn as Arby from the Channel 4 series Utopia. Maskell is terrifying with or without using his words, his face on its own intimidating. His physical performance is needed, as his dialogue often resorts to vague threats like “Sit down!” and “Stay in your seat!”.
’24’ ON A PLANE
Hijack isn’t a run-of-the-mill thriller series; it employs a gimmick that’s been used before. Like the series 24, Hijack employs a real-time element. This means that every episode represents one hour on the plane and the bet mostly pays off. The first half of the series benefits especially from this concept, giving enough time for the audience to be introduced to the supporting cast through innocuous interactions.
However, as it drags on, Hijack becomes victim to this decision. When the action dies down on the plane, the series is forced to cut to the ground to keep the audience engaged. Unfortunately, the secondary drama (involving government bureaucracy in a boardroom) is no match for the tension up in the clouds. The people trying to decipher the purpose of the hijack and how to prevent it from succeeding are often not privy to the information viewers know from the narrative on the plane. This leads to extended scenes of research and realizations that the audience experienced minutes ago.
Additionally, the twists and turns aboard the aircraft increasingly become ridiculous and unbelievable. With the way the series presented itself in the opening episode, Hijack feels like an entirely different show by the finale. What could have been a prestige drama for Apple devolves into a cheesy action thriller.
What helps Hijack‘s drama feel more elevated are the decisions made by the passengers and the terrorists. Both groups are surprisingly smart, making choices and utilizing tools in crafty ways to achieve their goals. Sam Nelson is especially clever, siding with the hijackers and gaining their trust. This allows him to strategize and plan often without suspicion. In one sequence, he utilizes the screens on the back of the airplane seats to communicate with another person using innocuous tools.
Drama wouldn’t occur, of course, without mistakes made. However, the mistakes aren’t outlandish and out-of-character. Often the mistakes are for selfish reasons, such as a mother trying to protect her children from harm, and are met with consequences in some form or another. The use of character strengths and flaws is what sets Hijack apart from a by-the-numbers drama.
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