Hijack - TV Series Review

Idris Elba carries an overstuffed but entertaining thriller series.

What if you stretched your typical "plane gets hijacked and hero saves the day" movie thriller into a miniseries? That seems to be the conceit behind Hijack, a limited series streaming on Apple TV. Starring the awesome Idris Elba as a corporate negotiator trapped on the hijacked airliner, Hijack's extended run-time is both a blessing and a curse.

The highlight of the series is Elba himself. His charisma makes him believable as high-stakes negotiator Sam Nelson, who uses his background to manipulate hijackers and passengers alike. In early episodes, his enigmatic behavior makes it hard to tell which side he's really on. Is Sam genuinely helping the hijackers just so he can get home safely, or is he steering them into a trap? The reality turns out to be somewhere in-between, which ultimately proves more interesting. I like that (for the most part), Sam relies on his wits rather than his fists to resolve conflict. And as executive producer George Kay told TV Insider, "Over the course of the flight, he realizes he can’t solve this hijacking situation single-handedly, and he has to rely on the help and the ideas of other people..."

The hijackers themselves are a fairly one-dimensional bunch, but the stretched-out nature of the story gives them a little more depth than your typical hijack thriller baddies. Their motives aren't revealed until far into the series, which is a little strange but does add some interesting mystery. And while those motives don't entirely hold up to scrutiny, I'm glad the show stayed away from the usual hijacking tropes.

The passengers and flight crew are the real beneficiaries of the extended run-time. Sam is able to build meaningful connections to several of them, and they contribute good ideas and move the plot along. Also, roles that probably would have been one-note tropes in a movie version are allowed to have some development and depth. It reminded me of the movie Speed, where the colorful background characters really add to the tension on the bus. It also hearkened back to an older movie, The Delta Force, which spent just enough time with the passengers to humanize them and make you care whether Chuck Norris and the gang actually saved them.

The story takes place in real time, like the series 24, with each of the seven episodes devoted to one hour in the flight from Dubai to London. This gimmick is subtle enough that I didn't even notice it at first, but intrusive enough to affect the pacing in weird ways. Still, it's interesting to see shows experiment with different storytelling techniques.

To space things out, the show cuts between the action on the plane and a separate set of stories on the ground. First with the air traffic controllers trying to piece together what's up with the plane's odd behavior, and then with investigators trying to figure out who's behind the hijacking. I'm genuinely torn about these scenes. On the one hand, they feel like fluff that just distracts from the tension in the air. On the other hand, I really like some of the characters (especially Eve Myles' air traffic controller Alice, who first realizes that "something dodgy" is going on). Scenes where the taskforce wrestles with thorny questions felt grounded and interesting. How do they deal with foreign governments as the plane crosses their borders? Should they give in to the demands? Should they shoot down the plane?

While there isn't a specific female protagonist (Sam is the only true "main" character), there is such a wide breath of female roles that I decided to highlight the series anyway. Especially since so many of them (the co-pilot, the counter-terrorist investigator, the politician, the hijacker second-in-command) are roles that traditionally would have gone to guys.

Between Sam, the passengers, the hijackers, the air traffic controllers, the politicians, the police investigators—it's just a lot to keep track of. Especially with only seven episodes. I think focusing on the plane and a couple characters on the ground would have given everything more room to breathe. But despite feeling a bit overstuffed at times, the show had enough tension to keep me interested. The final two episodes in particular were on par with any movie finale, including one "WTF was that?!" twist I didn't see coming. It's a perfect summer diversion.


  • Princess Power: 3 Stars
  • Overall: 4 Stars
  • Bechdel Test: Fail

Learn about my Ratings System.

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Mom. Writer. Gamer. Geek.
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