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In this scene from The Flight Attendant‘s first episode, Cassie (Kaley Cuoco) returns to the scene of the crime at the center of the HBO Max comedy series’ murder-mystery plot: the Bangkok hotel suite where she discovers Alex (Michiel Huisman), who has been brutally killed at some point the night before, during Cassie’s alcohol-induced blackout. But this is not really the hotel suite — it’s Cassie’s “mind palace,” where she returns frequently throughout the series to process the trauma she has experienced and figure out what happened to Alex.
“It’s a structure that you can build in your head to help you concentrate on things, remember things, visualize things,” explains Steve Yockey of this seemingly otherworldly version of the hotel suite. It was not a device novelist Chris Bohjalian used in the book upon which the HBO Max series is based. “The book is very taut and very internal,” Yockey continues. “It works really well on the page, but you don’t want to watch someone in a hotel room thinking. We came up with the idea that the Makara Prince suite existed in her mind because it gave us an opportunity [to express] Cassie’s thinking and feeling in a way that is external.”
This is the second time Cassie enters the mind palace, and Yockey says the scene originally was much shorter: “It was supposed to be this kind of disorienting quick pop.” The writer added more dialogue not just so Cassie had more of an idea of what was happening but also for the audience’s benefit. “It gave us a chance to establish that she wasn’t comfortable with the situation yet because it’s a weird situation, even for viewers,” Yockey explains. “It also gave us a chance to reestablish Alex as more than a murder victim, to remind people he has this kind of dark, sarcastic sense of humor because he’s essentially a part of Cassie’s brain.”
“Alex is not comforting in any way. In fact, he’s a little glib,” Yockey says. The Flight Attendant mixes darkness with levity throughout the series, and this scene sets up the surreal tone for the rest of the show. “By adding humor to this kind of psychological thriller, you also get to go a lot darker.”
“Cassie is extremely heightened — she’s at a 10 in this scene,” Yockey says. “She gets pulled into the mind palace, which is the last place she wants to be.” By the show’s second episode, Cassie is able to predict when she will be sent back into this cerebral place, but she’s not yet aware of what’s going on here.
“You learn a lot about Cassie from the way she behaves in the mind palace,” Yockey says. “That’s her internal space where nobody else is watching her, and so she’s her most raw and authentic.”
Even though Cassie is asking Alex in the mind palace for an explanation for her predicament, she doesn’t yet realize he is, in fact, a part of her own mind. “It’s almost like she’s an unreliable narrator within herself,” Yockey says. “He only knows what she knows — he’s not going to be like, ‘Here’s a clue.’ ” This scene sets up the rules of the mind palace, even if Cassie hasn’t figured them out yet. “It gives you a sense of what we’re dealing with,” he adds. “The mind palace is a big swing and can be a little jarring for the audience. Without making it feel like exposition, [we had to] settle people into the device and into the ride.”
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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