Hijack review
A still from the web series starring Idris Elba in the lead role.

‘Hijack’ review: Fraught with plot holes, web series struggles to soar; Idris Elba lands it to safety

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Idris Elba is arguably one of the most charismatic and regally graceful actors of our time. Whether it’s in the roles of DCI John Luther, Nelson Mandela, Heimdall, or the guardian sentry of Asgard, his immense presence significantly impacted each character he played in a noticeable manner.

Apple TV+’s new real time thriller Hijack, (directed by Jim Field Smith and Mo Ali and written by George Kay) while somewhat lacking in realism, effectively utilises Elba’s commanding physicality and metaphorical gravitas to the fullest extent. Anyone watching would be thoroughly convinced that Elba is the only one who could have convincingly portrayed the corporate negotiator, Sam Nelson to perfection.

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Unrealistic streaks

As implied by the title, Hijack is a captivating in-flight drama that unfolds aboard KA 29, the Kingdom air flight from Dubai to London, with 216 passengers on board. The story of the seven-hour journey is intricately presented across seven episodes with Elba present from minute one.

This hijack thriller possesses all the essential elements except the fast-paced style typical of the genre. It unfolds as a tension-filled slow-burner, following the journey of Sam Nelson, a corporate negotiator who is returning to his unwelcoming wife in London after a brief work stint in Dubai. Unexpectedly, he finds himself trapped on the flight and unwillingly thrust into the role of a hero.

Arguably, there are moments when the narrative feels overly contrived and unlikely, necessitating a considerable willingness to suspend disbelief for full immersion. Individuals with aviation experience may find it entirely unrealistic, particularly regarding the behaviour of the on-board crew, including the pilot, first officer, cabin crew, as well as the ground staff, such as TSA and ATC officials.

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Indeed, thriller shows often incorporate elements that go beyond strict realism to enhance the drama and excitement. The right balance between realism and thrill factor is the key to keep the audience engaged and entertained. While some degree of suspension of disbelief is expected in this genre, it is essential for a show’s creators to find a compelling and captivating narrative that still resonates with viewers and maintains a sense of plausibility, which is kind of lacking here and there.

Well-sketched ensemble cast

Despite these flaws, what makes the show stand out is its daring challenge to the prevailing stereotypes about airplane hijackings after 9/11 with predominantly white, and non-Muslim hijackers who are evidently driven by a well-thought-out agenda. George Kay has successfully risen to the challenge of handling 216 potential characters, providing each member of the ensemble cast with well-defined arcs. This abundance of characters presented both opportunities and difficulties for the screenwriter, but Kay managed to keep the balance in giving them individual journeys.

While the creators paid close attention to numerous minute details of the script, certain characters still lacked the imaginative flair. For instance, the Indian characters in the show, Neela Kumar, the TSA officer in Dubai airport, and her husband Senel, were poorly developed as Malayalis, lacking creativity in their portrayal, and had subpar dialogues and dubbing. Moreover, their religious background was inaccurately represented, with Muslim attire but Hindu names, which was completely misplaced.

Challenges to the plot

The central story unfolding on the flight along with the simultaneous investigation and emergency management occurring on the ground, has similarities with the Suranne Jones and Martin Compston-starrer series Vigil, where the events unfold aboard a submarine. In Vigil, the submarine setting offered a relatively unexplored territory within the crime drama genre.

But when it comes to making a series on the aviation sector, challenges are galore as aviation is a heavily exposed subject, with numerous hours of real-air crash investigations and fictional accounts available to watch. Despite its magnificent execution, Hijack show faces a significant drawback as even teenagers are already familiar with aviation technology and flying procedures due to simulation games and similar televised programmes.

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The final episode of the series, which lasts for an hour, could elicit diverse responses from viewers as some may feel the makers failed to tie up certain loose ends of the plot. However, it can also be seen as a deliberate decision by the directorial team to avoid spoon-feeding the audience. Although the season finale showcased Sam Nelson excelling at what he does best, the tit-for-tat, ‘say cheese’ moment between him and Stuart the mild-mannered hijacker played by Neil Maskell did not resonate with me. Providing further details about the conclusion might give away crucial plot points, so I’ll refrain from elaborating to avoid spoilers.

Meticulously synchronized endeavour

The seamless integration of the plot, music, rhythm, and directorial style of the seven-part series definitely suggests a meticulously synchronised endeavour. However, some may contend that the complex and interconnected relationships among Sam, Marsha, Zahar, and Daniel feel overly dramatic and deliberately contrived as far as the screen writing is concerned.

For me, Eve Myles portrayed Alice Sinclair, the London ATC official, in the most compelling way. Her ‘Nicola Walkeresque’, performance, brought back memories of Ruth Evershed from the British series Spooks of the mid-aughts.

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The on-the-ground part of the crisis management proves to be the Achilles’ heel of the series. While the on-board narrative struggled to maintain altitude at times, it was this ground management part that was supposed to elevate it. However, it fell slightly short of the desired standard, mainly due to subpar screenwriting. The portrayal of the events occurring in the London political corridors and the impromptu war room, where secretaries and officials gather to address the crisis, lacks meticulous detailing that could have enhanced its depiction.

After all, the presence of Idris Elba on board and Eve Myles on the ground is what captivates and holds your attention to the screen.


First episode: 28 June 2023 Last episode: 02 August 2023

Genre: Thriller

Streaming on: Apple TV+


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