‘Hijack’ Co-Creators Break Down the Tense Finale and That Last Twist

“[If] the hijacking starts in the first episode of seven, it can’t be the biggest or most shocking thing to happen,” says writer George Kay

Idris Elba in "Hijack"
Idris Elba in "Hijack" (Apple TV+)

Note: The following contains spoilers for “HijackSeason 1 finale.

The ultra-tense final episode of “Hijack” hit Apple TV+ on Wednesday, following Sam Nelson’s (Idris Elba) last-ditch efforts to talk the hijacker(s) into landing the plane safely, as the government debated whether to shoot the flight down to stop it from crashing over London and cause mass casualties.

TheWrap chatted with the Apple TV+ series co-creators, George Kay and Jim Field Smith, about how they set the stage for the “Amanda twist.” And how the smooth-talking Sam could possibly help end an even tougher situation: The standoff between the AMPTP and writers’ and actors’ guilds.

TheWrap: The finale was very tense. Did you have a bar where you said, “It’s not intense enough, we need to add another wrinkle?”

Jim Field Smith: Once you start it being tense, you can’t make it less tense. When you call a show “Hijack,” people are coming into the show expecting there to be a hijack and expecting it to be tense, so you have to deliver on that. But also you have to give yourself, no pun intended, some runway. I think we perhaps bang our heads up against the ceiling of tension a little bit, but hopefully we managed to keep it varied and still give ourselves some ways to go in the final episode.

Idris Elba’s character is very good at getting everyone to trust him. But at several points, people feel like he’s betrayed their trust. How did you walk that line where the other passengers aren’t turning against him?

George Kay: It was a case of working out his character in terms of who he was without the hijacking. He comes on the plane as a very self-centered, self-assured, self-important character. He’s very keen to solve things himself and doesn’t rate anyone else’s ability to do the same. Which he does with charisma and Idris Elba-ness, so we don’t dislike him. We wanted to see him warm up and open up in terms of allowing other people’s opinions in and views in.

Holly Aird in "Hijack"
Holly Aird as Amanda in “Hijack” (Apple TV+)

He doesn’t land the plane himself. [We asked ourselves] what are these kinds of alpha male things that you might expect in a more two-dimensional movie version of this story? It was super important that he’s not the man that’s going to come in and help the woman [sleeper hijacker Amanda (Holly Aird)], who’s taken control of the flight and helps land the plane for her. It was really great to write scenes where he didn’t know what he was doing in the cockpit and she did. And everyone was going to get that plane down together as a group. So it goes from one guy who’s quite selfish and coming to mansplain his wife back into a relationship, to a whole community landing a flight.

Had you always planned the Amanda twist?

Kay: Yeah, pretty early. If you have a show where the hijacking starts in the first episode of seven, it can’t be the biggest or most shocking thing to happen, because you’re running on empty if you spend all your big twist attention at the front. So it was always about looking for new ideas, new ways to turn the story, raise people’s hopes, dash them again, find twists and vary the story on the ground, as well as in the air. And that’s the kind of hard bit and the fun bit of writing that show.

You actually had me believing for a minute that Sam was not going to make it.

Kay: Oh, good. So some people thought it was a six-episode show for some reason… Did you hear this, Jim? They thought the end of Episode 6 [where Amanda takes control of the cockpit] was the end of the show, like the plane was forever gonna keep flying.

Smith: That [would be] an end of season cliffhanger and then you’ve got to wait to find out what happens.

With that Amanda twist, like everything in the show, storywise, is full credit to George. We needed to cast the right actor for that role, knowing what she needed to do in Episode 7, but keeping that hiding in plain sight throughout the entire series. We worked very hard to make sure that all those twists are not arbitrary, that they’ve been planted somewhere else. As you go back and watch it, you can see how the guns got onto the plane, you can see that Amanda was there sneaking through security at the same time.

Kay: The first thing you see should be the last twist you give, right? So the first conversation Idris has after the hijacking starts is with Amanda. Because that’s the last twist that comes, so it’s sort of a game of folding [the twists in] the whole time.

You end the show with a shot of Sam still on the plane. Can you talk about that choice?

Smith: We wanted the camera to not leave the plane at the end, because that’s where we’ve been. When that door shuts in Episode 1, we wanted that to be our show. We’re locked in this sort of prison for better or for worse. When Sam walks off at the end, we deliberately shot him walking off into… obscurity is probably not quite the right word. But it’s a sort of fadeout for Sam. It’s not a definitive.

There’s still at least one loose end, which is one of the criminals who was released from prison is still free. Were you thinking of a second season? Or is this it?

Smith: There’s definitely loose ends. But what we wanted was for Sam to go on this seven-hour journey. It would be interesting to see Sam Nelson again, and see how he might take that lived experience and apply it elsewhere. Hopefully some of that can live in the viewers’ heads.

But ultimately we wanted this show to be satisfying and have a sense of closure at the end of it. We set out to make it as a limited series. And that’s where we left it. But it’s been amazing to see how everyone loves the show. And, you know, we’ll see what happens from there.

Since Sam is so good at negotiating, do you think he could resolve the writer and actor strikes here in the U.S. and negotiate a contract with the AMPTP?

Kay: Yeah, I think we should go and get him. (Laughs)

Smith: It depends which Sam, you’re talking about. If it’s the Sam from Episode 1 then probably not, because he’s just out for himself. Whereas the strikes are about the collective power of people. I think if we were going to send anyone to solve it, we’d have to send the entire plane. That’s what the story is about. Sam realizes that actually he needs to harness everybody in order to solve the problem. He can’t solve it on his own.

Kay: Anything would help, right? We need something, yeah.

Smith: Idris in Episode 1 would be taking a bag of Gucci perfume to the AMPTP. And I don’t think that’s going to cut it.

Kay: They will smell better, but nothing will have changed.

All seven episodes of “Hijack” are now streaming on Apple TV+.