Obligatory disclaimer: A show that features people dropping dead for some mysterious reason is admittedly a tough sell right now. But one of the reasons that “Into the Night” isn’t quite the derivative thriller it may seem to be on first glance is that its approach is centered around survival.
The new international drama, now streaming on Netflix, focuses on a group of passengers aboard a flight heading west from Brussels to Moscow. When an Italian soldier Terenzio (Stefano Cassetti) forces his way through the gates and onto a commercial flight, he and the handful of other people with him become some of the only individuals to escape a deadly worldwide event brought on by exposure to sunlight.
Under the leadership of pilot Mathieu (Laurent Capelluto) and passenger Sylvie (Pauline Etienne), pressed into cockpit service when the rest of the crew and passengers are left at the terminal after Terenzio forces an early takeoff, this assorted collection of strangers all band together to come up with a plan to keep outrunning the sunlight while working out a survival strategy that doesn’t require a massive, vulnerable aircraft.
Here, “international” is not some short-sighted catch-all term for any show that isn’t entirely set in the U.S. or has subtitles. The passengers onboard this lengthy flight speak mostly in French, but come from different cultural backgrounds. Throughout the course of the season, those differences in ability, occupation, religion, and class all create opportunities for the kind of tension that could undermine the entire effort. Their continued relative success is built on new understandings of each other, but “Into the Night” incorporates the idea that certain prejudices and assumptions can hinder a response to an urgent, unfolding crisis.
As with all dramas that take place at least in part on a plane, there’s an easy, knee-jerk TV comparison to make. But aside from the prologues at the outset of each episode that capture a sliver of one passenger’s life before the flight, “Into the Night” feels less like “Lost” and more like “Speed.” This group of people’s simple task is to make sure they stay under the cover of darkness. The enemy isn’t some scheming villain bent on global domination. It’s just the unpredictable patterns of nature.
Rather than use its premise to present a series of escalating horrors for this group of survivors to face, “Into the Night” keeps the same threat looming on the literal horizon for its entire season. Within that struggle to stay out of reach of daylight, the show finds its incremental struggles in the logistics of looking for supplies to help sustain their efforts and the ways to navigate those interpersonal conflicts that threaten the unity of the group.
Within those struggles, “Into the Night” finds a natural push-and-pull between people bonding over a shared purpose and cracking under the pressure of keeping the group afloat. Crises don’t turn everyone into heroes, and even the most confident and sure-handed leaders can be fallible. Along the way, there are also some milestones that those well-versed in survival stories will recognize — people who turn out to be more than they claim to be, the “should we be a democracy or a dictatorship?” group discussion, the enemies whose iciness towards each other eases after an act of heroism, etc.
Maybe it’s because series creator/writer Jason George (who’s previously written for the Netflix dramas “Ingobernable” and “Narcos”) recognizes that talking about the dangers of the sun in such immediate terms is a delicate task. Perhaps that threat is so clear at the outset, it doesn’t need too much parsing outside of some well-timed explanations from the scientist on the flight most equipped to describe it. Series directors Inti Calfat and Dirk Verheye also find ways to make the onboard space feel familiar without being repetitive. With the outside objective clear, that gives “Into the Night” the chance to look inward and focus on how the situation is shaping those within the confines of the airplane.
That extends to how the show addresses what this unexpected solar force is doing to the rest of the world’s population. One quick news report is enough to get across the severity of what’s at stake. Though the survivors eventually have to make their way through devastated cities to get what they need to continue, “Into the Night” mostly leaves the worst of the consequences to the imagination. Without wallowing in the catastrophe, there’s more space to center on the possible resiliency of those who were lucky enough to get a headstart.
Though not everyone on the flight is afforded their own glimpse into the past (those are reserved for the opening sequences in each of the six episodes) “Into the Night” still manages to find a way to keep most of its passengers from becoming simple ciphers. Each of them certainly have a defining characteristic at the outset — Laura (Babetida Sadjo) is a caregiver to another elderly patient on the flight; Jakub (Ksawery Szlenkier) is a technician bent on trying to find a way back to Brussels to save his family — but with time in the air between stop-off destinations, there are still plenty of combinations of people that bring the chance to open up about their pre-flight lives and their specific anxieties.
Sylvie may be the only one on board with enough knowledge to co-pilot the plane, but part of what keeps “Into the Night” watchable is how it spreads a kind of efficiency across all the other passengers. It’s not one polymath stepping in to save the day while a dozen others stand around, waiting to offer their services. In most other shows with this premise, social media influencer Ines (Alba Gaïa Bellugi) would be a fish-out-of-water punchline whose sole purpose is to cut the grim tension around her. Here, her contributions have a significant part to play in getting as many people as possible to safety.
Most importantly, “Into the Night” is conscious of the idea that trauma doesn’t get swapped out in the face of a cataclysm. Regardless of the circumstances, if you’re mourning a loved one or fighting for the survival of a family member or trying to escape your own regrets, a global incident doesn’t wipe those away. Crises may bring out dormant feats of strength, but they don’t sandpaper over any guilt or sadness that was there before. There’s hope for these people, and that doesn’t thrive without a concentrated, coordinated group effort. Right now, that’s a sentiment as comforting as it is compelling.
“Into the Night” is now available to stream on Netflix.