‘Red Eye’ Ending Explained & Series Recap: Is Shen Zhao Dead?

In his post-The Hobbit years, actor Richard Armitage has carved out a genre niche for himself—a kind of typical thriller with him being the center of attention. He’s either accused of something or his wife has gone missing; it’s mostly along these lines. These thrillers are never great, but they are always watchable largely thanks to Armitage’s charismatic screen presence. They’re mostly adapted from Harlan Coben’s bestsellers, and they’re always on Netflix. ITV’s latest thriller, Red Eye, is not based on a Coben story, and it’s certainly not on Netflix, but with Armitage being the lead, it does follow the same pattern. And despite all the glaring logical flaws, the show is an entertaining watch from start to finish. Like most recent works of Armitage, it is very bingeable. What makes it unique, though? Well, Armitage doesn’t cheat on his wife or girlfriend—that’s mainly because he most likely doesn’t have one and is also too busy with what’s going on. There’s barely any romance here, unless you take the very mild “will they-won’t they” vibe between Armitage and Jing Lusi.


Spoilers Ahead

What Happens in the Series?

We see a white man getting out of a bar in China, all battered and bruised from a fight. He flees in a car, and from the look of it, it clearly seems like he’s not in good shape. He soon crashes the car. The man does survive the accident, though, as we see him at Heathrow airport after a while. But he’s soon stopped by immigration and taken to an interrogation room. The man happens to be Doctor Matthew Nolan, and he is accused of the murder of Shen Zhao, the daughter of a Chinese political leader. The Chinese government immediately wants Nolan extradited, and if the British government fails to comply, a nuclear deal between the two countries will fall apart. So MI5 decides to send Nolan back in no time, as the deal is way too important for Great Britain. Director Madeline Delaney is skeptical about sending back Nolan this way, but for the time being, she has no choice but to allow it.


Nolan is visibly confused, and he keeps denying all the accusations. But nobody wants to believe him, which gives him the right to call a lawyer. According to him, he’s returning from a conference organized by a non-profit called “World Pacific Medicine” (WPM), where he was supposed to give a lecture. However, the people at the immigration office have made up their minds about putting Nolan on the red-eye flight to Beijing. They’re only following orders from the British government anyway. Nolan is not the only one who’s going back; four other British citizens who attended the conference are also being sent back to give testimony. However, these four—Steven and Amber Hurst, Chris Peele, and Kate Ward—all doctors,  are not under the obligation to follow. The Hurst couple and Kate decide to do the “right thing” while Doctor Peele takes his leave. Seeing Peele get abducted five minutes after leaving the airport, one would wonder if he made the right choice—just saying!

How does DC Hana Li get involved?

DC Hana Li was minding her own business until her superior, Simon, ordered her to go to the airport. Her assignment is to escort Nolan and hand him over to the Chinese authorities once they land at Beijing Airport. DC Li is in no mood to travel to China, and that has a lot to do with her tragic backstory. She was born in Hong Kong to Chinese parents, and her mother was arrested for being anti-government when she was five. She never again got to see her mother, who presumably died in the custody of the Chinese authorities. Hana and her father later integrated into Britain, where he remarried and had another daughter, Jess. Hana’s relationship with her half-sister appears to be sour, thanks to Jess, a budding journalist, trying to do a story on Hana, which she didn’t authorize. And that’s all the backstory you get, and Red Eye wants you to care about Hana and her family. Whether you do or not is up to you, not that it really matters in the context of this story. 


At the airport, Nolan pulls off a stunt where he manages to slip past Hana and an immigration officer and make people film him screaming that he’s an innocent British citizen who’s being sent to China against his free will. Nolan’s mission is successful as he soon becomes viral. Jess sees the video, and after realizing Hana is the officer who’s escorting Nolan, she sees an opportunity for a story that would put her career back on track. 

What Happens on the Plane? 

The best thing about shows like Red Eye is that something always keeps happening. There’s not usually a dull moment, and if you can get the writing and acting right, which this show does, then things work out pretty smoothly. The moment Doctor Nolan graciously gives away his vegan meal to a co-passenger, you know something bad is going to happen. It doesn’t take long for the innocent man, Daniel Lomax, to die. It looks like a heart attack, and Nolan tries everything to save him, but that goes in vain. Nolan is convinced that someone is out there to get him, but DC Li and Chen, the captain of the flight, still think the death is just an unfortunate accident. Nolan is soon proven right when a passenger’s dog accidentally eats the leftover of Lomax’ meal and dies. Hana now wants to look into the matter. Whether Nolan is guilty or not is another matter, but it can fairly be said that there’s someone who definitely wants to kill the doctor. 


Unfortunately, another doctor dies soon; this time the victim happens to be Steven Hurst. And while his death also looks like an accident caused by flight turbulence, it soon becomes clear that it’s only made to look that way. Unbeknownst to everyone, Captain Chen’s co-pilot Wu finds out that someone has tampered with the system of the plane, which caused the turbulence in the first place, but Chen doesn’t allow him to reveal the information as it puts his authority under question. Wu also backs out thanks to him not having a valid license to pilot a plane—and no, I’m not going to go into the logical dissection of that! 

Anyway, we soon find out that our dead doctor had an extramarital affair going on with Kate, and apparently Amber knew about it. The entire Amber versus Kate drama is rather off-putting and doesn’t add anything to the story, especially considering Amber dies soon after and you know for a fact that Kate has nothing to do with it. But air marshal Zheng, who took quite some time to reveal his true identity to Hana and Nolan, clearly thinks otherwise and puts Kate under arrest. It hardly matters as Kate eventually goes missing and her body is soon found inside the dumbwaiter. The killer has done a hasty job this time around, implying they clearly don’t care about making the murders look like accidents anymore. 


What’s Happening at the Thames House? 

If you’re familiar with shows like Red Eye, then you’ve got to know that there’s always a huge conspiracy at the highest level of government, which is the root of all trouble. It’s the same in Red Eye as well, where something is definitely going on right under the nose of director Delaney. To be very honest, the entire government conspiracy drama of Red Eye is pretty basic and also unoriginal. Like most things, it’s never the guy who seems like a baddie and always the guy who seems like your good friend. The “apparent” baddie in the question is John Tennant, a former subordinate of Delaney who was put in charge when she was unavailable as her husband suffered an accident. Although Delaney is back in charge, the Prime Minister of Britain (who seems like an idiot, by the way) favors Tennant and has asked him to oversee the whole matter. Tennant is also a supporter of the nuclear deal between Great Britain and China, while Delaney is not too keen on it. We see Delaney constantly having this cold exchange of words with this Chinese minister, Tang. She’s also having an affair with the CIA chief-of-station in London, Mike Maxwell, who appears to be an ally.

Delaney and Tennant continue to bicker among themselves over how to handle the situation. Once the murders starts to happen on Flight 357, Delaney directly contacts Hana, and the two of them form an alliance. Tennant believes Delaney should not barge into the matter, as it should be handled by MI6 and not by MI5, but she clearly doesn’t care about what he thinks. In case you’re wondering about MI5 and MI6, the domestic security-related matters of Britain are handled by MI5, and the international threats are looked after by MI6. Considering the flight is in international air space, Tennant is not entirely wrong if you consider things on the basis of technicality. 


But he has his own agenda, of course, which happens to be this project called “Blindsided.” What’s that about? Well, a terribly written subplot where the MI6 wouldn’t mind sending British citizens to China who wouldn’t actually know that they’re carrying something with them. The “something” here is an all-important nano SIM card, which apparently has valuable information that could turn the world upside down. There’s a possibility that Nolan might have it, or any of the other four doctors who were asked to travel back to China and give testimony against him. Tennant is aware of the whole thing, which he was hiding from Delaney, as she would have hated the idea of sending innocent citizens to China for the sake of a nuclear deal. 

Is Air Marshal Zhang a bad guy?

Zhang never seemed like a good guy in the first place. Even though it seemed like the man was trying to help out Hana in the investigation, a lot of his activities did indicate that he might be a rotten egg. So it’s not exactly surprising for us when we, along with Hana, finally find out that it is Zhang who is behind all the deaths on Flight 357. He’s not the one who’s getting his hands dirty though; there’s this random passenger, Troy (we get to know the name much later though), who’s actually done all the work. Zhang is basically a freelancer who’s trying to get the nano SIM card and then deliver that to the person (or organization) responsible for Shen Zhao’s death. 


Once the snake on the plane is neutralized, Hana’s next concern is getting to the bottom of the conspiracy. Considering Zhang has already killed himself, she can’t get anything out of it. However, she soon finds out that there’s another player out on the plane, and that turns out to be harmless air hostess Songyun. All she did was smuggle a suitcase full of cash and fake passports, all with Hana’s photo, in order to frame her for all the murders on the plane. She doesn’t know who’s behind all these, as she’s just a helpless pawn who’s poor enough to do the immoral thing for money. Realizing she’s going to be apprehended the moment the plane lands in Beijing, Hana has no choice but to do a faux hijack and turn the flight back to London. Captain Chen does appear to be a man who wants to help, but not at the expense of his family, so Hana must do all the hijacking drama in order to save the pilot. 

Who killed Shen Zhao?

By the halfway mark, it becomes abundantly clear that Doctor Nolan is definitely not the man who killed Shen Zhao. We’ve already seen him going into the club with Zhao, where she drugs him, and then he gets into a fight with the bouncer. However, Nolan does figure out that Zhao actually meant no harm, and she did the whole thing to bury the nano SIM inside his body, where it would remain safe and sound. Another ludicrous bit of plot, but let’s just not get into that because there’s really no point. Anyway, all Zhao wanted was for the SIM card to reach Doctor Chapman, the leader of WPM and also an MI6 spy. Chapman is found by Jess, who’s now become part of this whole thing thanks to both her inquisitive nature and sister privilege. He does point a gun at her initially, but upon realizing she’s just a journalist who’s looking for her story, Chapman doesn’t mind sharing secrets with Jess. Sadly, he doesn’t get the opportunity as he gets shot by an unknown attacker. Chapman sacrifices his life in order to save Jess’. Before his death, the man tells Jess that Nolan must have the thing with him, although he didn’t mention any SIM cards. 


Jess is soon picked up by MI5 as both Tennant and Delaney start questioning her. When they see her video of government agents destroying computers and documents inside the WPM headquarters, they both realize that something terrible is going on. Delaney suspects Tennant is somehow involved thanks to his major bad-guy energy, and her belief gets stronger when she gets abruptly fired from her job by the PM herself. Needless to say, Tennant is put in charge, and now Delaney is concerned about the safety of Nolan, Hana, and also Jess, given that she believes that Tennant would do anything for the sake of the deal. So she does exactly what you would expect a character like her to do—breaking protocols, smuggling Jess out of the HQ, and then rushing to the Dunsfold Airbase, where the flight is going to land. Delaney must get to Hana and Nolan before Tennant, and thanks to having the CIA chief as her paramour, she’s able to do that. 

Nolan and Hana are understandably surprised to find out Delaney is taking them to the US embassy instead of Thames House, but they’re obviously unaware of what happened on the ground. There’s one major thing that everyone else, including director Delaney, is unaware of, which is Mike Maxwell being the man behind Shen Zhao’s death and everything that happened on the fateful flight. However, thanks to Mike being one of those really stupid villains who think they’re smart, it doesn’t take much for our heroes, Hana, Nolan, Jess, and Delaney, to figure it out. In fact, Mike turns out to be a terribly sloppy villain who blundered by reusing an identifiable asset – the waitress at the WPM party in China – to serve Nolan refreshments and giving the game away. 


Now that it is proven that Mike is the bad guy, Delaney has no problem being friends with Tennant, who actually helps sort things out. Delaney does one other very important thing, which is inform Minister Tang about Mike and what he was planning to do. She’s also smart enough to lure Mike to the garden of the Chinese embassy to make sure he gets arrested and delivered to China, where he will pay for his sins. The climax is easy, kinda botched up, and overly dramatic, but it still works out in favor of the story, although Nolan getting shot by Mike in order to save Hana is a bit too much. The contents of the nano SIM card happen to be the plans for controlling nuclear devices from a remote location, which would have allowed America to cause a war between Britain and China, which Mike wanted to do. 

In what I consider the epilogue of the show, Nolan, fresh out of his surgery, almost asks Hana for a date. I must say there’s chemistry between the two, and if another season happens, I wouldn’t mind getting invested in the romance. Red Eye ends with Hana’s father finally finding out what really happened to his former wife back in China, thanks to a file received from Delaney. It’s a touching scene to close things off, but not particularly effective considering this was absolutely not connected to the actual plot. 


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Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra likes to talk about movies, music, photography, food, and football. He has a government job to get by, but all those other things are what keep him going.

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