The AppleTV+ original series Hijack took an exciting ‘real time’ approach to its storytelling, and the result was a seven-episode roller coaster ride. The premise is quite straightforward: a plane heading toward London gets hijacked. Sam Nelson, a negotiator, manipulates the hijackers and tries to avert disaster. Sam, played by Idris Elba, is a character whose traits may seem familiar. A natural charm, a rational mind, attention to detail, and a courageous heart. Basically, he is the archetypal protagonist with minor changes and is made in the image of so many male hero figures we have seen in the past. There is another character in the series that has quite an interesting arc. The lead hijacker, Stuart, introduced to us as ‘Gerald,’ goes through quite a nerve-wracking series of events, which eventually end up being tragic for him. There is no doubt in my mind that viewers will not sympathize with him, and neither should they, for he is a killer. But on closer examination, Stuart is a complex character that warrants a deeper look. How we perceive him changes throughout the series, as per the revelation that each episode brings. Here is a detailed character study:
Neil Maskell as Stuart Atterton
At the beginning of the series, it seemed like the characters would be one note. Hijackers cannot have very much to do. They are usually constrained to just one job: to terrorize the passengers into submission. Stuart is no exception. When KA29 took off from Dubai, Stuart and four other hijackers were ready to execute their plan. They weren’t aware that it was going to be a struggle every minute. Stuart, in the beginning, was exactly as you would expect a hijacker to be. Monstrous and remorseless, he looked as if he were the devil reincarnate and would kill anyone who came in his way. This was his effort to seem in control. The reality was quite different, which was revealed later in the series.
As Sam was a negotiator, he understood that the hijackers were also terrified of what might happen. Stuart was even more terrified because he was, in fact, not the mastermind behind it all. He was doing it on the orders of other mysterious figures who were using the hijackers as pawns in their money-making scheme. But if Stuart had let this show on his face, he could never have gotten control of the plane. So he overcompensates with his evil persona, and in keeping up with the role, he even shoots an innocent woman on the plane.
The plan went south pretty quickly. The hijackers had to wait for a few hours before they hijacked the plane, but due to a mishap when a bullet was found in the toilet, Stuart had to make the call to start the hijacking before the scheduled time. This alone must have shaken him up a little bit and stressed his nerves to no end. He had to act as the ‘leader’ of the crew, and maybe this is why he shot the woman, as a way to set an example both to the passengers and to his crew. Sure, he got a few minutes of absolute silence, but there were too many variables at play, and Stuart lacked the mental makeup to deal with all of them. A tragedy was bound to happen. Lewis, Stuart’s brother, was also one of the hijackers. Stuart must have thought that having his own brother with him during the hijacking would make it easy for him to get hold of the plane, but Lewis’s presence on the plane became a source of immeasurable pain for Stuart.
Lewis got injured in a scuffle with the passengers. Stuart endangered his crew’s lives when he ordered the plane to be landed, seeing Lewis’ condition. Stuart forgot for a moment that he was not the actual leader. He was not to land the plane on any condition, as per his mission. The crew’s families would be executed if he deviated from the plan, yet he ordered the plane to be landed. Lewis sacrificed his life to save his brother, and the plane stayed on its original route. After losing his brother, Stuart was distraught. With every passing minute, he was heading toward a nervous breakdown.
It’s a pathetic situation, really. How hard would it be to lose your brother, yet for you to not be able to show any emotion because you are the apparent leader of an ongoing hijack? He tried hard to hide his real identity and the fact that Lewis was his brother, but Sam figured it out. Sam couldn’t have gotten the better of Stuart had such pressure not surrounded him. Firstly, the hijacking had to be executed much earlier than it was planned to; secondly, Stuart had to shoot a woman; and thirdly, he lost his brother. All these factors made Stuart susceptible to Sam’s manipulation. By the end of the hijacking, Stuart was just a shell of a man. He had lost his reasoning faculties. At one point, he attempted to kill the air hostess, even though he didn’t have to. Edgar, the criminal for whose release the whole hijacking was being staged, was messaging Stuart to start killing passengers, and this is when it became clear that Stuart was having a nervous breakdown. He frantically began to threaten to kill a person at random. Fortunately, Sam attacked him, and Stuart didn’t kill anyone.
Stuart’s brother was dead. It seemed he didn’t have any family except for his mother. Maybe he wanted to survive for her, but the tragedy was that she, too, was dead, unbeknownst to him. Daniel, a police officer, had come to question Stuart’s mother, and she’d tried to abscond and was hit by a truck on the highway. It wouldn’t be wrong to assume that if Stuart had known about her death, he would’ve wanted the plane to crash. What was there to live for? If the plane landed, he’d end up spending the best years of his life in jail anyway. Stuart had failed everywhere. Neither could he succeed at the hijacking nor did he manage to save his brother. There was simply no way he would’ve gotten away with it. The game was rigged in a way.
The hijacking was just a way to ensure that the share price of Kingdom Airlines would fall, and criminal traders would make money off of it. He was, in a way, a hostage to those traders. They had forced him to hijack the plane, threatening to kill his mother. The tragedy was that she had already died, even before the plane landed. Stuart’s final attempt at taking another life, that of Sam, made him even more of a pathetic figure. He was no longer the devil reincarnate but a fangless animal who was to be encaged forever. It wasn’t as if he was completely innocent before the hijack. He was a criminal, like the rest of the hijackers. So, his end is fitting, but I would like to think that if he had known that his mother was dead, we would have seen a completely different side of him.