European TV shows are usually much more grounded and tame than their North American counterparts, which often revel in doomsday scenarios and, much too often, saving the world opportunities. The latter also usually have a clear distinction between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’, and try to make the plot as dramatic as possible. ‘Into the Night‘ treads much closer to the European direction that it anyways belongs to, and ticks all the boxes except for the scope of the premise.
The show starts with presenting a number of passengers that make their way towards an early morning flight from Brussels to Moscow. As they board, it becomes clear that something strange is happening around the world, but nobody really feels the imminence of any threat just yet, so things continue quasi-normally. Just before the plane shuts its doors and prepares for take-off routine, a machine gun yielding Italian storms on board and ‘hijacks’ the plane, ordering a change of course – to the West. He wants them to fly into the night, avoiding daylight like the devil. Why? Apparently, the sun reverses its polarity every 11 years. Nothing perceptible happens, usually, except in the show, where a polarity shift renders sunlight deadly. Every living organism that comes into contact with it will be practically microwaved.
This intrigue establishes one common enemy – daylight – and also acts as a catalyst for human conflict. Faced with an end of the world scenario, most of the plane’s passengers struggle to process the new reality, and become instantly suspicious of everyone else. At times, the show becomes an interesting human nature study, but its breakneck speed and limited runtime cuts this development short. Actually, each episode starts off by showing a quick flashback into the pre-flight lives of some of the characters, but unfortunately, they are not sufficiently expanded upon. In Lost, we had entire story arches that offered an in-depth exploration of the main characters, whereas ‘Into the Night’ merely provides a teaser, then goes about its business.
The idea of an end of the world scenario with a few stragglers in an airplane reminded me to some extent of Stephen King’s The Langoliers. In fact, many other little details bare similarity with the novella turned TV show. However, whereas The Langoliers rested on a more supernatural premise, and on ideas such as time rifts, ‘Into the Night’ remains a little bit more grounded, if that could be said about a premise of a ‘killer’ sun. It’s instead far more fond of group dynamics, and underlying social issues. The passengers are highly representative of Europe in its diversity – we have a couple of Belgians from the heart of Europe, Brussels, alongside two Russians, a Turk, an Italian, a Pole, and a couple of others. They all speak French to each other. At one point, a group of Brits join, who are the only ones who cannot speak a foreign language – a major realism booster for the show. I’ve seen discussions about the metaphoric representations of the characters’ relationships to one another, and the overarching political stances of the countries they ‘represent’. A case can certainly be made about this, but I’ll leave finer interpretation to each viewer’s choice.
‘Into the Night’ does well to show just how many things can go wrong once complete strangers are cast in a life-or-death situation, and have to keep making decisions which should first and foremost be based on self-preservation and self-interest. It reveals a multitude of personalities, approaches and problem-solving techniques. Most importantly, it does not engage in a clear hero/villain split. Each character has their own strenghts and weaknesses, qualities and drawbacks. None of them are bad, in the Hollywood sense – some are simply more determined than others, and some will go further than others in the name of survival.
‘Into the Night”s premise is interesting enough to keep you interested, and does not let boredom take over. It poses a series of unanswered questions, and does well enough to answer the ones which require some sort of explanation. It doesn’t build enough to maintain itself over the course of a longer season, but six 30-minute episodes offer just the right balance. In case you’re pressed for time, feel free to watch it – it’s an entire season, but still shorter than The Irishman. Although it isn’t a project built upon solid scientific grounds, it anchors itself into just enough science to get by, and although it knows that its story is no masterpiece, it wraps it into a very appealing and enjoyable structure. The entertainment factor is sky-high (no pun intended), the drama is unrelenting, and its character study nature ultimately pays off. In its diversity, subdued drama and respectfully restrained tone, it’s a European drama through and through.