"Hijack": How Idris Elba's reimagining of a hero made me feel better about my chances of survival

Who knew a corporate business man could save the day?

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published August 31, 2023 4:56PM (EDT)

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

After a long week, Idris Elba as Sam Nelson on the new AppleTV+ series "Hijack" is the hero I didn't know I needed. 

Did I make it out of the streets only to be killed by rice and pasta?

I'm an HBO or well, I guess a Max kind of guy. HBO has been my go-to since I watched "Fraggle Rock" as a small kid. Now I do randomly punch Netflix and Hulu to see if new shows or stand-up specials dropped, but that's it. Mainly because those apps in combination with the collection of other available streaming services always confuse me – as I think many of us are overwhelmed by every network attempting to shake us down for $10 bucks every month. 

In the middle of these services, there's Apple TV+. I subscribed to Apple TV+ after so many of my basketball-loving friends raved about "Swagger" and was beyond happy with the money I spent after binging "The Morning Show." But still, I never think of logging on to Apple TV+ as much as the other apps, and I don't know why. 

* * *

"You can step back now, Mr. Watkins," a young nurse in red frames said. 

I was at my doctor's office, the day of my Uncle June's funeral. It was also the day after I told my dad June had died, news he would have no way of getting because he has pneumonia, COVID, is breathing out of a tube and had been an isolated impatient for the last two months. 

"Sir, can you hear me?" the nurse asked, "You need to fill out this last form." 

I apologized for being in a daze and received the clipboard. When I was finished, another nurse or medical assistant walked in and took my blood pressure. Our eyes widen as my numbers came in higher than pandemic gas prices. The nurse took my blood pressure again and again, before we all realized that I was lucky to be alive. She even said, "How are you alive?" 

I shrugged. 

Shortly after we finished playing the blood pressure game, a collection of lab coats filled my room, ready to talk about the cocktail of medicines they wanted to put me on. I agreed to whatever they said, leaving the hospital feeling defeated. How could I just let myself go? Did I make it out of the streets only to be killed by rice and pasta? Will I end up stretched out in isolation, on 10 different pills a day like my dad? 

I walked out of the hospital where my doctor's office is located with the stack of papers containing multiple blood pressure articles ­­painted with little diagrams of people living happy lives after being diagnosed, and instructions on how to cook flavorless salmon, when I reached the door. An elderly Benson-looking security guard with a nickel silver fro yelled, "You watch that new Stringer Bell show 'Hijack'? S**t good as hell man!" 

"What?" I said, confused, mainly because he didn't seem like the kind of guy that read my columns about television; however, maybe I'm stretching out. 

"I ain't talking to you, Slim," the old guard laughed, pointing over his shoulder to another guard dressed in the same blue uniform. "You should watch if you have Apple tho." 

HijackIdris Elba in "Hijack" (Apple TV+)My confusion instantly went away, as I nodded at the other guard. 

I'm a "Wire" fan for life, so anytime one of the characters from the show lands a role, especially a lead, I'm all-in.

"Give me your login," I said with stone face. The two men paused, until I smiled, "I'm just messing with y'all. I'll check that show out, and have a good day." 

They chuckled like kids as I exited. I made a note to watch "Hijack" because they said Stringer, which is what many Baltimoreans still call Idris Elba, even though the real Stringer is alive and well and can be found on North Avenue. Regardless, I'm a "Wire" fan for life, so anytime one of the characters from the show lands a role, especially a lead, I'm all in. I have to say that those guards have great taste because "Hijack" was excellent. 

We need your help to stay independent

In "Hijack," Elba plays Sam Nelson a businessman who specializes in negotiations, and works in "mergers and acquisitions." We know he's doing well because he's in the nicest first-class seat anyone has ever saw on a plane, and his flat looks like something out of a wealthy design magazine. But all of the money in the world couldn't buy Sam out the situation responsible for the title of the series, "Hijack." Gunmen with extreme demands figure a way to sneak their weapons onto the plane and create an extremely serious hostage situation. 

What's excellent about the show is that every episode takes place on the plane, so you remain on the edge of your seat during every installment. Viewers will feel as uncertain as the terrorized characters who are forced to stare down death repeatedly. Sam with his master negotiation skills on full display shines like a diamond in the conflict. He's calm, angry, persuasive, aggressive, gentle, kind and empathetic when he has every single reason to crumble, like many other characters on the plane do. Every time you think he is going to sit down and let the hijackers do what they came to do, he's instantly up in business class, in coach or in a the cockpit suggesting new ideas while trying to talk everyone down. You will love him, you will hate him, and he will confuse you, right before you understand that you need him. 

Nelson makes decisions that will leave you screaming at the television, like giving a hijacker back a pistol he retrieved because he "just wanted to get back home to his family." Who does that? 

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

Though it's fiction, I watched the show closely putting my own situation into context. Thinking about my potential new reality wrapped in meds and even more doctor visits, but understood that even if things get bad, I could be like Sam Nelson, by centering family and doing what it takes to survive. 

Sure things can get bad; however, having the ability to fight, means having the opportunity to overcome any adversity and I like my odds, just like Sam. 



By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

MORE FROM D. Watkins

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Apple Tv Plus Commentary Hijack Idris Elba Tv