Red Eye Ending Explained: the SIM, the Killers, and Who Was Being Framed?

Have you binge-watched Red Eye and have a headache from all the twists? Let’s break it down. Spoilers!

Richard Armitage in handcuffs and Jing Lusi on a plane in ITV thriller Red Eye
Photo: ITV

Warning: contains major finale spoilers for ITV’s Red Eye.

By the end of ITV’s Red Eye, Richard Armitage’s character Dr Matthew Nolan had been awake for (approximate calculation) a gazillion hours. Even if he hadn’t been shot saving Hana (Jing Lusi) from that bullet, he’d still have ended the series in a hospital bed due to exhaustion-related organ failure and having blood sugar lower than the Mariana Trench. (He never got that vegan airline meal, remember. Double G&Ts are refreshing but lack essential nutrients.)

Dr Nolan will pull through though, and when he does, he may require a lucid breakdown of what the hell just happened. From car crashes to stapler-surgery to a rogue CIA plot to end the Anglo-China nuclear partnership, all the way to that heroic bullet jump, here’s how everything landed after Red Eye’s surprisingly tight finale.

What Was on the Nano SIM?

Evidence, leaked by a programmer to Chinese patriot Shen Zhao (Elaine Tan), that the CIA’s Mike Maxwell (Mido Hamada) had attempted to frame the Chinese government in order to derail an Anglo-China nuclear power deal in which the Chinese would build nuclear reactors on UK soil. Mike wanted the UK instead to make the deal with the US, so tried to sow mistrust between the UK and China.

Ad – content continues below

The SIM contained two versions of the same computer code – the original written by an MIT graduate, and the one doctored by the CIA to frame China. That’s why Mike was so desperate to retrieve the SIM, because it was proof of his plot against China. The code was for a remote access programme designed to hide dormant in an operating system and allow a third party to take control. The doctored version hid the code inside the control system of a Chinese nuclear reactor, framing the Chinese government as planning to remotely take over a UK-based facility and cause a catastrophic meltdown.

Shen Zhao, Sir George, World Pacific Medicine & Operation Broadside

Shen Zhao wasn’t a traitor against China, she was a Chinese patriot killed trying to get the SIM smuggled into the UK to exonerate her country and inculpate the US. Zhao was working with Sir George Chapman (Peter Guinness), a British spy posing as the head of an international medical firm. On the night of the medical gala, Zhao’s job was to pass the SIM on to a member of Sir George’s team of doctors, who were unwittingly being used to smuggle sensitive information into the UK as part of Operation Broadside.

Broadside was a covert op that used World Pacific Medicine as a cover for international espionage. Sir George employed real medical doctors like Matthew Nolan and sent them to conferences around the world, where they would unknowingly be slipped documents that Sir George would retrieve once they’d returned to the UK. When Matthew was stabbed in the Beijing nightclub, it wasn’t by the bouncer but by Shen Zhao, who inserted the Nano SIM into his wound.

Who Killed Shen Zhao and Sir George?

CIA operatives under orders from Mike Maxwell. They trailed Shen Zhao at the medical gala and followed her to the nightclub before torturing her for information and, when she refused to give it, killing her and planting her corpse in Matthew’s crashed car. Suspected of the murder of the daughter of a Chinese government man, Matthew would be detained and extradited, which suited the CIA’s plan to stop Shen Zhao’s intel reaching Sir George in the UK.  

Sir George was shot at his home by Mike Maxwell’s sniper, and his Operation Broadside was publicly exposed by newbie journalist Jess Li (Jemma Moore) on a front page splash on The London Echo. MI5 Director Maddie Delaney (Lesley Sharp) fed Jess the story to thank her for her part in foiling Mike’s plot, and to ensure that something like Operation Broadside could never happen again.

Who Was Behind the Deaths on the Plane?

That was Mike Maxwell too. He’d paid two ex-military mercenaries through a shell company linked to the CIA to infiltrate Flight 357 and find the file passed to them by Shen Zhao. One boarded the flight posing as air marshal Toni Zhang (Dan Li) and the other stowed away in the hold locker and picked off Sir George’s doctors one by one in an attempt to discover who had been passed the information. They were each tortured and killed mid-flight (the one who refused to fly back to Beijing, Chris, was kidnapped at the Heathrow car park and later found dead in a van) but the file wasn’t discovered until Matthew realised it was inside his own wound.

Ad – content continues below

In a fight, Matthew shot the stowaway, while Hana hit the fake air marshal and broke his cyanide-capsule-containing tooth (which made him look like a Chinese plant rather than a CIA one), and both died.

What Was the Flight Attendant Suitcase All About?

The suitcase swap we saw take place in an airport bathroom in episode one was another part of Mike’s plan, this time to frame Detective Constable Hana Li as an intelligence agent responsible for the murders on Flight 357. The bag was labelled under Hana’s Chinese name and contained money in several currencies and fake passports, to suggest that she was a spy.

How Was Mike Caught?

Mike had been playing Maddie and using their sexual relationship to gain her trust while he arranged all the murders she was investigating. (Her incapacitated husband knew about the relationship, it turned out in the finale, and so she doesn’t have to be judged for cheating on him.) It worked well and Maddie unwittingly walked Hana, Matthew, Jess and the sought-after files straight into Mike’s trap after she intercepted them on landing. Mike’s whole Machiavellian scheme though, fell apart when he mistakenly let slip that he knew the file was a Nano SIM. Maddie realised that he must have had an informant working for him on the plane as that’s the only way he could have known what form the file took. Meanwhile, Matthew recognised one of Mike’s CIA colleagues as having posed as a waitress at the medical gala, and realised that he Hana and Jess were in danger. They all hatched a plan to lure Mike out of the US embassy and onto the soil of the Chinese embassy where he was unprotected and could face arrest.

Mike attempted to shoot Hana, but Matthew dived in front of the bullet and saved her. The bullet didn’t hit any major organs and we know that Matthew is going to survive – potentially to become a love interest for Hana, whose father might now stop nagging her to either become a doctor or to marry one.

Hana’s Mother

Hana’s reward from MI5 director Maddie for her role in thwarting Mike’s scheme was to receive a file documenting the final days of her mother – an academic arrested and killed by the state – leading up to her death in police custody in Hong Kong when Hana was five years old. Without knowing what had happened to his first wife, Hana and Jess’ father had never been able to get closure. After initially refusing to read the file, Red Eye ends with him doing so, and the show’s final shot is of the photograph of Hana’s mother in the family hallway as a tribute.

All episodes of Red Eye are available to stream now on ITVX.

Ad – content continues below