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Netflix’s hard-hitting new docuseries is leaving viewers in tears

Published Sep 4th, 2021 12:05PM EDT
Turning Point
Image: National Archives/Netflix

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In the opening moments of the newly released Netflix documentary series Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, there’s a recording of flight attendant Betty Ong speaking by phone with an unnamed reservation agent. “Number three in the back — the cockpit’s not answering,” Ong, a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, can be heard saying. At that point, it’s 8:19 am Eastern Time on September 11, 2001. “Somebody’s stabbed in business class. And I think there’s mace that we can’t breathe.

“I don’t know. I think we’re getting hijacked.”

Turning Point, Netflix 9/11 series — now streaming

After some exposition and introduction of participants in this searing docuseries — the release of which is timed to the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks — another recording is heard a few minutes later. Again, from American Airlines Flight 11. This time, though, it’s not Ong that we hear. It’s the chilling voice of hijacker Mohamed Atta.

“We have some planes. Just stay quiet and we’ll be okay. We’re returning to the airport.”

It’s now 8:24 am EST.

An FAA official from Boston tries to make contact with the airplane, apparently trying to ask whether the hijacker is trying to talk to officials monitoring the flight. Or if Atta is meaning to address people inside the doomed plane. Everything is unfolding so fast. Different FAA officials keep asking each other if this is really happening, or if it’s some sort of exercise.

“Nobody move,” Atta continues, this time apparently to the passengers. “Everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves, you will endanger yourself and the airplane.”

‘A beautiful day turning brown’

At various points during Turning Point, a five-part docuseries from director Brian Knappenberger, I found myself holding my breath. Involuntary, because of the intensely foreboding story that unfolds here. One that we all, of course, already are intimately familiar with. We know what happens, and we know how it ends.

But seeing it pieced together like this, in the form of audio recordings, fresh video clips, and new interviews, brings it all to life in a way that makes you feel like you’re experiencing it again for the first time.

One line that stuck with me is a New Yorker’s remembrance of how, once the ashes and smoke from the wrecked towers started to spread and billow across Manhattan, it led to “a beautiful day turning brown.”

Especially revelatory in this docuseries is the backstory to that awful day. And a piecing together of how this one day altered the course of US history. It set the stage for a new national security apparatus. Gave us President Barack Obama, as a response to the leadership of President George W. Bush. Which in turn led to the ascent of President Trump, as a response to President Obama — and on and on.

The ‘good war’ in the ‘Graveyard of Empires’

“The series features a wide range of interviewees,” Netflix explains, “including officials from multiple US presidential administrations, former CIA members, and U.S. military veterans as well as Afghanistan National Army soldiers, Taliban commanders, members of the Afghan government, Afghan warlords, and Afghan civilians. Many who had never spoken on camera before. It also spotlights the voices of survivors of the attacks themselves.”

This also happened several years before the launch of the iPhone and the creation of modern Internet mainstays like Facebook and Twitter. We were not then as tethered to the digital grid and plugged into the news as we are now, which lets this Netflix series also fill in some crucial gaps in our knowledge.

And yes, the series takes us right up to events that happened even in recent days. It details how and why we ended up with what started as a “good war” in Afghanistan. One that quickly went awry. From the summary of the fifth and final episode of Turning Point, titled Graveyard of Empires: “After two decades, the US aims to end its longest-ever war. But its withdrawal threatens to plunge Afghanistan back into repressive, bloody violence.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.