by Charles Mahoney
What kind of show does “Pan Am” want to be? This question was especially important tonight as the show attempted to balance it’s light, bubbly tone with more serious issues of femininity and sexuality in the high-60’s. Naturally, the show had a bit trouble establishing a consistent tone throughout the episode, and some of the scenes felt forced. But surprisingly, the episode mostly came together, delivering a natural, moving meditation on repression and feeling. It was bubbly and smart.
The episode can easily be divided into four subplots, which had trouble coming together on any more then a thematic level. First, the Laura Cameron had to deal with the consequences of running away from her wedding. Their mother hopped aboard a plane to Paris, with the sole intention of convincing Laura to go back to Greg. As this goes on, Dean uses his friendship with Colette to try and learn more about his ex-girlfriend Bridget’s disappearance in Paris. Finally, Kate continued her spy education, with her first official assignment, and Maggie had to grapple with the consequences of pushing off an unruly passenger.
All of these dramatic instances are conveyed with the same bright tone of “Pan Am’s” pilot. But while this might sound like a recipe for an atonal mess, the result was much more complex. Laura’s marriage plotline actually worked very well with the shows tone, because at its heart it was about escaping from dire, boring darkness in order to find a light-hearted adventure. It’s very emblematic of the show itself, which is trying to bring happiness back to television while surrounded by a hoard of “Revenge’s” and “Playboy Club’s.”
The Dean and Colette story also went well, but mostly because of what was happening on the fringes of it. In a nice touch, none of the co-pilots believe that Dean and Colette can simply be friends. Instead, they all believe that he is taking advantage of Bridget’s disappearance by seducing Colette on the side. The sequence tied in well to Colette’s plotline in the pilot, where she was betrayed by a man who really only wanted sex from her. What exactly Dean wants from Colette remains ambiguous, but it will be interesting to see if he resists the urge to look at Colette as only a sex object.
As for Maggie’s plotline, there were a few problems. Maggie’s run in with the aggressive, groping passenger, and her later “protection” from the co-pilot Ted, fell very cleanly into the “enablers are worse then aggressors” trope, and risked being generic. It’s understandable why Maggie would be offended by Ted’s help; indeed, it was too understandable. Ted spent most of his time saying the most ridiculous, double-edged phrases that the writers could muster, from telling Maggie to “fetch” the passenger a scotch to convincing the passenger not to file a report because he wanted to “discipline” Maggie personally. Luckily, Christina Ricci’s portrayal of Maggie helped considerably, giving it an ambiguity that the writing sadly lacked.
Kate’s plotline was perhaps the most difficult to decipher because, for the most part, it was not all that good. Unfortunately, spies are a bit more serious and melodramatic then the rest of the show, and such high political acts seem a bit out of place in such a light-hearted show. But the last meeting between Bridget and Kate showed that this plotline could work if the writers wanted it to. As Bridget explains to Kate “the good you hope to do is not worth losing everything for,” it becomes clear that Kate is not spying for any “good.” She is not political, and probably doesn’t even care too much about the Cold War. Kate spies because it is adventurous, because it is something exciting. It’s a new frontier. And that is enough.
Charles Mahoney is arts editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org