SONIA BRAND-FISHER: Though ABC’s “Pan Am” has proven to be so visually superb and ambitious, I have this gut-wrenching sense that it might slowly become more of a sorority drama than a show about the people involved in the glamour of air-travel. Episode Four took place mostly in Burma, where sibling rivalry subplots butt heads with Kate’s increasingly imprecise job as a CIA agent which gets tangled in the power struggle between Ted and Dean. It would be unfair of me to say that I’m getting increasingly bored by the show, because that is absolutely far from true. I guess I’m just tired of Kate and Laura’s bickering. I guess the script didn’t hold up as well during this episode as it did in the past three. I guess I just really want to punch Maggie in the face.
Every episode can’t focus on the deeply fascinating, always fabulous Collette. I understand that. However, if this is our unfortunate predicament, then I would at least like to feel for the characters that are focused on in the other episodes. I’m tolerating the I-mess-up-a-lot-but-I-look-cute-doing-it affect of Kate. Laura’s desire to find herself and not be seen as a beauty to be groomed for marriage would be a lot more interesting to watch if she wasn’t so insipid. Dean and Ted are interchangeable to me, and I’m not too sure anyone is really paying attention to them anyway. And Maggie… my God… I mean, is she supposed to come across as an un-likeable character, or is she supposed to be the fun beatnik who shows Laura what it means to have fun? Either way, I’m not liking her. I would roll my eyes and tolerate her spewing political rhetoric in her Pan Am uniform, or defending “that skinny man who can’t carry a tune” (as Collette describes), Bob Dylan, or living in an apartment with Crayon murals all over the walls. However, she just comes across as a ditsy to me, a politically inclined accessory, at most, for whom there is no real reason to take seriously.
The flashback scenes where Ted is being talked down to by his Naval superiors, and then by his father, seemed more like an episode of “Friday Night Lights” than “Pan Am.” The disappointed patriarchal speeches about duty and honor hurled at the stone-faced Ted seemed too formulaic, by modern television standards. It didn’t make Ted seem any more like a really sympathetic character, it just perpetuated his second-best syndrome that we were aware of from the pilot episode. His frustration manifests, a punch is thrown at the all-American good-guy, Dean, and the fight is resolved in the buying of a drink. It simply wasn’t interesting to me, not even the intentionally placed revelations of secrets long forgotten. I’m not looking for Nietsche or Freud or Foucault in any of their conversations, but to be honest, I’d take a little Updike.
I will continue to watch “Pan Am” for my 1960s fix. Crossing my fingers, however, that this episode was just an example of the first-season jitters.
JESSICA BADER: This episode wasn’t as weighty as the previous installment in Berlin, and I think that fits the show just fine. One of the challenges that a period piece faces is that references to actual historical events often come across as heavy-handed, and the Kennedy-speech aspect of the Berlin episode definitely tilted in that direction. (Don’t even get me started on Christina Ricci’s uncomfortably manic portrayal of Maggie’s quest to meet Kennedy.) This time, the historical allusions were less specific, leaving more breathing room for character development.
The flashback sequences of the end of Ted’s Navy career and his father throwing him under the bus to retain his place in the military-industrial complex served to humanize a character who had to this point been thoroughly unlikable, between his pass at Laura in Berlin and his insensitive reaction to Maggie’s plight the episode before that. That’s not to say the character is all that sympathetic – Ted still came across as petulant in his interactions with Dean, and slugging the golden boy was uncalled for. It will be interesting to see if Ted’s drinking shows up as a plot point again a few episodes down the road.
My biggest problem with the show at this point is Kate’s espionage plotline. I can buy the idea of an airline stewardess being used by the CIA during the Cold War in the way that Kate is pressed into service. What I can’t buy is that she would be given so many opportunities to screw up without any major consequences. That Kate left the camera unattended for Laura to borrow for a night out should have resulted in her going the way of Bridget; couldn’t the writers have thought of a source of conflict between the sisters that didn’t involve Kate making a mess of things at her secret job?
Right now, Pan Am is serving its purpose as escapist-but-not-too-fluffy Sunday night entertainment. Here’s hoping that the show can keep us interested in the characters as it gives us retro eye candy to enjoy.