Pam Am: Week 5 in Review

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: A better episode than last week’s debacle, but “Pan Am” doesn’t really seem to be taking advantage of the sights and sounds it represents, especially in this past week’s Episode 5. Other than a few exterior shots of hotels that could very well be Hyatts and glamorous interiors that could use some more elaboration, I don’t really get the sense of “Pan Am”‘s visuals beyond the blue uniforms. London and Monte Carlo: Two cities that define mid-century aesthetics and luxury that leave much to be desired in terms of its spaces on the show. Every set looks matted and stream-lined, and I’m not talking about the aircraft. The costumes, however, were nothing less than magnificent, and Kate’s confidence was a very welcome addition to the cast. Laura, Maggie, Collette, and Kate flew with Dean and Ted across another ocean, into another flashback, onto another continent that just looked like another avenue in California.

When a show’s premise is the glorification and examination of the jet-age, one would imagine that reverence of the destination would be par for the course. But London looks like Berlin which looks like Paris whose interiors look Burmese but not enough to honestly make you feel any authenticity. The amazing interiors of the mid-1960s get totally lost outside of the airport. I expected the Monte Carlo casino to look a little less like the London bar from earlier in the episode, or the lobby of the Monte Carlo hotel to look slightly different than the hotel in Berlin. The Pan Am terminal is stunning, of course, as is the jet itself. But I really feel as if the show is falling short of representing the amazing places our heroes are traveling to. A blue filter on a light doesn’t make London look foggy any more than a pink filter in Burma makes you feel like you’re somewhere “exotic.” I’m genuinely surprised at the simplicity of the sets.

The costumes, however, are subsequently making me salivate from week to week, but Episode 5 brought out in full glory the emerald beauty of Kate’s silk gown. Any man (or woman) would have to be blind not to want to snatch up the stewardess and take her out on the town. However, it wasn’t just the extravagance of the dress itself that came off as truly special, but the way that Kate’s character changed and adapted in it. She felt more confident. She came across as more elegant. She was sure of herself. She was sexy. Her quick thinking in spilling the red wine on the gloves of the Soviet agent so that she could get her fingerprints was brilliant. Maybe Kate is getting the hang of this secret agent gig. I hope the writers run with this, and really make Kate into a more complex and engaging character than the worrying-big-sister-of-Laura. The bounce in her step works for her, as do emerald capes.

Next week, I would love to see some more of Kate coming out of her shell and emerging as a strong, independent character. Perhaps some more Collette, as well? A few more indications of place and space in the 1960s would be nice. And for heaven’s sakes, Ted and Laura’s lackluster sexual tension and flimsy romance is getting to be very irritating indeed. No more of that. Please.

JESSICA BADER: There was much less of a focus on the destination than in previous episodes, and it felt like a conscious effort to pull back on that to make room for character development. Kate’s plotline went a long way towards alleviating my complaints about what we had seen of her spy adventures thus far – not only was she given a task more complex than a document drop, she was actually good at it, displaying the kind of resourcefulness that you would expect from a woman who helped her sister pull off the whole runaway-bride thing. The promo for the next episode made it clear that Niko will be a figure in Kate’s life in multiple ways, and it will be interesting to see what direction the show goes with this – until now we hadn’t seen anything of Kate’s love life, and combining that with the increased responsibilities of her secret sideline presents the opportunity to see her through a lens other than her sibling rivalry with Laura.

Speaking of Laura, the telegraphing of her and Ted’s inevitable romance gets more heavy-handed with each episode, and I’m already dreading it. Despite the flashbacks in the previous episode geared towards making the viewer sympathize with him, Ted was still aggressively unlikable all throughout his trip to Harlem with Laura (how can a person traveling in those gorgeous vintage trains declare that the number-one rule of the subway is to take a cab?) and its aftermath. Even the revelation that he had sold his watch to get back the engagement ring Laura had pawned felt like it was more about him trying to impress Laura than it was about doing something to help her.

The most jarring reminder that this is a period piece? A passenger sauntering into the cockpit during the flight like it was no big deal. Yes, it was mostly to set up golden boy Dean behaving in a profoundly stupid fashion by messing around with a high-ranking airline exec’s mistress (those photos they took during their tryst are the gun shown in Act 1 that must go off in Act 3, right?), but to the viewer living in the post-9/11 world, it was shocking in a way that took you out of the show for a moment.

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