Pan Am: Week 7 in Review

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: Instead of calling this week’s episode of ABC’s “Pan Am” the drowsily generic “Truth or Dare,” I think it should be called “My Boyfriend is a Yugoslavian Communist.” It was the best line in the whole show and made me laugh out loud. Sigh… remember a few weeks ago when I was sincerely hoping that this show wouldn’t turn into a sorority drama? When the words “Oh. My. God. You’re in love!,” “I’m in over my head!,” and “Tie a cherry stem in a knot,” come into play, you know you’ve reached a pretty sad point in the season when they have nothing to revert to but bottom-of-the-barrel cliches to sustain the episode’s plot.

Week 7 of “Pan Am” aimed to gently flick our heart strings with Kate and Niko’s You-lied-to-me-but-I-still-love-you subplot and Laura’s interracial love affair with Joe. If “Pan Am” wants us to think about communism, let’s have slightly better script-writers so as not to confuse the dialogue with that of “Dawson’s Creek.” If “Pan Am” wants us to think about race tensions in the 1960s, let’s forgo the predictability of every single interaction that Laura and Joe have so that we can get the perspectives of an African-American sailor and a Caucasian Pan Am stewardess instead of their mannequins from central casting.

But Collette got to fly the plane! I almost wish that this scene were entirely silent so that the radiance and excitement coming from Collette’s eyes could do the talking for her instead of the atrocious script-writers. When Collette brings the cockpit their coffees and lures Ted and Sanjeev out to the cabin with the promise of a striptease by Laura (Ick), she says how she has always wanted to fly a plane. Dean tells her to take the controls and he lets go of his, and the jet rises with her eyes that light up at the feeling of flight. This moment said more for me than any of the whiny monologues by her fellow stewardesses about wanting freedom from 1960s gender-based societal constraints. Collette’s engagement with the aircraft, physically directing it by herself, subtly and intelligently took us out of the sinking series and back into the train of thought that got lost a few episodes into the season. In her eyes and actions, Collette took the jet forward with enthusiasm and style. Boy, did I miss that.

The relationship between Kate and Joe seemed forced and uninteresting. The dialogue was heavy with hesitancy that made every conversation seem unnatural and intentional. The audience watching “Pan Am” knows of the horrors of segregation and is aware that racial tensions at this time were strained to the edges of breakthroughs and breakdowns. “Pan Am” is simplifying what could be a really wonderful, exciting, thought-provoking relationship for its time into terms similar to “Forrest Gump.” Laura is obviously not at fault for having feelings for Joe, nor the other way around. But the precisely timed antagonism and beating of Joe in New York City really didn’t speak much to Laura’s common sense. I’m scared for both of them, not because of their controversial relationship, but because Laura can be kind of an idiot sometimes.

Maybe going around the world will bring more genuine intrigue and character development to what are turning out to be dwindling personalities. Can we follow another group of stewardesses and their adventures? Will they speak more intelligently while giving us an indication of where we are in time that takes us farther than the cover of a middle school text book? We can only wait and see.

JESSICA BADER: What fascinated me about this episode were the hints at what this show could be even as it’s bogged down in what it is. Yes, there was the overly melodramatic conclusion to the Kate/Nico storyline, and there was that boozy truth-or-dare scene early in the episode that came off like it was trying to be Sex And The City: 1963 (not to be confused with the actual SATC prequel series in development at the CW). Don’t even get me started on how the Ginny storyline seems to have been abruptly dropped as though it never happened. But the Joe/Laura and Dean/Colette scenes showed a sensitivity and attention to detail that are less common than they should be.

There were moments where it seemed as though the Joe/Laura storyline was going to be a bit ham-handed, particularly the beating in the train station. However, there were a couple of subtle details – Laura turning the lock on her bedroom door back and forth, the aggressiveness with which the man in the train station approaches Laura after seeing her with Joe – that gave the viewer the space to think about how the issues of race relations and sexuality were (and are) entwined. Even the building super informing Laura that Joe was not welcome there served a purpose, reminding that bigotry is often a lot more subtle than people behaving violently or spewing racial slurs.

The scene in the cockpit with Dean letting Colette fly the plane, in addition to just crackling with sexual tension, called back to a scene from the second episode, in which Dean picks Colette up and lets her drive his car. Looking at the totality of what we’ve seen of Dean’s relationships with women on the show – his pining over Bridget, ceding power to Colette in traditionally masculine arenas, being Ginny’s boy-toy – it hit me that Dean was the male equivalent of the successful career woman unlucky/not in control in love archetype that seems to generate a new Katherine Heigl movie every six months. What seems cliche in modern-day female characters feels fresh and unexpected for a male character from an earlier time, and I hope that this will be explored further.

It also didn’t hurt that Maggie and Ted played a much smaller role in this episode than has been the case recently. It’s a lot easier to like this show when those two are off to the side.

About Sonia Brand-Fisher

My name is Sonia Brand-Fisher and I am a film studies major at Smith College. Interests include vintage film and fashion, fake-swing dancing to early Standards, cooking lavish meals that stem far outside of my culinary comfort zone, and musing over the implications behind all things aesthetically intriguing.
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