SONIA BRAND-FISHER: The suspenseful 8th episode of ABC’s “Pan Am” took a step back from the edge of gimmick to reveal a very interesting, serious, and romantic story of orphanage and abandon. Our consistently lazy heroes boarded the plane for what could have been just another episode of cryptic flashbacks and a clueless cast. Maybe it was just in comparison with the rest of the season and the fact that it had been a while since “Pan Am” didn’t make me scream “Oy gevalt” at my TV, but this episode seemed to genuinely make an effort to take the characters one step further and to dig a little bit deeper into the rich, tumultuous topic of the politics of the decade.
The premise of making an emergency landing in the socially war-torn Haiti proved as a welcome challenge for the passengers and crew of “Pan Am.” A decidedly gritty diversion from the kaleidoscopic candy-colored 1960s we have seen so far, the plot chose to examine themes of life, rescue, and abandonment. Using Haiti as the backdrop for this episode meant that Collette was able to fly to the forefront as translator and savior for a young Haitian refugee who leads Collette and Ted to a doctor for a heart attack victim on board the jet. The girl’s family has been slaughtered, and her own fate is soon to follow that path if she stays much longer in Haiti. We remember Collette’s past of her parents’ abandonment/implied death while Collette was in Nazi-occupied France as a little girl while she demands that Ted and Dean allow the refugee on board. Collette was the perfect character to go with Ted and to rescue the girl because Collette has been characterized as the older, more emotionally mature stewardess who emerges as more complex and genuine every time she is featured. I was thrilled to have Maggie, Kate, and Laura take a backseat as the semi-mute mascots of social justice and Pan Am grace so that Collette can break through, strong as ever, to save the day.
The plot nuances were subtle and tense, tapping into the multiple prejudices of the privileged, paying Pan Am passengers who are disgusted by the “inconvenience” of the single seat the refugee takes up, as well as the underlying racially directed implications of their frustration. Unlike the last episode of “Pan Am” where Laura and Joe had to endure the horrors of racial prejudice with their relationship, this episode didn’t simplify the situation into a series of images and historical iconography that we knew the story of before the episode ended. Of course Episode 8 glossed over the riskiness of the situation and forced upon us a happy, arguably implausible ending of the refugee finding a home, and a kiss to seal the deal between Collette and Dean (YES!). No one got in trouble for breaking Pan Am code and stewardess-solidarity kept Collette from being bumped out of her job. A sad, realistic ending wouldn’t have held up in ABC prime time, let’s be serious. A few farewell tears in an airport to a Yugoslavian communist boyfriend will do, though the next episode after the holidays promises a sinister surprise.