“Eastern Exposure”

Posted on October 17, 2011

It’s becoming increasingly obvious with each episode that the creators of this show don’t really know what to do with these characters. Except for Christina Ricci’s Maggie and her tendency to veer from cynical beatnik type to wide-eyed Kennedy supporter, we can’t say that there’s been too much in the way of contradiction, but “development” doesn’t seem to be a strong point when it comes to how these characters are written.

Number One example: Kate and Laura, who seemed to have a conflict that arose out of nowhere and tends to go against some of their earlier scenes in the series. Granted, we said a couple episodes ago that Kate’s prodigal daughter schtick was wrapped up too neatly and quickly, but we honestly spent half this episode wondering if we had perhaps missed a scene somewhere that would explain just why she was so pissed off at Laura. By the time we got to their “big” showdown near the end – the one that was supposed to have been so bad that it forced Laura to move in with Maggie – we realized that there really wasn’t a reason for this altercation except that the writers felt the need to bring some conflict into the group.

And it wasn’t just the stewardesses having catfights. Suddenly, Ted the co-pilot is frustrated and needs to punch someone. We don’t actually mind his backstory of wanting to be an astronaut and getting grounded by his own father’s ambitions, but we also don’t feel that it’s particularly necessary for the show. Frankly, we’d be fine if the flight crew on Pan Am was treated more like the secretarial pool on Mad Men; in the background, providing atmosphere and an occasional glimpse into gender politics in the work place. Let the stewardesses drive the action. Not only are they more interesting characters because they’re snapshots of something that doesn’t exist any more, but they’re great to look at, and the actresses are all much stronger than the actors. We don’t think anyone really tunes into this show wondering what the pilots are going to do next. It’s all about the stewardesses.

So, getting back to the stewardesses: Kate is mad at Laura because … something, something…she needs to grow up…something, something. Okay, then. Laura, for her part, is extremely confused, as are we in the audience. Wasn’t her bridal act of defiance a huge step in the growing up process for her? What exactly is Kate asking of her? We guess we’re supposed to understand that Kate is being unreasonable here and that her blowup had more to do with a longstanding sibling rivalry than anything we’ve seen happen onscreen since the series started, but it did seem to come up out of nowhere. And worse, Kate seemed all but over it by the end of the episode, for no good reason except her CIA handler threatened to have Laura re-assigned.  It’s these jerky, stop-and-start character arcs that are hurting the show. That first episode felt smooth, confident, and glossy and like the show knew exactly what it wanted to do with these characters but with each subsequent episode, we’re less inclined to think so.

We did, however, like the idea, rather quickly stated near the end of the episode, that Maggie is a bit of a troublemaker and not always the best friend to her co-workers. They left it a bit too vague for our liking – again, giving the impression that they’re not confident in how they want these characters to work – but making her the one that likes to stir the pot and set people against each other might actually give Christina Ricci something interesting to do in the show. We’d hate to see her lapse into nighttime soap villainy, but making her just a tiny bit of a bitch occasionally is more interesting than most of what we’ve seen from her so far.

But the real tragedy is that Collette had virtually nothing to this episode. We hope the creators quickly realize they have a Christina Hendricks on their hand here; an actress so much better than the role initially called for that the writers are forced to yank her from supporting character to center stage. She is, by far, the most charismatic and interesting actor in the group, and they’ve already given her a far richer background than any of the other characters. We don’t want to see Pan Am become The Collette Show, but we’re starting to think she should be getting at least as much screen time as Kate and Laura do.

And while we still think Kate’s spying is a lot of fun, if she’s only going to deliver or pick up innocuous objects like books and cameras, that’s going to get old real quick. Last week’s German defector plot got a little too fantastical for our liking, but we’ll take unlikely spy stories over boring ones any day of the week.

[Screencaps: tomandlorenzo.com]

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  • Sobaika Mirza

    This show is getting so BORING. The glossiness can only cover so much.

    • Maybe it’s not my place to say this, but I wish TLo would return to recapping Boardwalk Empire.

      Pan Am is dead –or dying, according to reports I’ve read– The Walking Dead, well, it’s about dead people.

      But Boardwalk is a period show that works, and lives. 

      I realize BE has fewer viewers, because it’s on pay cable, and fewer commentorers.  But damn, TLo, I loved your commentary.

      • Walking Dead is a big show with a lot of viewers, a lot of critical praise, and a lot of depth, which makes it easy to talk about. 

      • Anonymous

        or Ringer – that one just invites deliciously snarky recaps

        • Sobaika Mirza

          GoFugYourself has pretty funny ones for it.

          • Anonymous

            Yes! Ringer is unintentionally hilarious to me and the Fug Girl’s recaps are so good.

    • Getting?  Boring is how it started.  Terrible episode.  I’m all about escapism, but good gravy why on earth would the CIA hire someone with and NOT FREAKIN TRAIN THEM???  Even if she’s just a courier, she should be well-versed in not doing stupid shit, even if the stupid shit is what is supposedly driving the plot.  BAH.  I miss Playboy Club, no matter how cliched and unrealistic it seemed, it was entertaining.  

  • I actually enjoyed the episode. I guess it’s true they don’t know what to do with the damn characters but I’m giving it a chance. I guess they got to play around a bit first. I mean, Kate being so upset — I think it’s more due to her failing at her job and being frustrated (since she did botch up every single assignment so far) and not as much as it had to do with Laura. My heart sank when Laura wasn’t home to get the camera ):

    • Anonymous

      Yes, that’s how I interpreted Kate’s actions–misplaced anger about not keeping the camera with her in the first place! But of course she can’t tell anyone what a close call it was.

      I’m still enjoying the show…it’s fun and light and easy to watch. 

    • M N

      I thought the source of Laura’s irritation was obvious.  She came home to a ransacked room and a stolen item, and her sister was missing.  She was worried sick about Laura, and couldn’t tell *anyone* why.

  • Anonymous

    I agree, it’s getting boring, and Christina Ricci’s eyes are really creepy.  Speaking of her, did anyone figure out what happened with her hair in the first episode? It went from being long in her apartment to a short bob by the time she made it to the airport.

    I think Kate blew up at Laura because Laura took the camera and made Kate late for the drop off?

    • I’m also still wondering what happened to her hair in that episode.

      Kate definitely takes out her nervousness about being a courier on Laura. It happened in the premiere when Laura spilled something and the passport was caught in the mess, and Kate did it again here too. However, I get mad when one of my brothers take something expensive of mine without asking. And Laura did go out in a foreign country she had never been in before without letting Kate know where she was going and the room was a mess. I would have been worried if I entered a room like that, but it seemed like Kate was more worried about the camera than not knowing where Laura was.

      • Anonymous

        To answer my own question about the hair, I found this on another recap website:

        “When we are first introduced to Maggie her hair is a bit long. If you
        have seen the promo for the show, there is a scene in that promo that
        shows that while Maggie is changing into her Pan Am uniform there is a
        wig in her bag. That wig is the long hair she had on when she was in her
        apartment. For those who have not seen the promos, in the scene when
        Maggie enters the Pan Am building we get a high angle shot of her
        running in. If you look closely at her bag you will see the wig. Why
        does she have a wig in the first place? I don’t know, maybe it’s part of
        her bohemian Greenwich village lifestyle.”

  • Anonymous

    According to the review at the Onion‘s A.V. Club, this episode was aired out of order. It was supposed to be Episode 2, but the showrunners wisely moved the much stronger Episodes 3 & 4 to the second and third spots, respectively.

    So that explains why the sibling-rivalry wounds seemed fresher now than they were during the past two weeks. It also accounts for a problem with the historical chronology: the final Mercury rocket launch was in May 1963, more than a month before Kennedy’s Berlin speech in June. (The scene towards the beginning with Kate and her spy-boss was apparently ret-conned to reference her “earlier” troubles in Berlin.)

    Here’s a link to the full review at the A.V. Club: http://www.avclub.com/articles/eastern-exposure,63170/ 

  • BerlinerNYC

    Slightly fashion-related: On another site, Ricci revealed in an interview that she’s actually not tall enough to be a Pan Am stewardess, so they have her jacked up in high heels while the others wear kitten heels, in an attempt to trick the viewer into not noticing the huge height difference. I’m going to be obsessed with trying to spot that (even though the scenes on the plane are such tight shots that you never see their feet… I’ll have to watch whey they do that stylized stewardess sashay when boarding/deplaning, while they do that pose with the carry-on hanging from their elbows).

    • Anonymous

      We see their shoes in the Ich Bin Ein Berliner episode when they’re walking to the American Mission. You might be able to screen cap it and take a peek.

  • Judy_J

    Last night’s episode was so disjointed and poorly written.  The characters were forced to act in ways that were out of character simply to move the plot line along.  If Kate were a real courier for the CIA, she’d already be dead or captured by now.  The whole blow-up with her and her sister was so contrived.  Christina Ricci’s character reminds me of my niece who is a flight attendant, so I can actually believe her character.  I do like Colette, and I wish they’d give her more to do.  If things don’t improve dramatically in the next couple of weeks, my Sunday night schedule may have an opening.

  • So this week, Kate journeys to a country in the thick of a recent coup and openly accepts a camera in the view of the entire poolside emsemble, takes that camera to the drop point, where she then sends an emergency wire to her CIA contact…names him by name….uses her name…calls attention to herslf to the locals while waiting for a reply…then loses the camera before she makes the drop.  What a wacky spy caper!  Then, of course, back in the USA, days later her contact shows he’s onto her mistake by showing her glossly enlargements of the photos she took days before which have miraculously made it back to the states in record time.

    • Wouldn’t this whole thing have been much more exciting if they had had Bridget on for the first 6-8 episodes, showed her getting into trouble, having to disappear, then as it was all happening have her and the contact recruit Kate to take over?  Why reserve the most interesting backstories for Bridget and the copilot….and not the 4 leading ladies and the pilot?

      • Sobaika Mirza

        It would. I really wonder how some of the writers get hired. Granted, that’s easy to say from our vantage point. But the disappointing thing about Pan Am is that they COULD do great things with the characters and plots and simply… don’t.

  • Anonymous

    Wasn’t her bridal act of defiance a huge step in the growing up process for her?

    Not really. It wasn’t really her act of defiance. Left to her own devices she’d have gone crying down the aisle to her miserable marriage. Kate was the one who pulled her out of her designated glide path. Which is, no doubt, what Kate’s been doing their whole lives. Hence the conflct. Not very well developed conflict, I agree, but the writers did allude to it in that first episode.

    As for the rest, I agree that a Collette-free episode seems kind of a waste. Also Kate’s ‘spying’ is getting pretty boring.

  • Anonymous

    I kinda got the sibling rivalry bit.  From the first episode, we see that Kate does have a bit of jealousy towards Laura, seeing her on the cover of Life Magazine. Kate’s had to climb tooth and nail where she is, and she gets her sister in and her sister has no struggles…at least not like she did.  There’s kind of a parallel story between Kate/Laura/Ted/pilot dude.  About the role of nepotism, family connections, working hard to make your own way.  Back to Kate…And now that Laura comes in with such a carefree attitude while Kate is freaked out about getting in over her head (can she breathe any harder whenever she gets an assignment?) and that she may have put her sister’s life at risk (she came to the hotel, no note, ransacked hotel room, darnit, the Commies may have gotten her!), so when her sister came back camera in hand, she just blew up at her. Parents do it when their kid doesn’t check in and comes home way too late. I felt it was kind of the same thing. She over-reacted, but she’s got all this other anxiety going on. So that plot line worked for me.

    I also liked the Ted plot line because it gave a bit more depth to his drinking and swaggering. He’s a person who became his dad’s patsy and lost all of his hopes and dreams, and to top it off, he has to sit next to mr. handsome dude with the too long haircut piloting the plane and assuming that Ted’s daddy got him his job. Oh man, I’d have punched him, too.

    More Colette! But it was nice just to see her enjoy the trip this time around. I am sure there are plenty more opportunities for her to take center stage, at least I hope, as she’s my favorite character.

    And if you’re gonna have the pilots, then more Sanjeev the navigator!

    • Sobaika Mirza

      I would really like them to touch upon how Sanjeev (an Indian) made it as a Pan Am navigator. I have no idea if it’s anachronistic or not, but I’m curious.

      • Anonymous

        I would as well. Especially in 1963 or whatever the year it is in the show. I’d like to see where their historical context is.

      • Anonymous

        I was curious about his story too for the very reason you stated. 

  • The conflict between Laura and Kate had to do with Laura taking off with THE SPY CAMERA.  Kate was freaked that she would lose important spy info and disguised that into a my-little-sister-is-a-childish-brat fight. Plus, I think Kate finding the hotel room in a shambles played with her head too…

    I am not buying Christina Ricci as Maggie.  Do you watch her face?  It’s all bug eyes and fake smiles.  Ick.  That said, I feel the Maggie character could so be the Joan Holloway of this show.  Upon the first two eps, I felt Christina Ricci was the Christina Hendricks of “Pan Am” but I do agree Collette should be focused on more.  She is way more interesting on so many levels.  I also agree Kate’s spy-mule adventures are getting old.

    I’m gonna stick with this show until I can’t stand it anymore.  One more thing, the pilots should just be eye candy or flings for the stewardesses.  That blond one reminds me of a CK model…

  • Lori

    Strange, I thought the show has already been cancelled. If it hasn’t, it’s going to be.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe I have no business commenting on here, as I’ve never seen the show. Plunging in anyway. I lived in this era; I was the age of these stews about three years later, knew folks who worked in the airline industry, and heard gossip about it [the industry]. I think it is a rare bird of a show like Mad Men which can access a period in our history with such precision and *truthiness*. The initial descriptions of this show gave me nothing to believe that the runners would be able to pull off anything like the quality of Mad Men, and from reading these recaps my impressions seem to have been correct. It sounds rather silly in fact.

    Now once I met a woman who was a very early stewardess, back in the 40s, and she had some amazing stories to tell. You may disagree, but I believe that women of that era (40s) were more mature than women of the same age in the early 60s. And maybe I’m just speaking for myself and friends. We were naive about the rest of the world, traveling was fun, but not serious, we were carefree. We didn’t have WWII/the Depression as our back-story, we had the relatively innocent, *chicken in every pot* 50s as our background. And I do realize this is way over-simplifying it. While the “Commies” were a subtext for all of us Americans, this CIA caper is just sounding so very contrived as it is written. While things began to get much darker after the Kennedy assassination on many fronts, especially in this pre-assassination period, nobody of this young age much took life too seriously. It was easy to find a job; marriage was viewed differently than it is now; some young adults drank too much, as always.

    Despite the brilliant look at certain eras or segments of society depicted in shows like Mad Men or Breaking Bad, showrunners continue to underestimate the public’s sophistication and hunger for depth in their television shows, even in lighter ones with comedy/drama mixes. Look how David E. Kelley has managed over the years to work with this combination, quite successfully.

  • Anonymous

    Hey writers: wrap the show around Collette and Maggie to keep this show alive. This show was as dull as flying on USAir. I keep hoping they bring on some interesting passengers…or a stow away. But no. Upfront..the flight crew could be a lot more interesting…and cuter. The spy arch is not as interesting as I hoped. One hopes the plane would land on Wisteria Lane.  

  • BuffaloBarbara

    I was glad to see the pilot plot, actually.  I think I could even start to like Teddy, after some time, and root for Teddy/Laura.  Though if the best I can do is turn into a shipper, that doesn’t say much.

    I was nonplussed with this episode, other than the Teddy business.  I think they tried to hang too much on Laura and Kate in development, since they seem to get most of the screen time and just aren’t interesting enough to carry it.  They have a fairly decent ensemble cast.  They should focus on different characters in different episodes.  It looks like they’re groping in this direction–Colette got an episode last time, this time it was Teddy’s–but they’re still trying to force the Kate and Laura thing to have some expression in every episode.

    It’s okay, after only three (four? I can’t remember) episodes to not have everything down.  I don’t even find it contradictory that Maggie is both a wide-eyed naif over Kennedy and a beatnik–most of the “rebellious” crowd tends be very naive and idealistic at the core, so that seems to fit for me.  Unfortunately, given the unforgiving nature of the networks, they don’t have time to mess around too much, and the network is already pushing “Once Upon A Time” more fervently.

    The nature of a show about an airplane is that it’s going to be episodic–one episode, one trip–and I wish they’d stop trying to do arcs and just embrace the nature of the thing, and do episodes.  Maybe they could involve passengers a little more, though of course air travel doesn’t lend itself to that quite like, say, boat travel.   (And I definitely don’t want it to end up looking like “The Love Boat”… though, to be fair, that did run a good number of seasons.)

    I think the problem they’re running into is inherent in the concept, though.  The whole thing was, “Hey, let’s make a period piece that involves traveling around in a jet.”  And they forgot that it needs to be about something, every week, without fail.  The spy stuff is fun, but too unbelievable to base everything on.  And I keep expecting someone to say that it’s a big practical joke that Bridget is playing on Kate.  I mean, has she even checked anyone’s bona fides? 

  • Anonymous

    Dear TLo: Please stop recapping this show so you can devote your time to the amazing REVENGE.


  • Anonymous

    I wasn’t wild about the pilot but the 2nd episode hooked me and then they just about lost me last week with the whole Christina Ricci/Kennedy story. Last night I kept getting distracted with other little things to do and that’s not a good sign. Collette is the best part of the show by far and where was she? Barely seen. This show is quickly becoming a mish-mash of silly little story lines that don’t go anywhere. 

  • I quite like Michael Mosley (who plays Ted), but I’m beginning to think drama isn’t the right fit for him. He was great in the final season of Scrubs, and hilarious in an episode of Happy Endings, but here, even when they give him a big story, he’s just… there. Assuming this show figures itself out in other ways and sticks around, here’s hoping Ted gets his promotion, moves on to another crew, and Mosley gets to go back to being funny.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I can’t really tell whether this show will live up to the promise of the first episode.  Time will tell.  Colette is my favorite character too, and I hope they give her a bit more attention.  Karine Vanasse seems very pleasant and humble on Twitter, like she’s just so excited to be a part of something so big.

  • More Colette obviously, but also more hot, English spy handler!

  • Anonymous

    Boring.  I am so over this show.  That spy stuff is ridiculous, and the writing is horrible. I keep watching to see if it gets better.  It hasn’t yet.  I liked Playboy Club better btw.

  • Where are the “Boardwalk Empire” blogs?

  • Kate was mad because Laura took the camera she was supposed to deliver and then couldn’t find her, and it kind of manifested in a childish common sisterly fight.

  • Anonymous

    I’ll tell you what makes me crazy about this show:  the fact that every week, the crew is assigned to a different route.  That’s not normal.

  • As I have since I discovered your Mad Style posts, I think your reviews are fun and intelligent! Thank you.

    I agree this show is lagging, even for an ABC show. I know it’s not Mad Men, and can’t be, but–really. The hair.

    I think the primary problem with Kate’s spying is that the stakes aren’t high enough. Bridget’s fate is Kansas City. Understandably harsh–I live there, too. (Better than dying of puerperal fever in The Tudors, though.) Still, much as I like the actress, isn’t it possible she could end up killed? When I heard a character on the show was working for the CIA, I thought better of it. But Kate is a nervous, bumbling ingenue who needs several more experienced men to guide and handle her. Her assignment in this episode played more like a comedy of errors than what should be the most dramatic part of the show. Even when she was saving her German counterpart, she never really seemed to be in any danger, though she really was.

  • I think you have to have had a sister to really understand the laura/kate issue.  Trust me, that is exactly how it all happens.  You love them, you hate them, accusations go flying around based on years of pent up envy and typecasting.   Then they’re threatened to be far away and you can’t stand the thought of losing your sister.  It’s an endless cycle that really doesn’t make any sense but was portrayed (maybe unintentionally) perfectly in this episode.

    tho i agree: more Collette, less courier Kate.