“Ich Bin Ein Berliner”

Posted on October 10, 2011

The third episode of Pan Am left us disappointed but also pleasantly surprised. We’re negative Nancy boys, so we’ll start off with the disappointment.

Christina Ricci continues to be something of a non-character.  We originally  thought it was a good idea to keep her in the background for the first hour or two of the series so that the lesser-known actresses could get their footing, but now we’re wondering if the writers simply don’t know what to do with her. With this episode, she was given her biggest storyline yet and both it and her performance left us supremely let down. Compare her giggly, wide-eyed fan girl turn here with her introduction in the first episode, where she was presented as a far more cynical character; living in the Village, sleeping with a beatnik, and getting reprimanded for violating the airline’s girdle rule. Granted, the other 3 women in the cast aren’t exactly working with finely drawn, minutely detailed characters either, but Ricci’s Maggie is a series of bad lines and contradictory actions and we’re only on the third episode.

Further disappointment came with the use of historical events to provide dramatic fodder. We’re not against this in theory, but it’s a trap for period shows because the writers too often think they only need to reference the event, provide some newsreel footage or a television recording in the background and voila; instant gravitas. We just had the Bay of Pigs used as a backdrop when these characters were introduced to us and now we’ve got Kennedy himself (or a vague silhouette of him) driving the action of the stories. One of the great strengths of this show is that it can plausibly drop its characters practically anywhere in the world, so the temptation to be in Berlin on such a momentous occasion may have been too great for the writers to pass up, but it really only gave us one decent character moment and we could have had that without bringing Kennedy into it at all.

And it has to be said: the production team is simply going to have to do a better job of faking its European locales. If CGI isn’t in the budget, then they need better sets and much tighter shots. The scene of them walking down the crowded streets of Berlin was laughable, both because it clearly wasn’t any city in Europe and because the huge crowd never looked like more than 20 or so people.

But we can’t say we didn’t enjoy the episode, despite its faults. The spying stuff continues to be great fun, against all reason. Realistic? Not by a long shot, but you know what? Neither is James Bond. Dropping Kate smack in the middle of the Cold War and right on the edge of the enemy line was a great use of the locale and the character. Having her come face to face with her German counterpart once again serves to teach her that this isn’t a game and there are serious consequences if she screws things up. Granted, her actions here would almost certainly get her cut loose from any further spy activity and if she continues to let her stewardess world and her spy world overlap like that it’s only going to make the other stewardesses look kind of stupid. We were convinced that Collette, who is by far the most intelligent and sophisticated of the four women, was going to figure things out this episode.

But Collette had her own story to tell and even though it’s a path well trod in movies, it’s kind of exciting to see a character like this on a network television show. Not that we’re cheering on her prejudicial take on Germans, but it speaks well of the show that they’re willing to explore the characters in this manner and have them do or say things that, while understandable given their experiences, paint them in a less-than sunny and perfect light. In other words, the show is still a frothy bit of entertainment, but with more nuanced undertones than we would have expected or thought possible. Of course it helps when you give the more talented members of the cast something to do and Karine Vanasse’s performance as she sang “Deutschland Uber Alles” was beautifully rendered. Of course, like Kate’s actions this episode, we don’t see how she wasn’t fired because of it, but we wouldn’t have much of a show if she was, so we’ll happily accept the conceit.

Now if only they could figure out a way to showcase Ricci’s talents we’d have a near-perfect show. So long as they don’t Kennedy it up too much.

[Screencaps: tomandlorenzo.com]

Please review our Community Guidelines before posting a comment. Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    Christina Ricci’s eyes give me the willies!! 

    • Yeah, they were totally crazy and scary!! If those eyes were looking at me like that there is no way in hell I would let her anywhere near the president.

    • I really like her as an actress, but I agree. Last night she looked crazy! I’m not sure what is going on with her, but she’s scaring me.

  • Sobaika Mirza

    It sort of made sense that Ricci’s character would be a big Kennedy supporter, but I agree that they have a long way to go in making her character work. So far it’s been – “Look, look! She’s the liberal one!!”

    I enjoyed Collette’s storyline. As contrived and over-dramatic as it was, the actress delivered.

    • Anonymous

      Completely agree re Collette. The scene where she sang the German national anthem was surprisingly affecting.

      • Anonymous

        agreed. so was the stairway scene. She’s the best actress on the show, esp. since Christina Ricci and her character are all over the place.

  • Anonymous

    I’m still completely unimpressed by this show.  I thought the “Deutchland Uber Alles” moment was completely flat.  There was nothing behind it at all.  
    In addition to their unable to fake the streets of Germany, wasn’t the mansion where the party was held, the EXACT SAME BUILDING that they used last week for Paris?  Same facade and circular driveway….I might be wrong…this show fails to impress me one bit.Another funny bit, where the most respected news reporter on the plane was reading “Profiles in Courage” which was published 8 years earlier than 1963…way to stay current boys!

    • Anonymous

      I disagree about Colette singing “Deutschland über Alles.”  It gave me chills and made me sick to my stomach, which is exactly what it should do.  Hitler took a song about unity and twisted it into a song about domination, and I cannot hear it without getting emotional.

      • Anonymous

        I’m with you. I was sorta dozing thru’ this episode when I suddenly realized someone was singing Deutschland. I got chills and tears–I had family who died in the Holocaust.

        • Leslie Streeter

          She’s an amazing effective actress because she acts with her smile, which can be self-assured, angry or bitterly resigned. I quite adore her, and got the same chills you did.

      • Yeah, that was a truly beautiful moment in this episode.  I wish the whole thing felt as authentic.  TLo were spot on last week when they said the show will probably cover a series of tiny arcs rather than drawing one long one out. It’s a little too deus ex machina for me, but we’ll see how this pans out.

      • Anonymous

        It reminded me of that moment in Casablanca when Victor Laszlo leads the crowd at Rick’s in singing “La Marseillaise”.

    • Anonymous

      People read books published in the past quite often. If the book was published in 1970, then I could see having a problem with it!

  • M M

    Typo: ‘with his episode’ should be ‘with this’

  • Anonymous

    Even though I was looking forward to this episode, I decided I’d much rather go to sleep last night, so missed it. I figured TLo could keep me in the loop and you did. I’ll watch it later this week online.

  • Anonymous

    Colette’s storyline was the most compelling, and the scene where she sang, while it didn’t make exact narrative sense, was the only scene in the episode with any genuine feeling. The actress’s bitter words to the Germans delivered with a perfect stewardess smile on her face walked that tightrope of tension beautifully. The Maggie storyline drove me nuts. I’m sure they’re setting the series up for a dramatic Kennedy-has-been-shot Emmy reel. And Kate? When the German spy said that yes, she’d been here before BEFORE THE WALL CAME UP you’re going to tell me that not one of the other girls realized instantly that she’s East German and that perhaps sneaking her into this embassy (or whatever) is a risky move for all of their asses?

  • Anonymous

    “Tlo said: Not that we’re cheering on her prejudicial take on Germans, but it speaks well of the show that they’re willing to explore the characters in this manner and have them do or say things that, while understandable given their experiences, paint them in a less-than sunny and perfect light.”

    I don’t think her take on Germans was prejudicial at all. This is set on 16 years after the war when Nazis oppressed and murdered tens of millions of people. There were still many, many hard feelings and ruined lives that had not yet been put back together. And I thought her line, at the end, about the President making a speech and absolving their shame – but they should feel shame was pitch perfect.

    But as for the Kennedy loves stewardesses stuff, I don’t think anything ever came out about his extra-curricular activities until the mid-70’s, so that line didn’t fly.


    • It didn’t come out to the general public, but the WH press knew about it at the time and those were the characters who made the statements about stewardesses. 

  • Yeah, this episode was problematic. I didn’t see how being in Germany caused Colette to have flashbacks. Didn’t she spend the war in France? I get the prejudice though and I forgot how this was “only” 18 years after the end of the war in Europe.

    My husband joined me for some of the episode and couldn’t get past the hair and interiors being too modern. We referenced how it was “Happy Days” retro lite.

    • Barbara Singleterry

      She was 3 years old when the Germans occupied France.  They totally dominated Europe and she lost her parents during the war.  Collette had flashbacks of being forced to speak German, being jostled by German soldiers and the knowledge that she would never have her family again.

      • Leslie Streeter

        Yeah, so she didn’t really prejudge anyone. She knows what they did to her family, and she hates them. That seems pretty clear cut to me.

        • Tom

          My father is nearly 80 years old, and I’m taking him to southern France this month to the village where he and his family lived while trying to escape the nazis from 1940 through 1943.  He hasn’t been back there since.  Collette’s pain struck me as real and appropriate.  While my father has chosen not to blame all Germans for what happened during the war, I’m not sure how he would have felt in 1961 when he was Collette’s age.

        • Hating an entire country of people is pretty much the definition of prejudicial thinking. It’s entirely understandable in this character’s case, but that doesn’t not make it prejudicial.

          • Leslie Streeter

            I understand what you’re saying – it is technically prejudging an entire country. And like you, I get it. She didn’t have the perspective to think there was good there. And I get it. I would like to think that like Tom’s father Collette would grow to appreciate that the whole country was not responsible. 
            I love this blog. I wind up learning and debating so much more than funny-looking clothing and badly dressed celebutantes. Kudos, y’all.

          • Anonymous

            I think had they done more with the interaction of the East German spy, we could have teased out more meaning. Yes, the spy’s parents delivered bread to the Luftwaffe. Perhaps they were just trying to survive and “get along with life.”  That’s part of what the Germans called the “burden of guilt.” That by standing by and not standing up, the entire population has a role in the blame.  In 1963, I could see that this attitude by those affected by the Germans would be even more prejudicial. 

      • Right. So people speaking the language caused the flashback events?
        I think I’m giving this show waaaayyyy too much thought.
        Also, I can do without all the jumping forward and backward in time. It’s like Lost Lite.

        • It made perfect sense to me that being in Germany would cause her to have flashbacks.  But perhaps that is because I have flashbacks from being kidnapped as child and even 40 years later something seemingly meaningless can send me into a terrible flashback spin.  So, yeah.  Being around people speaking German could trigger memories that she thought were long tucked away. 🙂

          • Anonymous

            What I didn’t understand is, why on earth would a pianist hired to play at a diplomatic reception in Berlin (or anywhere for that matter) blithely agree to accompany her as she sang that song?  Isn’t that a bizarre thing for HIM to have been okay doing?  It seemed to be one of those scenes in which plausibility is sacrificed for the sake of a dramatic moment, as effective as that moment itself may have been.   

          • You have a point…although it could be argued that he didn’t know she was going to sing the Nazi version of it. 

            I agree that a major weakness of the show is the plausiblity factor.

  • Judy_J

    I had to run the street scene in “Berlin” several times because I kept thinking they were in New York.  I could swear I saw the Triangle Building in one of the shots.  I have issues with this show, but it is continuing to draw me in.  I agree with you guys on all points.

    • Anonymous

      Berlin has the Triangle Building too, I also got totally confused when I saw it in the background!! But you can find buildings like that all over paris and berlin, so they werent SOOO far off 😛

  • Meredith McCann

    Collette’s storyline kind of reminded me of Roger Sterling’s storyline with the Japanese this past season of Mad Men, although I think Collette had more of a reason to still be angry and upset than Roger. She probably felt how Roger did (not an exact quote), “If I’m still the same person, aren’t they still the same people?”

  • Robyn Morelli

    I’m finding this to be a nice distraction while we’re on such a LONG hiatus from Mad Men.

  • It’s already been canceled.  Uh, buh, bye.

    • No it hasn’t.

    • Anonymous

      you’re confusing it with The Playboy Club, which has been – deservedly – cancelled.

      • Pffft, Playboy Club, with all its cliches, was waaaaay more interesting than Pan Am.  I miss it. RIGHT when it was starting to get good, they canned it.  Terrible, terrible thing to happen.  I haven’t cared about a tv show so much since My So-Called Life.

        Also, I don’t get what people disliked about the Playboy Club.  It was interesting right off the bat, filled with intrigue, socio-political commentary, and a few hotties.  What’s to dislike?

    • Anonymous

      I believe you’re thinking of The Playboy Club.

  • MilaXX

    My expectations aren’t high for this show. It’s decent enough so I don’t mind that it isn’t perfect. I have to admit though, that last night all I could think was that Ricci’s character had gone from being semi-beatnik to simply the plucky one. I was hoping for a bit more from her character since she is the biggest name in the cast.

    • Anonymous

      it would have helped if one of her friends had commented, “When did you turn into a screaming groupie?” or something like that, to point out the inconsistency in her character. OR if she had played it a little more sultry, rather than so wide-eyed

  • Lynn Landry

    I just can’t muster the energy for this show. I’d rather conserve it for the next Mad Men season, if indeed it happens. This just seems like a twinkie in comparison.

  • Anonymous

    The only stew that peeks my insterest is Colette’.  The writers still try to work in the pilot and co-pilot to no advantage.  Still, this episode did not match the “fun” of the meat fork in the ribs antics of last week. I just wish things would get more interesting..I think the whole CIA spy route is a bit of a bore.
    Still love Ms Ricci but as a starstruck gal…no thanks.
    Lots of money spent on the aircraft and termninal  sets. But Partis and Berlin fall short. Even Disney does better at EPCOT world showcase.

  • This is way off topic, but dear Americans, please, hear me on this one. I hate to ruin your fun with that “Ich bin ein Berliner” joke, but it’s time for you to hear the truth. Yes, Berliner is a pastry like a jelly donut, but when you say “Ich bin ein Berliner”, it really just means this: “I am a person from Berlin”, no confusion there. It was never a joke to the Germans. In fact, that he said that had meant a great deal to the Berliners. So much so, it’s still in the history books. 
    So now that you know this, will you promise to never ever tell this joke again. It’s embarassing for you, and it makes me cringe. There are plenty other funny anecdotes that are much better and closer to reality.  

    • Anonymous

      It was a German who told me that ‘joke’.

    • Mary Warren

      When some one from Berlin says “I am a person from Berlin” they say “Ich bin Berliner”.  What Kennedy said was: “Ich bin ein Berliner”, “ein” being the German word for “a” and that’s where the joke comes in.  They would say “ein Berliner” if they were requesting a pastry of that name, but not if they were stating that that was where they were from.

      • Cautiously Pessimistic

        No, anilly is right.  There are two explanations possible for this – one, that it was a matter of dialects, and two, that it was a figurative statement, not a literal one.  Besides which, Kennedy was given the translation by a German, and he practiced the pronunciation of it with the mayor of Berlin.  Surely one of them would have caught such a mistake if it actually was incorrect.

        Like most grammatical rules, that one isn’t hard and fast.  He really wasn’t saying he was a jelly donut.

        • Mary Warren

          Ah, okay.  I was remembering my High School German class & what my teacher had told us, but a quick Google would have shown me that he was wrong!

      • Anonymous

        Yes, that’s technically true, but the Berliners understood what he meant.  No one in that crowd thought he was saying he was a jelly donut.  That’s a bit of political spin that was put out there by Kennedy’s detractors; not unlike what happens to politicians today when they make a minor gaffe that is blown out of proportion.

    • Anonymous

      If my native-German German professor understood her language professor, “Ich bin Berliner” means “I am a Berliner” and “Ich bin ein Berliner” means “I am a jelly donut.”  But perhaps she didn’t know her language as well as you do.

  • I’m hoping they give Christina Ricci something interesting, like falling in love with a rich, frequent flier businessman who goes against everything bohemian.  But she loves him and has to hide him from her other life.

    • BuffaloBarbara

      Oo, that’s a good idea.  And I think people would like a plot like that–people are tired of the whole “If you don’t agree with me, you must be evil” tone of politics.

    • You mean Don Draper?

  • lilibetp

    What was the deal with Christina Ricci’s eyes this episode?  It looked like she got into mommy’s synthroid or something.

  • Leonardo Alves

    I’m officially starting to like the series! It’s light and superficial, but makes me continue to watch it. The Deutchland Über Alles scene was quite nice, and so was her storyline…
    And yes, the Berliner streets were… well… ridiculous… but common, give them some credit… they have to be in a different location every episode!

  • BuffaloBarbara

    I thought they did a nice job with Colette, and it’s definitely psychologically realistic.  I remember when Germany reunified, a Holocaust survivor I knew predicted WWIII within a few years, because as far as he was concerned, that’s what Germany did when unified, and he saw no good whatsoever in the wall coming down.

    With Ricci’s character, I’m operating on the idea that she herself hasn’t discovered that there are complexities in the world just yet, and really is operating in her little world where she is always right and those who disagree with her are always wrong, and there’s not much reason for deep questioning.  Since we’re in ’63, maybe the Kennedy assassination will force her to examine things?

  • Now I am The Bee

    You all know that “Ich bin ein Berliner” translates to “I am a jelly donut” right?  Mr Kennedy mis-spoke when he said that… 

    • That’s not true, Kennedy said what he meant to say. Anilly is right.

      • Now I am The Bee

        Well–I believe Mary Warren is more correct. 

    • Anonymous

      1. While the phrase can be translated that way, it is a perfectly acceptable way of saying that one is a citizen of Berlin.
          It just sounds a bit more colloquial.
      2. Berliner  are not necessarily filled with jelly (though they often are).

    • Anonymous

      With my very brief, crude, basic, and rudimentary study of German, I believe “Ich bin Berliner” is the proper way to say it. “Ein” is unnecessary, and therefore in this instance humorously ambiguous (although not likely to be misunderstood). 

  • Aiste Griciute

    The part where Collette sang “Deautschland Uber Alles” was frankly quite embarasing and painful to watch as it showed what poor concept of the European history the writers of the show have. Couldn’t even look at the screen. For this candy TV show Cold War spy drama is more than enough.

    • How did it show the poor concept of European history you’re claiming the writers have?

    • Anonymous

      Yes, I too would like to know.  The fact that she sang it was quite embarrassing, but more on the lines for me of OMG I can’t believe she’s actually slapping them in the face with that! And the American Mission had a number of international guests. It’s not like she sang it at a German party.

  • Anonymous

    I want to like this show, but the writing is BAD and the show just drags.I couldn’t get thru this episode and last week, the whole mom thing was incredibly lame. With all the new shows released, you would think they could at least give us a few good shows, so far Person of Interest, Homeland and Luther on BBC america are the only ones worth watching.

    • YOu want bad writing?  Go watch ‘Terra Nova’.

      • Anonymous

        I know, watched that one too, painful writing, it reminded me of V with the teenage rebel son. I was hoping that one would be good as I loved the Jurassic Park movies.

  • My Mom loved it.  She was about their age in 1963– she got married in 1964 at 20.  She laughed at the “walk.”

  • Three shows and I’m done with this one. It is way too giddy and unrealistic.  Mad Men has set a very high standard.

  • Anonymous

    Well, while I agree completely on the Ricci as fangrrrrl thing, at least they did redeem it a little bit by having her watch from the sidelines while the grunt gave Kennedy the cigars. Had they allowed her on board I would have been all “Oh puhleeze!”

    I still love this show, warts and all.

  • I have to be honest, I’m only watching this show for the costumes and those are a bust. I like the ladies’ PanAm uniforms, but not much else has impressed me. Especially last night when they were at a formal party. None of it said 1960s glamour to me. I’m used to the period perfection of Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men. PanAm just doesn’t cut it for me.

  • I didn’t know TLo were reviewing this show.  Bravo!

    I’ve watched all the eps thus far and I agree they need more Christina Ricci.  I hope I don’t sound heartless but anything WWII at this point makes me yawn.  I am glad to know Collette’s background but I hope the writers never explore that part of her life ever again except in short sentences and post-coital with a hunky pilot.

  • Anonymous

    I’m still sticking with this show.  It’s stupid and cheesy, but I am ok with that.  Like someone said above, it’s some fun froth until the real deal of Mad Men comes back on.

    Speaking of… to the person who said Mad Men might not come back: they are filming season 5 right now.  My friend’s office building in LA was set last week and he posted a pic of Ken Cosgrove and Peggy sitting outside the building.  It’s happening.  Now, we just have to figure out if it will really premiere in March like it’s supposed to…

  • Anonymous

    It is true that Germany now is a wonderful country, ive visited it many times and it’s one of my favourites! but back in the 60’s the horrors of WWII were still fresh for those who suffered through it – i think this show portrayed that very well. My grandparents always remember the time Kennedy spoke, they too had the exact same reaction as Collette’s character, saying that just over 10 years prior Germany was the world’s worst enemy, and then boom with speech they’re America’s new best friend. I think that in some areas the directors/producers/writers are overdoing the whole 60’s and cold-war aspects of the show, but they certainly paid very close attention to what they were doing in this particular story. It was very interesting to watch that, especially on a network tv series that I thought was just gonna be a fun show with hot pilots and pretty girls 😛

    But i’m getting a little annoyed with Kate I must say… I have a bit of an obsession with spying in this period (aka my entire college degree…) and that stuff would never fly (pun not intended but i’ll go with it). Granted, it is a show, and its great for entertainment… but…. ive accepted that im gonna be the cynical one in the corner whenever this plot line comes up in future episodes 🙁

    and one more thing, im SORRY, but Laura is not “different than other girls”…. that just came outa nowhere

    TLo, if it werent for you guys, I wouldnt have watched this show! Thanks for introducing me to it 🙂

  • Anonymous

    So, I’ve finally seen this episode online, and it was pretty good.  I think if you look at Colette as a historical figure, the producers got it right.  The intense national hatreds didn’t just go away at the end of the way, and the French suffered greatly both during WWI and WWII. However, I would like to know more of her personal backstory. France was occupied during the war. Was she in Paris? Somewhere else as a child? I’m fascinated by her character far more than the others (except the very minor character Sanjeev, who wasn’t in this episode).

  • As a German, I found this episode both laughable and annoying. The actress playing the East German spy had a horrible accent that didn’t fool me for a second into believing she was a German native speaker. Why introduce this storyline at all if in all of Hollywood the producers couldn’t come up with an actress with a decent German accent? It just killed the whole moment.

    Colette, on the other hand, though not a native speaker either, spoke beuatiful German that fit her character beautifully, as it made you believe that she must have been exposed to German occupancy. But the fact remains that no way would she have been allowed to sing the entire first (i. e. forbidden) verse of “Deutschland über alles.” To this day it remains such a taboo that I imagine it would have been an even stronger one back then.

    To be frank, the only thing I enjoyed about last night’s episode was Maggie’s black dress with the red flowers. 🙂 Sorry if that sounds superficial, but there really wasn’t much else of interest in the writing.

    Thanks for the always superb recaps, TLo!

  • Karine Vanasse is SO cute and captivating as COLETTE; I’m in love with her (Colette).