“We’ll Always Have Paris”

Posted on October 03, 2011

As much as we love this frothy, poodle-pink confection of a show for what it is (a sort of Happy Days-slash-Love Boat redux set in the Camelot era), we can’t help spending most of the episode yelling at the TV because of the hair. They’re doing that thing that a lot of period films and TV shows do (with the notable exception of Mad Men): tweaking the period looks to make them more palatable to modern audiences. The clothes are mostly okay in terms of accuracy. Even if they’re not perfectly accurate to the period, they manage to paint the broad strokes fairly effectively (although for all the talk of girdles, we question whether the leads are wearing them in every scene). That’s to be expected because, thanks to Mad Men and decades of stylish thrift store shoppers, mid-Century-style clothing is back in style.  But men in 1963 – airline pilots, no less – with “dry look” hair hanging over their collars is enough to make our eyes twitch. And the female leads are no better, with soft pageboys or gently falling curls that look like they were set with a curling iron a half hour before rather than the more accurate set-in-rollers-the-night-before look of the period. It’s a minor thing and we’ll get over it, but you’re just going to have to listen to us bitch about it every now and then.

Thankfully, we have little else to bitch about when it comes to this episode, which felt like a continuation of the pilot in many ways. We assumed the show would have serialized plots like a nighttime soap opera, but were surprised to see several plot strands come effectively to an end. We would have thought Laura’s runaway bride routine and subsequent fallout would fuel her story for the rest of the season, but there she was, hugging it out and saying goodbye to her sentence-finishing fiance, who may have been a bit of a condescending jerk but understood he could never give her Mt. Kilimanjaro. We’re a bit puzzled as to what you can actually do with a character like Laura once she learns to stand on her own and stand up to the people who want to keep her down. That’s normally a season-long (or even several seasons long)  character arc but it was all wrapped up in the first two episodes. We’ll see if she can remain interesting after this.

It was the other two wrapups that left us a little disappointed. There’s still plenty you can do with Kate and she is, by far, our favorite character, but the prodigal daughter bit had real teeth to it, especially when she has to work side-by-side with a sister she loves, but secretly resents for being seen as the prettier, more palatable one. Who doesn’t want to cheer her on when she yells “I rode an elephant in Bangkok last month!” at her dismissive, controlling mother? But again, there she was, hugging it out with Mom at the end.

And if that left us disappointed, we were practically heartbroken that the wild, fabulous, mysterious Bridget seems to be leaving the story altogether. Sure, it makes sense to use her as a cautionary tale; to let Kate know the stakes of being a CIA operative flying the friendly skies. And of course, once Kate is given this information, she has a nice character-defining moment where she boldly declares her intention to keep on going, even knowing what it could cost her. But we – again – assumed the whole “What happened to Bridget?” storyline was going to fuel half the season. Even Dean seems to have gotten over her rather quickly and moved on with Colette, who’s our second-favorite character, by the way.

Christina Ricci’s Maggie is, surprisingly, a character that’s going to need a bit more work. Still mostly in the background, with no real arc to speak of, it seems that, for now, she’s going to be the mouthpiece for social change. That’s fine, but they’re going to have to come up with more subtle ways to express that than “I’m not included in the price of your ticket!” and “You made it okay for him to try that again with another girl.” If she’s mouthing off during her weight checks and stabbing handsy male passengers with a meat fork, then the inevitable question of why she’s a Pan Am stewardess at all is going to have to be raised, and we suspect they’re going to neatly sidestep that one just to keep giving her “I am woman” scenes and monologues.

We may have to adjust our expectations slightly. We don’t actually watch much network television outside of Glee, and that show, for all its many faults, is a genre-busting oddity unlike anything else on television (before they started devising ripoffs). Pan Am is as glossy a network show as you can get; the Charlie’s Angels of the skies. We would have liked to have seen season-long arcs for each character, but it looks like, for now, we’re going to be getting discrete, one-or-two episode arcs before moving on. A smart set of writers can work within that model and produce character-defining pieces that pile up cumulatively instead of flowing in one long line, so we’ll see if the creative team can sustain things. For now, we’ll just sit back and not think about it too much.

Except for the hair. That’s never not going to drive us nuts.

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