“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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