Truth or Dare

Posted on November 07, 2011

This is one of those reviews we almost feel bad writing because it’s going to sound more negative than we actually felt after watching this episode, which was mostly enjoyable fluff.

But the operative phrase here is “enjoyable fluff,” because while the show maintains its glossy veneer, it’s attempting far more nuanced storytelling than it might be capable of. With its CGI backdrops of exciting international locations and only vaguely accurate period art direction, we’re not sure a show like Pan Am is equipped to tell stories of race relations in the Kennedy era or deal with lovers being torn apart by the Cold War. There was an odd disconnect going from the almost Happy Days-like scene of the party at Maggie’s place to a race-based assault and CIA kidnapping.

But we can’t say it was a bad episode, really. We’d just about given up on this show, but there was some real meat to the stories and some fairly decent character-building going on with Kate and Laura. It’s always a turning point for a heroic character to pay some sort of price and Kate got hers with the removal of Niko from her life. She can go anywhere from here, dramatically speaking, and that’s a good thing. But we’re fairly certain that, after some initial pouting and resistance, she’ll throw herself headfirst back into the spy game, hardened by it and more committed to it than ever. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking on our parts. Let’s just say that Kate has the most story potential to her character right now and we hope these opportunities aren’t wasted by the writers.

Laura got some intriguing turns this week as well. To Kate’s disapproval, Laura is finding out who she is by pushing against the boundaries of what she’s allowed to do, which leads to surprising acts like posing for nude pictures or allowing herself to confront her own racism. We thought the latter aspect of her story was mostly Very Special Episode material; the only thing saving it from being completely by-the-numbers was its New York City setting. Portrayals of the racism of the era is too often confined to the south. But in the end, it was a fairly typical “white person confronts racism” story. She’ll make out with a black guy to show how much she’s grown but we doubt a new focus on fighting for African-American civil rights will suddenly define her character. No, the race storyline would appear to be, sadly, of a piece with the nude pictures reveal; a way to show that Laura is rejecting her middle class background and searching for herself. We suppose we shouldn’t expect a period show to not touch on the major issues of the day, but this kind of treatment of the race issue of the period is almost laughably shallow.

Still, we think the idea of defining Laura in this direction has merit. It’s interesting to see a character go in a direction you wouldn’t expect and the fact that Laura’s new social openness has Kate, the CIA operative, feeling moralistic and judgmental is a great way to go with these characters.

Unfortunately, we’re not looking for the Kate and Laura show here, and we doubt most of the audience is either. Once again, Christina Ricci is a very well-lit extra and Collette got a little something to do, but we really hope it doesn’t lead to a “Karen Black flying the plane” moment down the line because that would be just too ridiculous for words. We’re figuring it’s just a way to further her budding romance with the unbelievably bland Dean, to which we say, “Girl, no.” We have to admit, it’s a bit distressing that so many of the women’s storylines are revolving around the men they’re attracted to. We knew the show was going to be glossy and soapy, but the best soap opera characters have more than just who they’re hot for going on. It’s great that Laura and Kate are so well-defined, but Maggie and Collette better be in the batter’s circle for the same treatment and it better not revolve solely around whichever bland men are making them bat their eyes.

[Screencaps: tomandlorenzo.com]

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