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Pan Am recap: Berlin brings out the best in the show

A trip to Berlin finally kicks the series into high gear

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Pan Am
Eric Liebowitz/ABC

Pan Am

TV Show
Current Status:
run date:
Kelli Garner, Christina Ricci

That is more like it! After last week’s trip to Paris portended a descent by Pan Am into pleasant mediocrity, this week’s voyage to West Berlin for President John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” speech felt like a show that was finally beginning to realize just what it was capable of pulling off. Kate’s spy games crackled with a real sense of danger; Collette’s poignant struggle to reconcile her Vichy France childhood with the new, friendly Germany carried real weight and resonance; and Maggie finally got to do something more than simply be The 1960s Liberated Woman (although just barely). The time-hopping story structure may not have been all that necessary, but it also gave the scenes a spark and tension that made the hour feel much more alive. By gum, if Pan Am can turn out more episodes like this one, then I’d say we may actually have ourselves a genuine television program on our hands.

The too-trusting Kate and the probably-helpless East German translator

We opened not on a Pan Am airliner, but in a New York City subway, with Kate reading a copy of the not-so-historic New York Examiner that nonetheless featured more-or-less era-appropriate typography. (There is little that gets this font geek more annoyed than fake periodicals in movies and TV that look like they were designed on Word using an anachronistic-in-any-time-period font like Palatino.) Her jaunty CIA contact had another courier job for her, but this one was more complicated — she was to go to a small bookseller in West Berlin and ask for a copy of Friederich Nietzsche’s Der Wille zur Macht in German.

But when Kate got there, things went south in a hurry. Her contact, Anke (Auden Thornton) pulled up behind her in the most adorable little sea-foam green German auto, and anxiously barked that her cover’d been blown by the East German secret police. Before Kate knew what was happening, the two had sped away, only to abandon the car in an alleyway just as quickly. And that’s when they both realized neither of them knew what they were doing; Anke was simply a translator, on just her third mission, and she seemed even less sure of how to get themselves out of this pickle than Kate did.

Back at her hotel, Kate called her contact at MI6, and although he dismissed her concern as barely worth his time — “We’re not going to risk our entire East German operation for someone who can be replaced by a 15-year-old with a bicycle” — he also seemed entirely unconcerned that Kate was calling him on an open phone line. (I guess phone bugging wasn’t prevalent in 1963?) Kate, however, was not to be deterred. She snuck Anke into the U.S. Mission — during a party for President Kennedy, no less — by hiding her in plain sight as a Pan Am stewardess. Thanks to a friendly reporter at the aforementioned Examiner (a bit more on him later), Anke declared herself as an “East German asset” (per Kate’s instruction) and defected.

NEXT PAGE: Kate gets reprimanded, and Collette can’t forgive