A lackluster voyage to the Far East showcases more sibling drama and explores Ted's daddy issues 

By Adam B. Vary
Updated October 17, 2011 at 09:39 AM EDT
ABC

Wow, this is frustrating. After last week’s stellar excursion to West Berlin, this week Pan Am hit a patch of unstable, stagnant air on its journey through the Orient. I can understand how a show with this many moving parts may take some time to find its footing, but with ratings in a bit of a free fall of late, I’m concerned if Pan Am doesn’t figure itself out soon, the show could be in for a rough landing.

Horrible aviation puns aside, “Eastern Exposure” made the unfortunate decision to bench one of the show’s most compelling characters — Karine Vanasse’s Collette Valois — in favor of focusing the spotlight on one of its least — Michael Mosley’s Ted Vanderway. Meanwhile, the Cameron sisters continued their wearisome sibling squabbles, Kate continued to prove herself a singularly horrible secret agent, and Maggie continued to be saddled with lines like, “Bob Dylan is an artist! I bet money he’ll be famous.” But I think Dean took the prize for the Pan Am Groaner “Period” Dialogue of the Week: “Have you read a paper? It’s 1963. A new generation leads.” Who talks like that, in any time period? Anyhoo, let’s get to it — warning, this is going to be a swift journey:

Ticked-off Ted and his traumatic tenure as a test-pilot

I think we can all agree that Ted is kind of a jerk, and the character who seems the most like he wandered out of a rough draft of an early-season Mad Men episode, what with all the forward womanizing and penchant for knocking back a few. But what made him a boozy, entitled twerp? Daddy, of course!

Ted was already on tilt before even leaving for the Far East, thanks to an obnoxious older pilot back in New York who told Ted point blank he was surprised Ted didn’t use his family connections to leap-frog seniority like Dean somehow managed to do. Things only got worse when, during their poolside layover in the Burmese capital of Rangoon (more on that far-fetched locale in a bit), some Navy flyboys taunted Dean’s vocation as a lowly commercial airline co-pilot. And before you could say “I feel a flashback coming on!” — in the way that you totally could have said that, several times over, in fact, since it was so flipping obvious we were headed for a flashback — we were plunged into the ocean crash site of Ted’s Juno V-3 Interceptor. Turns out Ted was in the Navy, as a high-stakes test pilot, but at the inquiry into the crash, his claim that the altimeter was faulty fell on deaf ears. “Your bar tab the night before is evidence the navy got less than your best that morning,” barked one of his superiors. Ouch.

Back in Jakarta, Ted obsessively tried to watch the launch of Mercury 9, the first manned American space flight that lasted for more than a day; with Laura’s help positioning the antenna of the hotel television, he was finally able to see it happen. (Neither Laura nor Ted seemed all that impressed, however, that their hotel’s TV was also a time machine: Mercury 9 launched on May 15, 1963, some six weeks before President Kennedy gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech on June 26.) Ted’s interest in space flight wasn’t just as an awestruck layman. His time as a test pilot was in service of his dream of joining the space program. But the Navy wasn’t budging on its ultimate finding that pilot error caused the crash, and Ted was offered an honorable discharge. As luck would have it, Ted’s father owned the company that built the V-3, but even though his dad was happy to use the back-slapping good ole boys’ network to get his disgraced son a job at Pan Am, he wasn’t about to jeopardize his contract with the military by volunteering to the Navy that his plane was indeed faulty, even if it would save his son’s career. Double ouch.

NEXT: Ted’s fist, meet Dean’s face

Naturally, Ted took out his anger on Dean’s smug mug after a particularly hairy landing in Hong Kong. (That was some pricey looking visual effects work, no?) Two days later, back in New York, a contrite Ted and a bruised-and-contrite Dean made up after Dean revealed that he landed the pilot job because he got 11 minutes alone in an elevator with Juan Trippe, and told the Pan Am founder he didn’t like the company’s pilot seniority system. (Note to self: Corner boss’s boss’s boss in confined space and give him a piece of my mind; can only result in a wildly generous promotion.) I would complain that suddenly, Ted’s emotional hang-ups appeared to be happily resolved, but that would imply I wanted to see more of Mosley’s penchant for blankly staring into the middle distance to indicate inner torment. As it is, it’s hard to root for a guy whose knee-jerk reaction to any problem is “It’s not my fault!” — even when it isn’t his fault.

The covert camera conundrum and those catty Cameron sisters

Just one week after swooning over Kate’s West Berlin spy-ifying, I’m getting a wee bit weary of her different locale, new mission storylines, since Kate appears to be transforming into the worst U.S. secret agent in the history of the Cold War. First, in Rangoon, Kate spotted a shady looking man shooting photos of her bathing suited co-workers by a public pool, and then, when he beckoned her over, walked to him in the bushes in front of everyone she works with and took the camera from him. Burma, by 1963 — be it mid-May or late-June — was already a year into the socialist military junta that rules the country to this day; according to Wikipedia, the nation living was under martial law as Maggie flirted poolside with those U.S. Navy pilots. So what I’m saying is, if you’re going to transport your characters to one of the most politically dangerous parts of the world, at least tip your hat to it? Especially if one of those characters is going to accept in broad daylight a camera containing valuable intel?

In any event, after arriving in Jakarta, Kate left this precious camera in her bag on her bed, after her younger sister had already seen it, a younger sister the show made quite clear Kate does not really trust with important, valuable things. Kate then went to the local telegram office and sent this bizarre cable to her CIA minder: “Richard. Want souvenir. What destination? Kate” To recap: She used his name, sent it directly to him, with a message that kinda screams, “Hello! I make no sense! I might be a code sent to a CIA operative who I mention by name, right before I sign with my name!” And then she made no effort to explain away why getting a reply is so damn important to her to the telegram employee who clearly had no issue asking for a bribe.

Suffice it to say, Kate’s bungling only got worse: (Not) shockingly, Laura borrowed her sister’s camera when she and Maggie went out on the town for a wild night of light gambling, cock fighting, and doing the twist on table tops. Kate freaked out, and almost didn’t make the drop in time. Had she brought the camera with her to the telegram in the first place, like most American tourists would logically do when venturing from their hotel, there would’ve been no issue. Instead of getting down on herself, though, Kate picked a fight with Laura, yelling at her for having a good time and wearing bunny slippers. That fight continued onto their flight to Hong Kong, until Maggie pointed out that maybe Kate should, you know, stop being such an oppressive drag on her sister. Presented with the photographic evidence of Laura’s Jakartan adventure — um, how exactly do 8″ x 10″ glossy prints make it from Indonesia to New York in less than a week in 1963? Am I missing something here? — Kate finally realized that her sister isn’t so awful after all, and bought her a camera as a make-up present. But it was too late; Laura’s already moved into Maggie’s beatnik commune. If only Kate hadn’t singled out those bunny slippers.

Your turn: Were you as frustrated by this episode as I was? Could Colette have been given less to do? And who’s a bigger jackass: Ted, or Sanjeev?

Follow Adam on Twitter @adambvary

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