No one knows the burden of expectation quite like the people working on a new television series. Having secured the blessing—and more importantly, the funding and airtime—from a network, showrunners like Pan Am’s Jack Orman are thus expected to deliver a product that will attract viewers (and advertising dollars) by the millions. That’s an incredible amount of pressure, under which Orman and Pan Am have so far performed gracefully.
Of course, once a series has aired a few episodes, it also begins to operate under the expectations of the people tuning in. At the broadcast level, those almost never end up actually influencing the production, but it’s interesting to see how those expectations shape perspectives on a piece of television. For instance, if the première of Pan Am set your expectations for a second episode of fluffy, episodic fun, you may be disappointed at the way “We’ll Always Have Paris” mostly ties up the loose narrative ends from that first episode. But, if you notice that the script is partially credited to Orman, you just might expect it to deal with issues that went unresolved in Pan Am’s maiden voyage.
I wasn’t so eagle-eyed while I was watching “We’ll Always Have Paris,” but having spent some time unpacking the episode, it’s apparent that what we saw tonight may have been the final 30 minutes of an extended pilot, appended and padded to full episode length. It’s not as good as the pilot, but the series is probably in better shape with the conclusions to these plots presented separately. The pilot gave us some enticing cliffhangers to come back for this week, and while “We’ll Always Have Paris” didn’t bring all of them to the most satisfying end, it did set the table for less serialized hours to come. Plus, it managed to say some interesting things on the matter of expectations: those imposed on Kate and Laura by their mother; those Kate has for her new side career in espionage; those the passengers of Pan Am had for the stewardesses serving them; and those Dean had for his life with Bridget.
Briefly introduced in the première, Kate and Laura’s mother, Judith Cameron, gets a lot of screentime in “We’ll Always Have Paris.” If the sisters’ speedy getaway from Laura’s wedding wasn’t indication enough, this episode clarifies that growing up in the Cameron household wasn’t a whole lot of fun. Judith is cast as all sorts of “difficult to please,” and as a piece of childhood art displayed in “We’ll Always Have Paris” shows, Kate and Laura long ago fantasized of escaping their mother’s gaze for faraway locales like Paris. The script paints Judith as equal parts icy and warm, earnest and Machiavellian, qualities Kate Jennings Gray has no difficulties alternating between. (In a way, she’s not too unlike Maggie’s mortal enemy at Idlewild, girdle fiend Miss Havemeyer.) Gray was pretty good at manipulating me, at least—I probably should’ve known better that she had reasons to be on Kate and Laura’s first flight to Paris beyond the desire to reconcile with her daughters. Judith’s baser instincts are eventually revealed in an orchestrated reunion between Laura and her former groom-to-be, but she later reveals a softer side to Kate. She may be an enthusiastic passport-holder now, but with these aspects of her character established, I wouldn’t be surprised if we only hear from Mrs. Cameron through flashbacks from here on out.
The irony of Judith’s initial disappointment with Kate’s chosen profession is that Kate is now doing a great deal more of serving drinks and “who knows what else” to strangers. Now she’s exchanging sensitive pieces of information with them as well! Kate’s spy arc is the ongoing Pan Am narrative with the highest stakes, and we learn just how high those stakes are when Kate catches up with the previously MIA Bridget in the City of Light. In spite of all the dire warnings and disappearing coworkers, Kate is mostly in eager adventurer mode until her rendezvous with Bridget displays the seriousness with which the U.S. and the U.K. are treating the Cold War. So serious that the tiniest error could earn a valuable asset like Bridget banishment to the Middle American equivalent of Siberia: Kansas. It’s disappointing to discover that Bridget’s mission was compromised and that she’s not a turncoat—her encounter with a handsy MI6 agent in one of the episode’s flashbacks initially lent credence to my theory that she was a traitor. There’s still the potential that some Commie sleeper cell in Kansas could get a hold of her, turning Bridget into the Alec Trevelyan to Kate’s airborne James Bond. Until then, it looks like Kate will relish her assignment—as well she should, seeing as it’s the ultimate extension of what she wanted out of her Pan Am job.
There’s a trace of 007 in Maggie’s “We’ll Always Have Paris” plot, too—though that has less to do with Bond’s skills in international espionage and more to do with his penchant for forcing himself on females. Maggie begins the episode by picking up her tête-à tête with Miss Havemeyer, striking a major blow for women’s lib (one predicated on the humiliation of another woman, but hey—she still put her foot down with regard to those weight restrictions). On the flight to Paris, however, Maggie finds herself the object of one male passenger’s unwanted affection; in a wholly un-Bond move, the passenger corners Maggie in the galley, getting his karmic comeuppance when Maggie turns the tables and pokes him—with a meat fork. The weight of the plot almost feels like Orman is making up for underutilizing Maggie in the pilot, but she’s still secondary to the rest of the episode. It doesn’t help that Christina Ricci is once again saddled with the cheesy pull quote—I enjoyed last week’s “Buckle up—adventure calls,” but this week’s “I’m not included in the price of your ticket” was a cringe-worthy example of over-writing. It’s a big moment for “Maggie The Crusader,” and while it’s odd how seldom Ricci’s been in the spotlight in these first two episodes, it was once again wise to keep her story in the background. Foreground it, and the plot is a preachy comment on an aspect of the era that’s correctly seen as backward today; squeezed between the Camerons’ spat and Dean’s ongoing quest to find Bridget, it contextualizes the action within the time period—with a jab to the gut of blind nostalgia for the 1960s. (Here’s hoping the character’s apparent, fangirl-esque devotion to President Kennedy in next week’s episode doesn’t undermine everything they’ve established for her thus far.)
In a curious inverse of The Bechdel Test (The three-pronged rubric for gender bias in movies devised by Dykes To Watch Out For creator Alison Bechdel: “It has to have at least two women in it, who talk to each other, about something other than a man”), the three male members of the cast stray only from talking about Bridget only to strike up a fake, “We weren’t talking about Bridget” conversation about the New York Mets. Mike Vogel’s Dean (It’s okay if you don’t have the guys in the cockpit sorted out yet; they’re still the dullest part of the show) manages to make some headway for the men, however, pining for his AWOL amore across time and international borders. When it came to what Dean was hoping to get out of his relationship with Bridget, he and his engagement wings skipped several steps ahead. During a previous trip to Paris, he sat blindly by while Bridget did some spy work in a trendy night spot. If Bridget hadn’t compromised herself when she was taking those photos, she would’ve done so at the bar, but it apparently never occurred to Dean to ask why she acted so strangely that night. When he returns to the scene of the incident, he’s crying on Colette’s shoulder—and we already know he may be rushing in too quickly there.
At least he’s in good, foolhardy-romantic territory with Colette. Karine Vanasse is a lot of fun in this episode, probably because she doesn’t have to do too much heavy lifting. With her colleagues contending with matriarchs and patriarchy, Colette is free to be all flirty and Audrey Hepburn-y for the majority of “We’ll Always Have Paris.” You can hardly blame Dean for wanting to get lost in the streets of Paris with her.
In a way, it’s appropriate that all these expectations are met and/or dashed in Pan Am’s first visit to Paris, a city that symbolizes so much in the public imagination despite being just another dot on the map. In the Casablanca monologue that gives the episode its title, the city represents not only what was for Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s characters, but also what could’ve been. But in the grand scheme of Pan Am, “We’ll Always Have Paris” is much more about what was and what will be—now that much of the lingering threads from the pilot are taken care of. Were it not for the location, a more appropriate Casablanca reference may have been “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Maybe they’re saving that one for the thrilling bottle episode where the Clipper Majestic has to make an emergency landing at Lambert-St. Louis International.
- Next week seems to be a little bit more of a standalone episode, taking place during President Kennedy’s visit to Berlin in June of ’63.
- Kelli Garner and Margot Robbie really hit their stride in terms of sisterly dynamic this week. The “I drove the getaway car”/“But I robbed the bank” exchange in the diner flashback was a perfect bit of sibling give-and-take.
- They may have been scrambling for a conversation topic, but the guys are right: The Metropolitans is a dumb name for a baseball team. Then again, New York was previously home to two professional sports organizations that laid claim to the nickname “Giants,” so you have to take your creatively named teams (and their kicky fight songs) as you get ’em.
- Kate Cameron, Sky Spy! (Where we talk about Kate’s other job as if it was the main thrust of the series): So, despite the fact that tonight’s mission was all about showing how much Kate has on the line, it was deflating to watch Bridget open the package only to find her new identity. But the introduction of the “incorrect time” code was cool. Just remember: If a stranger ever asks you the time, that could indicate that they’re a time-traveling contemporary of KATE CAMERON, SKY SPY!