Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Pan Am: “Secrets And Lies”

Illustration for article titled Pan Am: “Secrets And Lies”

“The trick to a successful lie is to believe you’re telling the truth.”

Okay, fake MI6 agent Roger Anderson, here goes: “Secrets And Lies” is a more-than-passable episode of Pan Am, one that could prove a possible course correction for the troubled drama.

What’s that you say? Your polygraph needles are going out of control?
Fine. Look, here’s the thing about “Secrets And Lies,” the first step in Pan Am’s Bataaan Death March toward being swapped out of the ABC lineup for the Desperate Housewives-in-wating of GCB: Like the episode that preceded it, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” “Secrets And Lies” really pulls itself together in the final act. There’s some fine work going on in the last 15 minutes or so of the episode, beginning with an incredibly tense Kate Cameron, Sky Spy! setpiece staged at MI6 HQ. After spending the whole episode pretending like a polygraph test regarding the shooting death of Bus Driver/Traitor To The Throne Stu Benedict would be the episode’s dramatic peak, there’s a subtle turn in the line of questions where credited writer Mike Daniels shows his hand. Sure, MI6 is trying to determine who actually pulled the trigger in the jewelry store. But there’s also a test-within-the-test: The assembled agents are also surveying Kate’s mettle. Can she stand up to the pressure of an enemy’s interrogation? If said enemy straps her to a polygraph machine, could she fool the needles? Most importantly, can she tell an effective lie about her involvement in CIA and MI6 affairs? Turns out she can, to her initial chagrin—and an ultimately satisfying conclusion.

That conclusion is made all the more satisfying by a pair of nifty filmmaking choices: First, a door-closing transition between the Laura-Ted and Maggie-Congressman Chris Rawlings plots; second, a well-composed montage set to Billy J. Kramer With The Dakotas’ take on The Beatles’ “Do You Want To Know A Secret.” But Pan Am isn’t going to save itself turning in episode after episode where soggy middles are suddenly elevated by thrilling, nearly surprising ends.

So what went wrong in the middle section this time around? Not to return to an old scapegoat, but “Secrets And Lies” definitely spends an inordinate amount of time with Dean in the wake of Bridget’s unexpected return. It’s not just because that part of the episode distracts from Kate Cameron, Sky Spy!: Ghost Protocol; the Dean character is actually handed some juicy emotional material, caught as he is between the woman for whom he’s falling (Colette) and the true love who broke his heart (Bridget). I’m reticent to allow this space to turn into The Mike Vogel Non-Appreciation Hour, so let’s just say that both Annabelle Wallis and Karine Vanasse act circles around the guy as their love triangle trades third wheels. (Third points? Welcome to Pan Am Mixed Metaphor Theater!) In what could be a place for Vogel to flex some emoting muscle, he mostly seems dumbstruck by the predicament. Sure, some concessions can be made for the non-emotional, stoic front expected from men of the era, but I just didn’t feel anything from or for Dean in this episode. It’s downright cruel that the guy is twice compared to Robert Redford during the hour.

And while I give credit to Daniels’ script for perpetuating the notion that the principals aren’t always parts of the same flight crew, the hierarchy established by such a choice has the unfortunate effect of de-emphasizing some exciting and intriguing developments. Giving each thread of the episode its proper due would only manage to put additional, unnecessary sag into the middle of “Secrets And Lies” (and good gravy, does every one of those threads want you to realize that this episode is titled “Secrets And Lies”), but there’s something about grounding Ted and Laura which made their deviating feelings for one another seem like an afterthought. But the episode was overbooked as is, seeing as Kate needed to be in London and the Dean-Colette-Bridget plot would’ve suffered further without the proximity brought about by a transatlantic flight. Has the show tried placing the characters on separate flights yet? That would still allow Laura to have that revelatory moment with her photos of Ted—she could take the photos on the trip and develop them in her hotel room or in her apartment. I’m getting too speculative here (and imagining a scenario where there’s enough money in the Pan Am budget to afford a pair of sets/locations for a single episode), but it’s damn hard to get too invested in any Pan Am plotline that takes place in New York. (Kate and Niko’s clandestine Big Apple romance aside—but that’s Kate Cameron, Sky Spy! we’re talking about there.)


And for those nitpicks, it should be noted that “Secrets And Lies” does a splendid job at bringing the audience back up to speed, picking up mere seconds after events that unfolded more than a month ago in real-world time. It amounts to a five-minute “previously on” sequence, but there’s a lot of fun in the memory-refreshing moments between the Maggie-congressman and Ted-Amanda pairings. As such, the episode forms a stealth two-parter with “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” something I certainly wouldn’t have expected from the more disjointed, “every episode’s going to be different from the last” vibe of the series’ pilot. Pan Am still has the capacity to surprise, and it’s nice to see that the production isn’t trudging toward that mid-winter finish line.

And when it comes down to it, I feel the same way Kate feels as she walks away from Richard at episode’s end, Sky Spy! wings still proudly on display: Everytime I feel like I’m done with Pan Am—like, say in the middle of a Pan Am episode—it finds a way to reel me back in. “Secrets And Lies” doesn’t necessarily leave me with the sly little smile Kelli Garner carries so expertly into the credits—but it does leave me feeling excited for what’s to come. Too bad we probably have to wade through a good 20 minutes of filler to get to the really good stuff.


Stray observations:

Kate Cameron, Sky Spy!: Returning temporarily to speculative territory: How great would it be if this episode turned out to be the backdoor pilot for a rebooted version of Pan Am where all the characters become government operatives? Newly emboldened by the polygraph experience, Kate could begin recruiting her colleagues into the espionage fold, beginning with the no-way-is-she-totally-out-of-the-game Bridget. With Dean out of the picture, Colette has to turn that white-hot passion inside her toward another end—why not relieve her residual World War II anger by taking it out some Germans? (East German communists, to be exact.) Laura could take recon photos. Being the anti-establishment type, Maggie would be the main holdout—but she’s already in bed with Washington, amirite? And, when the situation calls for it, Ted could finally earn redemption by not plunging the experimental aircraft Sky Spy One into the briny deep. (In this reboot scenario, Bridget and Colette team up to off Dean, who they discover has been working for the KGB this whole time.)


“I’m not included in the price of your ticket”: [Responding to the congressman’s quip about handcuffs] “I heard you could strangle Republicans with them, so I thought I should invest in a pair.”