Once again, it’s time for a (late) morning round-up, with brief thoughts on, in order, “Pan Am,” “The Good Wife” and “Fringe,” all coming up just as soon as you check my Spider-Man fanny pack…
“Unscheduled Departure” was, I believe, the first “Pan Am” episode to spend the majority of its time on the plane, where even Colette and Ted’s journey through the jungles of Port-Au-Prince was tied directly to something happening on the plane. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was one of the stronger episodes to date. When you put all the regular characters together in the same story and force them to work together, it’s more interesting than five minutes of Kate being a spy, five minutes of Laura blushing as she fends off some guy’s advances, two minutes of Maggie’s eyes widening for no particular reason, etc. I was especially glad to see so much of Colette, who’s been largely sidelined since the Berlin episode, and who remains a much more interesting character (and performance) to me than the characters the writers have spent lots of time on. I also didn’t exactly miss the spy angle this week, though it wound up being useful in keeping their refugee in America.
Temporarily replacing Sanjeev (who may as well be a cardboard cut-out, for all we’ve gotten to know him) with Ted’s abrasive Navy buddy also did well to remind us that this is not a normal crew for 1963 and that most Pan Am men wouldn’t tolerate what the stewardesses pull weekly. At the same time, my biggest complaint with the episode was how easily everyone got out of being punishment for bringing the refugee on board (and leaving a passenger’s corpse behind in exchange). Dean’s conversation with Juan Tripp is turning out to be so magical that I think they’re going to need to show it to us in its entirety some week to justify all the perks he gets out of it, and I don’t buy that the women’s “I am Spartacus” moment would have worked; someone would have been punished for this, even if it wound up being someone other than Colette.
Where “Pan Am” spent the night keeping everyone in relatively close quarters, “Death Row Tip” sent “The Good Wife” ensemble off in many different directions in terms of story and tone. It was a definite something-for-everyone episode, from the comedy of Eli and Mickey’s Santa Claus-loving client (and Peter’s mother not knowing how to turn on Alicia’s computer in her search for incriminating evidence) to the drama of Alicia struggling with working on behalf of a truly vile killer to the usual sexual tension whenever anyone gets within a 5-foot radius of Kalinda Sharma’s pheromones.
For me, the highlight was the A-story. Last week, I noted that Alicia often winds up as the still, calm center of a cast of more colorful characters, but she does have feelings of her own that aren’t always tied to Peter and/or Will, and it was nice to see her struggle to do her job in light of her personal opinion of the killer. It also provided good guest acting work from Mark “Ding!” Margolis (aka Tio Salamanca from “Breaking Bad”) as the priest and Michael Irby (Charles Grey from “The Unit”) pulling another variable ethnicity out of his arsenal as the killer. But I will certainly never object to watching Kalinda flirt, especially when it’s in a less convoluted storyline than what she was up to with Blake last year.
Finally, Ryan McGee continues to echo most of my thoughts on this season of “Fringe” (here’s his review of “And Those We’ve Left Behind”), but I wanted to bring up the latest episode for a few reasons. First, Stephen Root and Romy Rosemont were so fantastic as the husband and wife – not all real-life spouses are good at playing a couple on screen together – and had very strong characters to play. Even if the story as a whole so strongly echoed the Peter Weller plot from “White Tulip,” it was still a reminder (as was the John Pyper-Ferguson episode from earlier this year) that Monster of the Week stories can be just as gripping as the arc stories (and sometimes moreso) if the execution is really good. (In hindsight, I’d much rather watch the best of the “X-Files” standalones over the best of their mythology shows.)
Along those lines, this was an episode that didn’t need to have anything to do with Peter’s return to the timeline, even though his return was ultimately used as the explanation for why the machine started working. And I say that because, like Ryan, I am still not feeling the rewriting of the timeline, or the introduction of a third universe, or whatever it is we feel this is. I have no attachment to these versions of the characters (other than Peter), and while John Noble is doing some very good work as this frightened, bitter version of Walter, the only episodes this season that have engaged me have been the ones that had very little to do with the larger arc. This week’s episode is the last one before the show takes a long winter break, and I’ll be curious to see what kind of cliffhanger we end on, and whether it points to a return to something resembling the status quo or not.
What did everybody else think?