‘Pan Am’ – ‘Ich Bin Ein Berliner’: Deutschland über alles

A review of last night’s “Pan Am” coming up just as soon as I get you some Cubans…

I’d planned on waiting a few weeks before revisiting this show on the blog, but “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” was such a significant step up from last week’s episode – and the pilot, for that matter – that I thought it deserved mention. It did a much stronger job of making Kate’s spy job feel like a part of the show (dressing the East German courier up in her uniform was a nice touch), it let the stewardesses be a part of history without making them too much a part of history (Maggie only gets a distant wave from JFK, and my early fear that Kate would somehow be responsible for the infamous “I am a jelly doughnut” screw-up were groundless), and it helped capture the excitement of the moment – not just Kennedy’s speech to the Germans, but just this point in history, five months before Dallas and all the turmoil that followed).

Best of all, it gave the biggest showcase yet to Karine Vanasse, who’s quickly proving to be the show’s MVP. I didn’t love her story in the pilot, but she provided the biggest spark to the otherwise flat second episode, and she was terrific here with a much weightier story. Given the flash-forward tease, I assumed Colette had done something much more impolite – say, pulling a Victor Lazlo and singing “La Marseillaise” – but her rendition of the German anthem was just the right touch: attention-getting, something to throw everyone off their partying game (because it was so odd, and so clearly sad, and so clearly sung by a Frenchwoman), but not something that would have had her dragged away from the piano by embassy security. (UPDATE: Or perhaps it would have; see the comments for some thoughts on why that particular verse is provocative.) She’s terrific, and for however long this show is around(*), I want to see a whole lot of her.

(*) After having a strong debut, the show took a major tumble in week two’s ratings. I don’t think anyone has to be worried about it being pulled just yet, but depending on how last night’s numbers trend, we may at least have to start worrying – especially since ABC has a ton of mid-season dramas needing homes.

My only concern is that this may not be the show figuring itself out so much as the show pulling the lone joker out of the deck. You can’t dip into Colette’s tragic backstory, or have the stewardesses crossing paths with presidents, more than once. (I’m still assuming we’ll get some kind of assassination-related episode later this season, but I hope it’s more about what it was like to be working a flight that day rather than the stewardesses somehow being in Dallas when they’re an international crew.) When the episodes have smaller stakes, will they be this compelling?

One complaint: what Christina Ricci was trying to play as sheer joy at having a moment (even from a distance) with Kennedy mainly made her look like a crazy person whom the Secret Service would do well to escort off that tarmac ASAP. This was a good story for Maggie overall (the first episode that actually made it seem like there was a point to Ricci being on the show), but her expression seemed way off.

What did everybody else think?