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Pan Am Recap: Trouble in the Captain’s Chair

Christina Ricci in Pan Am.

Finally, in Pan Am’s fourth episode, someone has decided to point out that Captain Dean seems awfully young to be in charge of a whole airplane. The criticism comes from an older pilot, but it takes hold in Ted, who spends most of this episode becoming gradually more sympathetic, because a jerk can never just be a jerk without telling us his backstory so that we must reluctantly feel sorry for him.

The stewardesses think they’re headed to Iceland and Scandinavia, but a curbside visit from Richard, the shockingly forgiving CIA boss, reroutes the ladies to “the Orient.” Kate has been calling Richard repeatedly (presumably at 1-800-CIA-GUYS) about that whole helping-an–East German thing, but is still somehow shocked when he shows up to see her. He agrees to give her another mission — this time, to be on the lookout in Rangoon, their new first stop. Vague!

Burma, if the show is to be believed, looks just like the community center by my parents’ house. While tanning in their adorable sixties swimwear, the stewardesses are paid a visit by some Navy officers. Seconds later, Ted strolls up in his unbuttoned shirt to claim his territory. The Navy pilots give Ted a good ribbing about how he’s just a lame-ass commercial pilot, and we learn that Ted used to be Navy himself. After seeing Laura take on (and beat!) one of the Navy officers in a swimming race, Ted takes a hurt-feelings dive into the pool and flashes back to his time in the service, after a fiery crash landing into the sea.

Kate, meanwhile, has sauntered off into the bushes because some guy is taking pictures of her and beckoning her. He tells her to take the camera to Jakarta. What could its significance be, I wonder? Ha-ha, just kidding. It doesn’t have any.

On the flight to Indonesia, Ted asks Dean how he was able to bypass so many other qualified pilots to get to the position he’s in. They spend a lot of time snapping at each other, and frankly I don’t understand why either of them cares what seat he’s in because they’re barely ever flying the plane anyway. Dean asks Ted why he didn’t push for the seat himself, and Ted flashes back to after his Navy crash, where his superiors are asking why his plane was downed. Ted insisted it was a mechanical failure, but his superiors refused to accept it, placing him on admin duty as punishment. The clouds are clearing: Ted is a jerk because Personal Baggage Reasons.

After landing in Jakarta, Laura Red Riding Hood exclaims, “Oh, it’s so foreign!” Lauraaaghghgh. That is the only way I can speak her name now: with an involuntary disgusted sigh at the end of it. I want to like her, I do. But she’s so terrible. The way she naps even bothers me — flat on her back and lips pursed daintily, like Sleeping Beauty. This, until a lizard falls from her bed’s canopy and she leaps up screaming. Maggie is reduced to her own shrieks upon spotting a snake in her bathroom, so they jump on Laura’s bed together and it’s very cute. The two of them are becoming fast friends, and it makes me hope that they will rub off on each other in the best way possible.

The new BFFs head out to escape the critters, and Maggie takes Laura to an outdoor bar and patio. An American man tells the women they smell like youth and freedom, which sounds like what someone tells you right before he murders you, but they’re unfazed. Maggie leads Laura over to a table full of her dominoes buddies. You know. The same guys she plays dominoes with. Every time she’s got a layover in Jakarta. They also briefly watch a cock fight and dance on some tables — all the activities that you are not supposed to do while in foreign countries. Especially in slow motion.

Kate the super-spy is hard at work, having sent a telegram to the CIA (“Hey, so, what’s the deal with this camera? Is it magic? JK LOL! Let me know, though!”) and paid the shop’s owner to hang around while she waits for a response. The reply reads, “If you drop the camera, it will break,” which the store owner rightfully notes makes no sense, though Kate seems to get it. I was hoping for a bomb camera that explodes when you try to take a picture, but no such luck. Kate gets directed to the drop-off spot — conveniently located across the street — and runs back home to get the camera, which she obviously did not bring with her.

At the hotel, Kate realizes that Laura took off with her camera, so she does some older-sibling sulking until Laura returns wearing a fedora, of all the things. Kate is very hard on Laura here, and it’s hard because she can’t explain her double life or the maybe-bomb camera, and so she ends up blaming everything on Laura’s dumb bunny slippers. Kate tells Laura to grow up and Laura says she LIKES her bunny slippers, goddammit.

Kate takes a rickshaw back to the drop-off spot and, when nobody answers the door, decides it’s best to head into the seedy alley by herself. Luckily for her, the only man back there happens to be the camera’s recipient, who notes that Kate is very late. That camera’s got places to be!

To get back at her older sister, Laura heads downstairs to flirt with a boy. Ted’s in the lobby trying to fix the TV; he wants to watch a rocket launch. To get the satellite working, Ted steps outside, but Laura offers to take it so that Ted can watch. Obviously the only way that the satellite can be handed off is for Laura to nestle into Ted’s arms and hold his hands as he holds it. I waited for them to drop it and make out, but damned if Ted doesn’t love spaceships. He climbs back inside to watch, and seeing how it moves Ted moves Laura. She’s falling in love. It was nice to see Ted appreciate something so genuine and clean as a NASA take-off. If there were a way to be gross about it, the Ted I thought I knew would’ve found one. Maybe he’s changing.

The launch takes Ted back to the past again, to a conversation with his father about his future. Ted’s dad wanted to arrange for him to work at Pan Am, but Ted wanted the plane he crashed to be examined further. His dad’s guilty face indicates that the plane was examined and that Ted was right — but because of defense contracts he holds with the Navy, he doesn’t want to rock the boat. Even though his son tells him that the end of his Navy career means the end of his dreams of going to space, Ted’s dad refuses to help. The show did it! There is someone I dislike more than Ted now.

In the present, the crew is headed for Hong Kong, and the scene outside the plane is stormy. I knew we’d get here — a show about air travel has to get to the scary stuff sooner or later — and I’ve been dreading it. Watching turbulence gives me second-hand anxiety. I kept yelling at Dean to just smooth it out already, but he didn’t listen. He listens to nobody, not even First Officer Ted, who repeatedly tells Dean to take another approach to the landing. I was like, “Just listen to him, Dean!!!” but would he?! No. Dean may be just a teenager, but he knows his piloting. He lands the plane; roughly, but safely.

On the ground, Ted’s got more chastising to do. He tells Dean that they were “one short and curly” from landing in the bay — hey-o! Gross Ted is back. Dean snaps that the only time the passengers were in danger was when Ted was distracting him, and he’s right. He knows that what’s really bugging Ted is that he isn’t in the head chair, and so he tells him to “call his Daddy,” which always goes over really well with kids who have powerful dads. Ted punches him.

Two days later, heading back to New York, Sanjeev asks Dean how he got that shiner, but he won’t say. Ted pulls the classic owning-up without really owning-up move found in many a romantic comedy, asking, “Yeah, did some jerk sucker punch you?” In the airport, Ted waits for Dean to say something and storms off when he doesn’t. Ted! You have to ACTUALLY apologize. Dean is nice, though, and so he tells Ted how he got to where he is (telling Pan Am’s president in an elevator that he was part of “the new generation” of pilots) and that sometimes, it’s just about luck.

Though Kate was six hours (!) late in dropping off the camera, and though Laura snapped a fair number of non–Cold War–essential pictures with it, Kate survives another week in the CIA. Richard offers to reassign Laura so that she will no longer distract Kate, but she refuses. She’s come to realize — too late, of course — that she really wants her around. She even buys her a new camera, only to arrive home to find Laura has moved out to live with Maggie and the 46 other beatniks in that apartment. If Laura shows up wearing a beret next week … so help me, God.

Photo: ABC