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Pan Am Recap: Boy Problems

PAN AM - "Truth or Dare" -- Sparks fly between Laura and a sailor on a special - and unusually wild -- Pan Am flight bringing servicemen home, leading Laura to realize what she's really looking for in a man, as well as opening her eyes to the malicious racial climate in the country. Meanwhile Kate's complicated mission to turn Niko to work for the U.S. government culminates in dramatic fashion, threatening their personal relationship, on "Pan Am," SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 6 (10:01-11:00 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/NICOLE RIVELLI)
GORAN VISNJIC, KELLI GARNER

I am going to confess something I never thought I’d have to say to you: A little tiny spot in my heart opened for a previously unlovable character on Pan Am this week, and her name is Laura. She had the honors of being this week’s Character Development lead, and boy did it do wonders for the formerly dull and dim stewardess. Okay, fine, she’s still a little dim. I wouldn’t promote her to pilot just yet or anything. Or purser, for that matter.

The episode starts in the midst of a rager in Maggie’s apartment, where everybody’s dancing in that adorable limb-flinging sixties way and talking about Maggie’s tryst with Michael and his “amazing credentials.” (Guys, I think they mean something about his penis!) Laura is fending off the advances of Joe (Gaius Charles), for reasons I’m sure we’ll come to understand through several slightly confusing flashbacks to the stewardesses’ flight home from Madrid.

Before said trip, the stewardesses are splayed on the plane’s floor drinking and playing Truth or Dare. Maggie dares Collete to tie a cherry stem with her mouth. She totally does it, too, which only reinforces what I already knew about Colette: she is better than me in every way. On Laura’s turn, she reveals that she took nude photos with the Life photographer before even being asked a question. I can’t see this not cropping up as a major barrier to Laura’s livelihood later on, but maybe it’s no big deal! She was just expressing herself sexually and that has literally never gone wrong for anyone.

Back at the present-day party, Maggie runs off to hook up with Michael (“Remember, Laura? Because his penis is larger than average.”), leaving all the cleanup work for Laura and her surprise guest Joe, who had asked Maggie if he could stay the night. Laura is a complete basket case over this news and casually tries to smother Joe with blankets and kindness. Upon returning to her room for the night, she locks her door, then unlocks it, then locks it again. Laura does this because Joe’s African-American, which is bad. But honestly, I feel like with the antics on this show it’s probably a good policy to lock one’s doors all the time, regardless. Ginny could show up at anytime. I was waiting for her the whole episode and she never showed, but I think that’s just because she wanted me to let my guard down.

When they met on the flight from Madrid, Joe and Laura bonded over their crazy moms, both of whom wished that their children would choose jobs/husbands that didn’t require them to leave the country all the time. Joe asks Laura if a glass ornament will make his mom forgive him and Laura says something intelligent: that his mom just needs to know she’s needed. Sometimes it seems like Laura displays a great capacity for understanding human emotion, and sometimes it seems like she’ll find a way to get lost in an airplane bathroom.

In the present, star-crossed lovers Kate and Niko lie in bed discussing Christmas trees, like pretty much all two-week-old couples love to do. Kate let Richard know that if they wanted to turn Niko, they didn’t have much time, as he planned to head back to Yugoslavia in a few days. When the doorbell rings at 1 a.m., Niko tells Kate to hide and Kate is like, “Shut up, Niko, there is no reason to be concerned about someone at my door at one in the morning.” It seems like there isn’t, either, as it’s just a neighbor asking for a hot water bottle — but she is merely an accessory to the CIA, who barge in to seize Niko. Niko refuses to go, stating that he doesn’t “like to go out in the rain” (my first thought, inexplicably, was vampire?), but the CIA violently drags him out of the room as he screams “WHO ARE YOU?” at a decidedly too-calm Kate.

After his sleepover at Maggie’s place, Joe wakes up early to clean and whip up a hangover cure for Laura (Girl! That is a keeper!), who is the least hung-over-looking human to have ever suffered a hangover. The domestic charm does not last, as the super stops by to chide Maggie for throwing a party and, after noticing Joe, to tell Laura that her “guest” is not welcome in his building. Laura suggests to Joe that they spend the day together, and he apologizes for his still-unknown behavior on the plane. They head out to buy Joe’s train ticket, and an angry white guy immediately decides to make trouble. He aggressively asks Laura out, but Joe returns to her side and the two clasp hands. The angry racist tells them that what they’re doing is not right and it looks like things are about to get serious, when a completely different white angry racist leaps onto the screen and punches Joe. Presumably they were racism buddies, but we’ll probably never know.

On the flight that started it all, a sailor is dressed up in a Pan Am stewardess outfit and stripping for his buddies, having had an earlier request that Kate do the same denied. Colette tells the cockpit that Kate’s doing the stripping — news that prompts Ted and Sanjeev to give up all pretense of caring about keeping the plane afloat to head back for a look. Colette, of course, just wanted a moment with her little crush Dean, whom she tells she’s always dreamed of learning to fly. Dean, by the way, still has his job, I guess. This show is fantastic at introducing seemingly important plot points and then dropping them for indeterminate periods of time. In any case, Dean calls Colette his First Officer and teaches her to fly (“Just grab those levers; that’s literally all we do”), and it’s great because everyone knows there is nothing lovelier than being taught a skill by someone cute. Dean takes his hands off the levers and lets Colette take control, and then everyone crashes and dies. Just kidding, she’s a pro. Colette is perfect at everything.

Kate takes Laura aside to scold her about that whole nude pictures thing, but Laura refuses to apologize or acknowledge the potential consequences of her actions. (Does she understand … cameras?) Laura turns the conversation on Kate and asks why she’s so gloomy all the time, and Kate admits to having a bit of boy trouble. She then delivers the single greatest line of the show thus far: “My boyfriend’s a Yugoslavian Communist!” Just your classic, standard girl talk. Laura tells her that their Cold War alliances mean nothing: Love is all there is.

… Except for when there is also the CIA, messing up everybody’s love lives all over the place. Kate manages to persuade her boss to grant her a visit with Niko on the condition that she use her feminine wiles to convince him to spy for America. Niko is understandably still a little pissed about the whole being-dragged-away-in-pajamas thing and demands that Kate tell him who she really is. He tells her that the CIA has blackmailed him into working for them from Yugoslavia, and she’s devastated because she had apparently believed he’d end up spying for the United States … from the United States. She tries to convince him that she didn’t know, that their love is real, and so is the United States and democracy and everything. She “cries,” and it’s so terrible I don’t even want to talk about it.

Back on that same flight from Madrid, we finally see what Joe’s been apologizing to Laura for: When she tried to take a bottle of liquor back from him, their hands grazed sexily and he tried to kiss her. She backed away, but in the present, she is sorry. She cares for his wounds and apologizes — not because the fight was her fault, but because it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair for her to be afraid of what others thought or for her to lock the door just because he’s African-American. Her confession is touching and honest. Joe tells her that he likes her anyway — she’s the sunny relief to all that time he spent in the gray confines of his submarine. Then Laura kisses him, and it’s wonderful and quite honestly I got butterflies. Laura made me do something besides cringe. It was nice.

Before their next flight, Kate gets a phone call that alerts her to the fact that her darling Niko is in the airport. She runs over to him and they pretend like they don’t really know one another, because CIA suits are all over. He’s heading back to Yugoslavia, having decided to spy for the United States. He tells Kate that he has to say good-bye to his American girlfriend, and that he hopes she’s proud. Naturally, she is, and they keep talking about each other in the third person for a while and it doesn’t even end in a make-out, which is sort of disappointing. I know they would’ve probably gotten CIA-tackled, but I feel like it would have been worth it. They were the loves of each other’s lives, after all. Now all they have left are the memories. Two whole weeks’ worth.

Photo: Nicole Rivelli/ABC