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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pan Am: You Have No Idea What it Takes to Keep a Cold War Cold.

Pan Am
Episode 103
"Ich Bin Ein Berliner"

So, this week Pan Am took its first real foray into incorporating its fictional storyline into the backdrop of a very real and very famous historical moment, President Kennedy's speech at the Berlin Wall in the Summer of 1963.  The real treat in watching period piece television shows is the use of real events to bolster the escapism created by the nostalgic journey back in time. What good is putting a show into 1963 if its only going to cover the corn stalks growing in the bread basket of America?  Since its an important backdrop for the entire episode, lets preface the recap of the episode with an overview of the Kennedy Berlin Wall Speech and its place in history ... after the jump.

On June 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech full of optimism and good will and a sincere hope for the power of freedom to spread over now divided Germany. If you read the text of the speech here, I think you'll agree its a little slow going in the beginning but really starts pumping away at patriotic heart strings by the middle and ends with a flourish and the now famous line (which serves as the episode title), "Ich bin ein Berliner" (commonly translated as, "I am a citizen of Berlin" but which I have read translates more aptly as, "I am one with the people of Berlin." There may be something about jelly doughnuts too). Its a speech appealing to Americans at our DNA level and is full of American solidarity to our European and more specifically, West German allies.  Its reconciliation of WWII with those on the right side of the wall and repudiation of the Soviets and their methods following the conclusion of the war. 

At the time of this speech, the Berlin Wall was just shy of two years old and Kennedy's words stand out as a clear demonstration of the Cold War, as we would know it for the next thirty some years, as being in fully effect.    Historical records support Pan Am's breathtaking visualization of the speech being attended by hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Germans eager to see the young president.  The speech took place at the Rathaus Schöneberg (the city hall, I guess?) on Rudolph-Wilde-Platz (later renamed "John-F-Kennedy-Platz").  With that in mind, lets delve into the latest episode of Pan Am!

The overview theme of the episode is that the gang of four stewardesses together with Pilot Dean and Horny Ted are flying a group of journalists to Berlin for coverage of the Kennedy speech at the Berlin Wall.  The episode follows the gang as they wander Berlin, get caught up in the rush of people headed to Kennedy's speech (they are even led to an awesome perch from which to view the speech by an old guy that could be Orville Redenbaccher's German cousin) and navigate a US Mission party afterwards.

Colette:  Before we start on Colette's story tonight, let me say that Karine Vanasse, who plays Colette, really knocked the ball out of the park this episode.  She delivered a very real, emotional performance. It made me really enjoy the whole episode.  We open the episode with Colette staring wistfully at the flight board as it rolls over to announce the Berlin flight. She flirty flirts with Pilot Dean some more and she (I think insincerely) tells him that their time in Paris was a nice moment, nothing more.  I call bullshit!!  But thats the end of any happiness this episode with Colette.  Colette struggles the entire rest of the episode with coming to Germany; we learn she was orphaned at the age of three when the Nazis began their occupation of France.  On the way up to the perch to view Kennedy's speech, travelling up among the throng of rushing people, she has a PTSD-like episode wherein she is  flashing back to or imagining the Nazi coming to get her; its very chaotic and the viewer is put in to her point of view for the confusion.  Adding to the uneasiness is the intonation of Kennedy's speech beginning in the background. The whole this is Disturbing. In a good television watching way. Colette never does make it to the window to watch the speech, never getting further than the back of the room where she quietly sobs. Kate sees her but takes it for being moved by the speech.  Later, on the way into the US Mission party, Colette begins a third degree interrogation of Gretta on the role her parents played during the war. Awkward.  Inside the US Mission party, after getting drunk and being less than hospitable to a German aviation official, Colette serenades the official and the entire party with a gritty, emotionally heavy, hate-laden rendition of "Deutschland über alles" (Germany! Germany Above All!) (The German National Anthem which is actually entitled, "Das Lied der Deutschen" or "The Song of Germans"). She's completely fallen apart.  She ends the episode, alone on a plane with Kate sitting next to her and delivers the following line which really sums up everything above, "your president tried so hard to lift their shame ... but the should feel shame.  I came to Germany to forgive but I still hate them and I don't know to stop." And Scene. Wow.

Kate:  A subway ride turns into a clandestine meeting for CIA guy for her next assignment. She's to buy a certain book in a Berlin bookstore and bring the book home. She's to say to the clerk "Ich möchte ein Buch kaufen" (which we learn later means, "I've come or I want to buy a book").  The only problem is that before she works up the nerve to enter the bookstore, a frantic East German courier (who IMDB names as Anke but I'll stick with Gretta Mueller, the cover name give her later in the episode), Kate's contact, full on "schnell, schnells"  her into a car and they drive off.  Gretta is being stalked by the Stasi (secret police) and wasn't able to make the dropoff before Kate arrived.  Also, she thinks her life is danger so Kate spends the rest of the episode pulling a "Bridget", i.e., not following her orders, while trying to help Gretta defect and, oh yeah, probably screwing up the cold war in the process.  After Kate sneaks Gretta into a party for Kennedy at the US Mission and hooking her up with a well known journalist who in turn will hopefully help her defect, MI-6 scolds her for messing things up but good. Kate seems to think it was worth it. MI-6 tells her to "just follow order" and that she "has no idea what it takes to keep a cold war cold." I really liked that line.

Laura:  Laura is bedazzled by the enormity of the people and the speech and the scene; she's like every wide eyed twenty something caught up in reverie. Horny Ted is too and they share a nice moment with a brief hand holding as they listen to Kennedy's speech. When Horny Ted makes a move to kiss Laura, the spell is broken and she pulls away. Horny Ted is unrepentant for making a move and at the end of the episode tells her that she's different from other girls. She takes this is as a compliment.

Maggie:  After Colette's emotional journey, this was the most fun storyline to watch. Maggie, an unabashed Kennedy fanatic is super psyched to be heading to Berlin and determined to meet Kennedy. After picking out one particular journalist, Mike (who she insists on calling Michael) Ruskin of the Village Voice, to manipulate into a press pass, Maggie goes into hyper, crazy overdrive to meet Kennedy.  I like the throwaway conversation when Maggie is working Manchester (the same guy that helps Gretta later on) on gaining access to the US Mission party that Kennedy has some peccadillos best not left for public consumption; liking stewardesses being among them.  This leads her to pimp out her fellow stewardesses in order to crash the party at the US Mission (to no avail since Kennedy had already come and gone by the time she got in). As a last ditch effort to achieve her dream, she chooses to blow off her return flight home to NY in order to try and stalk out Air Force One which she learns has not yet departed.  In a hysterical stream of conscious pleading to a secret service guy (it involves a great story about how she was supposed to meet Kennedy because she logged more volunteer hours than anyone else but then an ill-timed bathroom break led to Marcia Phillips getting to meet him in her spot) which ends in an out and out bribe of (Horny Ted's) Cuban Cigars, known to be Kennedy's favorites in exchange for a meeting.  She gets a big thankful wave from a backlit Kennedy on the top steps of Air Force One which she returns with a slight coquettish or embarrassed little wave of her own.  Mission Totally Accomplished!

Pilot Dean: Dean doesn't have so much to do in this episode except to bitch about how hard it is to drink and smoke because it leads to dancing with hot French women (i.e., Colette) in town squares, and play the American pilot ambassador role.  After hearing Kennedy's speech, the effect is palpable on Dean and he is clearly now a "four more years of Kennedy" kind of convert.  Ted is bemused at the change of heart.


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