Ahh, the 60’s. A time when luggage was hard and bulky, stewardesses were sexy, and Pan Am ruled the air. We start off at the busy Pan Am terminal at JFK Airport (though I guess it was still Idlewild Airport then). Planes are coming and going, watched by an awestruck little boy. In a nice moment of period realism, he’s all dressed up in a tie to get on the plane. My dad remembers having to wear a coat and tie when he flew with his parents back in the 60’s. Inside the terminal, passengers check in and check luggage, all gorgeously dressed, while stewardesses are weighed and checked by a fierce looking den mother. One of the stewardesses—a pretty blonde who’s clearly new here, keeps trying to ask Den Mother a question, but DM just wants to know if the girl’s wearing her girdle, and she smacks her right on the butt to check. She also notes that this girl has recently graced the cover of Life magazine, with her hat askew, which I’m guessing is a no-no. Oh, and the girl has a run in her tights. Another stewardess—one with a French accent—pulls blondie aside and says she has an extra pair of stockings she can have.
As they escape from DM, Frenchie congratulates Blondie for the magazine cover and they chat for a minute in French. They join a group of other stewardesses, who all reassure Blondie that she’ll get a husband in no time with that cover. Blondie says she’s not looking for a husband, and another stewardess with red hair pipes up that she’s really, really not. Redhead’s Kate, and she’s Blondie’s sister. Blondie’s Laura, by the way. Laura apologizes to Kate for not telling her about the cover before the magazine came out. Kate’s like “whatever” and takes off to find some gum while a man on the phone asks the ladies if they’ve seen their purser, Bridget Pierce.
Kate gets her gum bought for her by a man in a fedora and trenchcoat who pulls her aside and asks her if she’s ready for her first assignment. She’s to nab one of her passengers’ passports and replace his visa with an expired one so he can be detained at Heathrow. She’s nervous and jumpy but she’s also game.
Beatniks! A bunch of them are lying around an apartment that must be in the Village, like they do, and one of them, of course, is writing something about Marx. Like they do. The phone rings and Christina Ricci answers it: it’s the scheduling guy at the airport who needs her to replace the missing purser on the brand new clipper jet that’s flying out that night. Christina—her name’s Maggie here—reminds them that she was grounded for not wearing her girdle (this show sure has a hangup about women’s undergarments) but they don’t care. They’re sending a helicopter for her and everything. He tells her to get to the Pan Am building in Midtown to catch it.
As he hangs up, a captain who looks like he should still be in high school arrives. Seriously, this guy is impossibly young to be a Pan Am pilot. I’d buy Leo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can as a pilot before this guy, and even that sort of strained credulity. He learns that Bridget’s a no show, but then he gets distracted by the nice, shiny new log he’s handed for the plane’s first flight.
The flight’s stewardesses—Laura, Kate, and Frenchie—head for the plane, and Frenchie spots a man she recognizes in the departure lounge. She calls out to him, grinning, and because she’s kind of an idiot, she totally misses the “oh, shit” look the guy gets on his face when he spots her. Looks like this is going to be a looong flight for someone. Kate asks if he’s “the one from Rome” and Frenchie confirms it, already planning a rendezvous in London. Yeah, loooooong flight.
Maggie, meanwhile, is racing around her apartment getting her things together and telling her friends they can crash there as long as they lock up when they leave. One of them sneers about her “silly blue hat,” and while I would have just revoked his crashing privileges right then, Maggie just tells him she gets to see the world, whereas he’s never been beyond the confines of the village. “I don’t need to see the world to change it,” he pouts. That’s not what she said, moron. And I seriously doubt you’ve had that much of an effect on the world, spouting trite remarks about Karl Marx, whom you couldn’t even tell apart from Hegel a scene ago.
Maggie flags down a taxi and starts getting changed in the backseat while the other stewardesses get the pretty, pretty plane in order. The co-pilot arrives and flirts with them a bit before Kate manages to shoo him away. Captain JV Team arrives and happily takes his seat. Maggie reaches the Pan Am building and races to the roof, where the helicopter waits.
Passengers are boarding the plane, and Kate just so happens to escort the man whose passport she gets to steal to seat 3D. She offers to take his coat and briefcase, but he’s keeping a tight hold on both.
Frenchie’s one-night-stand boards and calls her Colette, so we finally have a name. Her face almost splits open with her grin when she sees him, but he’s closely followed by his wife and young son, and her face collapses in an instant. Can’t say I was at all surprised by this development. According to Mad Men, all men cheated on their wives in the 1960s. It’s like you weren’t allowed to be married and faithful or something. Colette looks devastated as the family makes their way to their seats. Lady, I’m sure you’re disappointed that your sexy weekend plans just got disrupted, but what were you expecting? You hooked up with this guy once, as far as we can tell, and haven’t seen or heard from him since. Did you expect a relationship? And by the way—you’re French! I’m not saying all French people have something on the side or anything, but it’s not as if having an affair is something completely foreign to their culture, you know?
Maggie, who’s not only managed to change in the cab but also apparently gave herself a haircut, arrives at last and is surprised to see Dean as the pilot. So, now Captain JV has a name. He’s disappointed she’s not Bridget.
Out in the cabin, the stewardesses start handing out magazines and Kate covers up the issues of Life with something else. Heh. The plane starts to take off and Maggie, seated next to Laura, tells her it’s a good idea to buckle her seatbelt. Laura’s not terribly bright, is she?
With the plane now in the air, we get treated to some early jet-age porn. Passengers lounge in sofas and get served orchid–bedecked cocktails by the stewardesses. Man, you’re lucky if you can get water in a paper cup nowadays. Colette joins Maggie in the galley and takes a giant swig from a bottle of champagne. Ha! Maggie asks if she’s ok and hears about the married fling. She sweetly asks if they should spike his food or his drink, and Colette suggests they go for both. Sure, might as well be thorough. But then again, if he gets sick, it’s your job to clean it up, so maybe just leave it until you’re on the ground.
Up in the cockpit, the pilots banter a bit in a fairly cute way, and then Dean tries to track down Bridget.
Up front, there’s more talk about Bridget’s disappearance, just in case we didn’t realize this is slightly ominous. Kate takes the fake visa out of her bag and swallows hard, looking like she’s seriously considering just jumping out of the plane.
Further back in the cabin, Laura interrupts a couple making out to offer them some magazines. They ask her to take a Polaroid of them, as the woman chatters about how they’re on their honeymoon. That takes us to our first flashback of the night…
…It’s six months earlier, and Laura’s all dressed up in her wedding dress while her mom nags and makes passive aggressive comments about Kate, who’s getting changed in the next room. Naggy mom leaves and Kate asks Laura if she’s doing ok. Laura says she’s just nervous and asks Kate for some water. After Kate’s gone, Laura checks out all the great Pan Am stuff spilling out of Kate’s suitcase.
Mom’s still bitching at Kate as they return with the water. When they get to Laura’s room, they find her on the floor having a full-blown panic attack. Mom takes off to get a sedative (heh) while Kate tries to talk her sister down. Laura gasps that she doesn’t want to do this and Kate tells her it’s fine, but she needs to decide what she wants to do, because this is her life and she needs to live it.
Cut to the girls bursting out of the house and stealing their dad’s car. Kate asks Laura where she wants to go, and Laura says she’ll be a Pan Am stewardess, just like Kate! Kate looks horrified by that idea. So much for living your own life, Laura. Baby steps, I guess.
Back in the present, Married Fling (his name’s John) finds Colette and apologizes for taking this flight with his wife and kid. Colette blows him off, because she’s nobody’s mistress! He tries to make some excuses, but then his kid comes over asking to see the cockpit, and Colette happily takes the excuse to escape.
And we get another flashback! Now we’re in Rome, three months earlier, and Colette passes John as he’s checking into the hotel. They exchange a long, lingering look, and then let themselves into their adjoining rooms. Well, wasn’t that lucky? They both put down their luggage and take off their hats and jackets before opening the connecting doors between the rooms. As soon as John comes in, Colette pins him to the wall and starts making out with him. Ok, I’m not defending his actions or anything, but she’s getting all upset over not knowing he was married, and it doesn’t really seem like she ever asked. Just sayin’.
Presumably during the same Roman layover, Dean shows up at the hotel just as a pretty blonde—Bridget—is coming out of it with some dark-haired guy. Dean calls Bridget over, and I suddenly realize that she’s played by Annabelle Wallis, aka Jane Seymour from The Tudors. Hey, Annabelle! She and Dean kiss, and he flirts with her and asks her out, but she begs off, saying she has to meet Kate for lunch. They agree to meet later.
Bridget weaves through the crowded Roman street full of very stereotypical Roman people hand-gesturing all over the place, like that’s what Italian people do when they’re just walking down the street. One of the men, inexplicably, makes what appears to be the “F-you” gesture to Bridget, which I don’t think is what he was going for. She yells at a Vespa driver in Italian, just so we know all these stewardesses are multilingual. She finally arrives at the café, where Kate’s sitting at a table chatting with the man Bridget was just with at the hotel before Dean showed up. Bridget introduces herself to the man, Richard Parks, and then begs off, saying she has to catch an evening flight to Berlin. Once she’s gone, Parks reveals that he works in intelligence, and he already seems to know quite a bit about Kate. Interesting.
Back on the flight, Kate distracts her mark with caviar long enough to nab the passport. She goes to leave, hiding it in a stack of magazines, and he calls her back, but it’s not for the passport, it’s because he thinks she nabbed his copy of Life. She tells him his copy’s in his briefcase. Way to draw his attention to the very spot you just stole his passport from, Kate. Oh well, she’s new at this.
In the galley, Ted the co-pilot tries to flirt with Laura, but Kate comes in and tells him to keep his paws off, in no uncertain terms. Chagrined, he heads back to the cockpit, and Kate and Laura chat for a minute before a passenger calls Kate over to help her find her glasses. While Kate’s gone, they hit some turbulence that knocks a cup of coffee all over the magazines she was hiding the passport in. Laura goes to pick them up and Kate grabs them, nervously biting her sister’s head off in the process. The captain tells everyone to retake their seats, so 3D packs up his stuff and leaves the sofa where he’d been hanging out. Well, that should make returning the passport easier, right? Just pretend you found it near the sofa and hand it back to him.
Later, John’s plowing right through a martini while his kid draws and his wife decides now would be a good time to chat with Colette. Mrs. John seems pretty nice, but she’s got a southern accent, and let’s face it, nobody can do devastating knife in the back like a southern lady. Colette asks the kid what he’s drawing and Mrs. John shows her the picture of an airplane with a happy little family on it. Thankfully, John asks for another martini, giving Colette an excuse to haul ass out of there.
While Maggie’s delivering coffee to the cockpit, Dean gets a message that Bridget resigned. Maggie can’t believe it, but Dean starts smirking, and Ted notices and figures this means Dean and Bridget got engaged, and she quit because Pan Am stewardesses weren’t allowed to be married. I heard they also weren’t allowed to be older than 26 or weigh more than 120 pounds. They were strict. The navigator wonders why she’s in London, if she and Dean are engaged. Aren’t you guys heading to London? And doesn’t she live there? Ted shrugs it off, saying Bridget’s unpredictable. He then talks about how they were all down in Cuba together, flying out the last of the Bay of Pigs prisoners after that little operation went all kinds of pear shaped. This sounds like a…
…flashback! Prisoners flood onto a Pan-Am plane, guided by Maggie, who’s kind of freaking out, because this is not what she signed up for. The whole operation’s chaotic, but not so crazy that Maggie and Ted can’t debate the rightness of the Cuban Revolution for a minute. They hustle onto the plane, but Ted notes they’re still missing Bridget. Dean, who appears to be co-piloting this mission, tells the captain they have to wait, but the captain’s like, ‘hell no!’ because he definitely doesn’t want to get stuck in Cuba. Dean takes off to go find her, I guess, but luckily she shows up just as he’s coming off the plane, explaining that they forgot a refugee. Dean scolds her for leaving, then proposes. With the plane engines roaring in the background and the army running all over the place. Romantic! Bridget stalls and calls him crazy, then tells him she can’t accept him just now. Dean follows her onto the plane and gives her his pilot’s wings, urging her to say yes later, then. They get ready to take off as the prisoners cheer and the music swells majestically.
And we’re back in the present again. Laura asks Kate if she can have a bottle of champagne for the newlyweds, and Kate hands one over. Before she goes to deliver it, Laura apologizes for being in Kate’s way and promises to get herself reassigned. Kate apologizes for having been snappish but says it’s kind of tough being around her pretty, perfect sister all the time. Laura looks a little deflated by that, but she nods and is about to deliver the champagne when Kate gets an idea. She gets on the intercom and announces that they’ve decided to award the passenger in 3D a bottle of champagne, in honor of the plane’s maiden flight. Laura’s a bit confused, but she goes to deliver it. 3D, however, doesn’t want it. He does want to know if Laura’s the woman on the cover of Life, and that distracts him long enough for Kate to drop his passport back in his briefcase.
The plane lands in London and the passengers disembark. Mrs. John comes back for her purse, and Colette goes to fetch it, also handing over the kid’s drawing. Mrs. John tells her to keep it and hang it on her refrigerator to remind her not to sleep with other women’s husbands. Wow. Damn, lady! That was cold. See what I mean about southern ladies?
The stewardesses and flight crew arrive at their hotel, which has what I’m pretty sure is an impossible view of both Parliament and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Once inside, Dean tries to call Bridget, only to learn that her phone number’s been disconnected.
Kate arrives at her suite (man, Pan Am really treated its crews well, didn’t it?) only to find 3D waiting for her in the dark. Turns out he’s not some Russian they want to keep tabs on at all. He’s a British MI-6 agent who was sent to test her. She passed, but barely. Luckily, her real assignments will probably be easier. He explains that spies posing as businessmen all fly Pan Am, so she’s to keep her eyes and ears open. She’ll also occasionally function as a courier. He warns her not to screw up and she says she won’t, adding that people have been underestimating her her entire life, and they’ve all been wrong. I think that’s kind of implied by the use of the word “underestimate”. He nods, telling her he hopes she lives up to her recommendation—a recommendation that, by the way, came from Bridget. The man says that Bridget had an eye for talent, and Kate suddenly realizes that she’s Bridget’s replacement.
Speaking of the Missing Stewardess, Dean arrives at Bridget’s apartment and lets himself in with his own key, only to find it empty of almost everything except the wings he gave her in Cuba.
The girls gather at a bar and drink and talk and joke about the Life cover. Laura hates the picture, because she thinks she’ll never be able to live up to it, but Kate thinks it’s just an idealized version of all of them.
Ted and Dean are having a drink at the same bar, and Ted’s trying to build his friend up. They eye the girls and decide they’re a new breed of woman, taking flight, living their glamorous, unpredictable lives. They clink glasses and order another round, unaware that Bridget’s watching them through the window. She stares at them sadly for a moment before climbing into a cab and disappearing.
The four stewardesses walk through the terminal in perfect unison, which is a little cutesy, but also charming, ready for their next adventure, as an adorable little girl watches and smiles.
So, Bridget’s a Communist spy, right? Why else did she disappear for a while in Cuba? And then have to cut all ties and disappear in London? That’s my prediction—we’ll see if it’s right!