This The Romanoffs review contains spoilers.
The Romanoffs Episode 6
There was nowhere to go but up after the nauseating “Bright and High Circle,” the last episode of The Romanoffs in what is proving to be a season of expensive failure from Amazon and former Mad Men mastermind Matthew Weiner. Just because “Panorama” is preferable to that debacle doesn’t make it some outstanding feat; just like the majority of the standalone episodes released, “Panorama” is half-baked, unnecessarily long, and can most kindly be described as “fine.”
The best thing that “Panorama” has going for it is its setting. Centered in Mexico City, The Romanoffs finally returns to its “globetrotting” ambitions, most prevalent in the series’ French-set first episode “The Violet Hour.” “Panorama” showcases its exotic setting far more than that episode did, showing off Mexico City tourist attractions and making the city the most interesting character of the 80-minute episode. Particularly striking is the time dedicated to the sprawling History of Mexico mural found in the stairwell of the National Palace, with the showcase doubling as a history lesson of the conflicts, rebellions and revolutions that took place in Mexico’s past.
The mural’s inclusion is likely meant to frame the episode’s protagonist Abel (Juan Pablo Castañeda) as a truth-seeking altruist in the mold of Mexico’s past heroes. Abel is a journalist investigating a clinic charging top dollar for experimental stem cell treatments and there is little evidence to suggest that treatments actually work. The rich are getting fleeced for the promise of a cure to their ailments, but most of the people who can afford the clinic are shady one percenters. However, while undercover as a patient, Abel meets a fellow patient who is decidedly not a villain deserving to be scammed, a preteen boy with hemophilia named Nicholas (Paul Luke Bonenfant). Nicholas and his protective mother Victoria (Radha Mitchell) have been traveling the globe, against Nicholas’ father’s wishes, looking for something that can help improve Nicholas’ quality of life, and Abel gets close to them, viewing them as a potential anchor for his story.
Castañeda has a warmth to his character, and it’s a breath of fresh air to finally have another main character not be a well-off white person, but not being a native English speaker hampers his performance, causing a lot of his lines to be delivered a little too dryly. Also, as a journalist, Abel is pretty terrible, but that’s at least acknowledged by the cliched editor character played by Griffin Dunne. Honestly, Abel’s story and investigation of the clinic doesn’t really go anywhere the minute that Abel becomes infatuated with Victoria.
Witnessing Victoria’s strength dealing with the anxieties surrounding her son’s health and her dedication with helping him enamors her to Abel, but the pair’s connection doesn’t go much deeper than that. Still, Mitchell’s performance is compelling, especially when she begins discussing the guilt she feels about having a child knowing that she was a carrier of hemophilia (she’s the Romanoff descendent). The world of Mad Men was filled with disinterested parents, it’s nice to see Weiner bring a thoughtful, loving parental character to life.
The episode ends with a long-take tracking shot of Abel walking through an elaborate recreation of the History of Mexico mural. It’s the series’ first jaw-dropping visual display and will likely be its signature moment, but in the context of the episode, it’s a flex that’s not entirely earned. The stories in the episode don’t necessarily conclude in a way that leads to this moment as much as they just sort of stop. Weiner and Co. likely figured they needed a definitive ending and tacked this impressive moment on.
So once again, from a story stand point “Panorama” leaves a lot to be desired, but at least it serves as a wonderful promotional video for visiting Mexico City. If you play the episode on mute, avoiding Abel’s pretentiously awful monologues about Tinder and his tone poem about the corruption of the clinic, you’ll marvel at the beauty.
Nick Harley is a tortured Cleveland sports fan, thinks Douglas Sirk would have made a killer Batman movie, Spider-Man should be a big-budget HBO series, and Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson should direct a script written by one another. For more thoughts like these, read Nick’s work here at Den of Geek or follow him on Twitter.