It’s very difficult to write about the final episode of Pushing Daisies, as we were all told by our humble narrator not to treat it as an ending, but as a beginning. It’s unfortunate that ABC’s axe deprived us of a fully-told story, leaving Ned’s father and Zombie Charles Charles roaming about somewhere in the town of Couer d’Couers in Papen County (or possibly in America or Europe) without any explanation or raison d’etre. But those are stories, I’m sure, will be told in the much-talked-about comic book, whenever it debuts. I think Daisies can go on to live a good life in comic/graphic novel form, and now has myriad cheaper ways to engineer its signature quirk in full-color panels. Buffy and Angel have gone on to live long, fulfilling lives in this format, and I hope Daisies does, too. So with that promise of new beginnings and format changes, I can’t talk about the series finale as though it is, in fact, a finale. It didn’t try to be one because it knew it wasn’t one. I will, however, pretend it was a season finale, in which case I have to say that it adequately tied up another long-standing storyline, as last week’s “Water & Power” did for Emerson Cod. And that’s basically what we expect a season finale to do: to tie up some things, while leaving others to be dealt with at a later date. So while we may not know why Ned’s father returned or where Charles Charles is, we do know that Emerson is reunited with his Lil’ Gumshoe and that Chuck finally faces her aunts as an alive-again dead girl.
It was great to see an episode that focused primarily on the Aunts – and especially on the antiquated ridiculata that is professional synchronized swimming. I love both Ellen Green and Swoosie Kurtz, but I could tell that, as a season finale, this plot was meant to bring both of their character’s closure and allow them to exist in a world outside of Couer d’Couers. Taking them out of the main cast would allow for some new characters to enter into the Daisies universe, with Lily and Vivian returning as guest spots. I’d miss them dearly, but a change in the main cast would have undoubtedly been healthy growth for the show. So here the aunts decide to honor the half birthday of their dead niece/daughter by attending the Aquacade, the very aquatic circus in which they once performed before they retired from synchronized swimming and the world at large. Ned, for some reason, decides it would be a good idea to give Chuck a great half-birthday gift by also taking her to the very same show (and Emerson and Olive – but not their respective significant others, both of whom are ill for the purposes of this episode, and so Olive could say the phrase, “Out with the gout,” which is funny to anyone who doesn’t have gout). Naturally, there are some silly avoidance tactics in place so that dead-Chuck is not seen by the aunts who do not know she’s alive again; chief among these non-sighting sight gags include the gang hiding behind various balloons shaped like aquatic denizens. I was particularly fond of Emerson’s crab balloon and his insistence on talking through its many legs.
The Aquacade itself might be the quirkiest, weirdest thing this show has ever shown us. It includes an announcer (Joey Slotnick, forever known to me as Merril Bobolit, dog-hair transplanter and inventer of Bobotox on Nip/Tuck) riding in Neptune’s chariot with a triton-shaped microphone (which I need, by the way . . . my half-birthday’s next month!), a shark-cowboying act featuring Mad TV‘s Michael McDonald as Bubba the Shark’s wrangler, a very homosexual Wilson Cruz as Sid Tango the Aquadancer and skinny bitches Nora Dunn and Wendy Malick as the Darling Mermaid Darlings’ biggest synch-swim rivals, the Aquadolls. Oh, yeah, and Dr. Swingtown from Private Practice/Swingtown (Josh Hopkins) plays their himbo manager/Blanche’s husband/Coral’s lover. But amid all that finery, something awful happens: somehow, Bubba the Shark escapes his tank and finds his way into the pool where the Aquadolls are performing one of their many star-spangled routines, where he proceeds to gobble up Nora Dunn’s Blanche mid-backwards summersault. Because someone rubbed lard in her hair gel. Awesome. Gross. Hilarious.
With the Aquadolls officially defunct, Jimmy Neptune’s traveling Aquacade clearly needs a new headliner, so he invites the Darling Mermaid Darlings to come out of retirement and get back into the pool. Seriously, Jimmy Neptune had the best aquatic puns ever in his pitch to Lily and Vivian: “I wanted from the water wings.” “The audience soaked it up.” I imagine the writer’s room bursting into giggles while working on this episode. “These are so bad!” someone would exclaim. “But they’re also so good!” someone else would say. Daisies writers, I hope someone gives you guys jobs, because you people were awesome. My praise of the writers and their terribly awesome puns aside, Chuck sees the Aunts’ decision to return to the biz they call show as an opportunity for the rest of the gang to infiltrate the Aquacade and find out who murdered Blanche. Emerson poses as the Aunts’ coach, with Olive running hair and makeup and Ned, in a totally gorgeous 1960′s-style suit and a pair of sunglasses that made Lee Pace look the fucking hottest he has ever looked on this show EVER, as their manager. (If I take nothing else from this episode, I take away the shot of the first time Ned turns around in that suit and how it made my heart skip a beat. And I am very much not exaggerating here.)
As they investigate, they find a variety of incriminating things attached to Sid Tango: he’s taken over Blanche’s dressing room, where her lard-laced hair-gel is kept, and, apparently, keeps a remote trigger to open the shark cage on his very phallic belt. But Sid is innocent, and suggests that Olive and Emerson turn their investigation toward Blanche’s sister, Coral. In addition to being bitter rivals, you see, the Aquadolls and the Darling Mermaid Darlings had more in common than their mutual interest in synchronized swimming. Like Lily, it seems that Coral was also guilty of sleeping with her sister’s lover. Coral assures everyone that while she may have been sleeping with Himbo Dr. Swingtown, she would have never killed her sister. Vivian, having been born with a hole in her heart, takes pity on Coral and invites her to swim in the Darling Mermaid Darlings’ act. But being around Coral makes Lily feel all the more guilty for what she’s done to her own sister, and the two adulteresses share some harsh words. Coral knows Lily’s secret, and threatens to expose it to Vivian unless she gets to stay in the act, but Olive quickly thwarts her plan by revealing to Lily and Vivian that Coral had another costume under her senorita garb and had planned to steal the show from her fresh-out-of-retirement rivals.
Meanwhile, Ned negotiates the Aunt’s contract and finds out that Jimmy Neptune wants to take the Aquacade on a European tour, which Lily and Vivian both agree to. Chuck, however, is not pleased with this information. She feels like being near her aunts, even though she can’t actually visit them, gives her some purpose to being alive again, like she’s meant to be their earthly guardian angel, slipping homeopathic curatives in the scads of free pies they never seem to question receiving. She tells Ned that she isn’t sure she could be happy with her aunts on the road, and that she might have to uproot and go with them somehow. Clearly, this would make Ned very, very sad. Before the big show, Emerson catches Chuck, disguised as a handyman, trying to sabotage the Darling Mermaid Darlings performance with an unauthorized music change, and catches Ned waiting in the shadows to sabotage her sabotage. Despite their confusion, from their vantage point in the control booth, they can all see that a more pressing situation is about to take place in the pool below when a giant lobster man karate chops Jimmy Neptune and steals the triton mike. With the lobster-head removed, Himbo Dr. Swingtown announces his intent behind Blanche’s murder and the imminent electrocution of the Darling Mermaid Darlings: everything he did was to give his lover, Coral, her own show. Fortunately, the underwater speakers drown out anything he has to say so that the Aunts never know of his plot to kill them and Chuck and Ned manage to capture both the Himbo and the microphone before any harm can befall Lily and Vivian.
Nonetheless, harm is about to befall them, as Lily wakes one day to find that Coral has dropped by her house and informed Vivian of everything. But just as Lily is about to kick her sister out of the house, Chuck and Ned arrive to announce the thing that would free and resolve the sisters: their daughter/niece is alive. And for Chuck to have them know that allows her to stay with Ned while they go out into the world on tour, just knowing she’s still around to take care of them. As for the others, Emerson’s Lil’ Gumshoe finds her way to him, and, randomly, Olive and Randy decide to open up a mac and cheese joint called The Intrepid Cow. I would say that these endings felt hurried, by, at least as far as Emerson and Penny and Chuck and her aunts are concerned, the swiftness of these resolutions carries with it some of the magic with which Daisies has always been imbued.
However, the moment I caught sight of Oscar Verbinius as the camera swept through the sewers and took us around the world as narrator Jim Dale assured us that endings should always be thought of as beginnings, I couldn’t help but wish he’d had something to do with the revelation that Chuck is alive-again. His arc in season one was truly incredible, and while I’m happy to see him again, I wish he’d figured into Chuck’s reveal to her aunts in a bigger way. Perhaps he’ll turn up at a later date – for even though the Aunts know she’s alive-again, there are still others who do not. Or perhaps he could be useful in sniffing out the location of Zombie Charles Charles. I guess I’ll take comfort in the fact that he’s still there, in the sewers, lurking. Just as I’ll take comfort in the fact that the beating heart of Coeur d’Coeurs will continue, panel to panel on the page.
On a final costuming note, I think the most fabulous thing in this episode, other than Ned’s suit, was Chuck’s orange-and-brown blossom skirt. I’ll miss the fabulous costumes on this show most of all – that just won’t be the same in the comic book.
I can’t talk long, because my bosses are hovering over me here at my work, but rushed or not, I absolutely loved the final 90 seconds of this episode, which swept through Couer d’Coeurs and flew by at least a dozen locations previously seen on this show, from the convent to French Davis’ bee empire to the graveyard where Stephen Root met his maker to the sewers, finally finishing on Digby in the field that opened the series, and am glad that the effects house was able to deliver it even after the show’s cancellation, thanks to some quick Bryan Fuller thinking and a great big hug of CGI charity.
Another good show dies young, because people apparently don’t want to see anything too original, too quirky or too fantastic in their everyday television viewing schedule. Let the CSIs and Law & Orders reign proud, because they’ve hypnotized their audience into watching the same damn show time and time again. Don’t blame the network. Blame the viewers. They gave up after the high-rated pilot, and that’s their fault.
Well, now I can give DC Comics some of my hard-earned money, and hope that Lee Pace finds a more welcoming home either on our television or in our movie houses.