“Water & Power,” I think, is one of Pushing Daisies‘ finest episodes. I’m glad ABC aired it, even in the death zone of Saturday nights at 10 p.m., because it was one of the best examples of what this show can be, why it’s loveable and precisely why I’ll miss it. Plus, it effectively brought closure to Emerson’s search for his little girl, Penny, which means one less hanging thread for the end of the series. While it’s true that Emerson does not actually get to possess his daughter at the end, leaving the story open for more, getting to see her and meeting her mother feels like an adequate amount of closure to the story – absolutely appropriate for the end of a season, and acceptable enough for the end of a series. I was satisfied.
I was also satisfied with the central mystery and the stellar noir tale played out by Emerson’s past and present lovers, Lilah Robinson (played by the incomparably gorgeous Gina Torres) and Simone Hundee. It was almost like something out of Walter Mosley, with Gina Torres as Black Betty. (Totally great noir book, Black Betty. Read it.) Although Emerson may be soft-boiled (I say that because he knits), he has always been the kind of man who would do myriad stupid things in the name of love, appropriately summarized for us in a flashback to his school days in which a crush on the principal was enough to convince him to beat up other boys just to spend time in her presence. So when his ex-wife Lilah returns to Papen County after the murder of her former fiancé millionaire utilities tycoon Raleigh Stingwell was found dead at the bottom of the dam and claims she’s innocent, Emerson is willing to give her the benefit of the doubt – especially when she promises he’ll be able to see his daughter if he comes through for her.
Even more than the flashback establishing Emerson as a fool for love, I adored the flashback in which we watched his romance with Lilah blossom. She had been engaged to Stingwell at the time, posing as a well-off heiress named Emily, but she would disappear for days at a time, and Stingwell assumed she was cheating. He hired Emerson to tail “Emily,” who, as it turns out, was an amateur bird watcher and easily caught Emerson spying on her. They started sharing lunches in the woods, which led to picnics and a fondness for tomato soup, which in turn led to romantic trysts that left Lilah pregnant with Emerson’s child. During all of this, she confessed that she was only with Stingwell in the hopes of robbing him of his precious Dam Ruby and had planned to abscond with it before the wedding. Emerson convinced Stingwell to let Lilah go, and promised to protect her and their child as long as she stayed on the straight and narrow. But that proved too hard for Lilah to do, and she eventually left Emerson and took the only thing more precious to him than she was: little Penny, his Lil’ Gumshoe.
Believing in Lilah’s innocence, even though the Dam Ruby is missing, the gang heads out to look for other potential murders, particularly those who might have been irked by Stingwell’s plans to rebuild the Papen County water mains. This trail, although initially cold, led them in the right direction of disgruntled farmers, one of whom, a Farmer Brunt, was cursed with glow in the dark flowers due to a small amount of toxic waste flowing into his irrigation system thanks to the runoff from a candy company. (Oddly/hilariously/adorably, that toxic waste conspiracy theory was dreamed up by Stingwell’s crazy secretary . . . and turned out to be right.) It was Farmer Brunt who offed Stingwell, dressed in drag to appear as Lilah before the security cameras after overhearing a conversation between Stingwell and his ex-fiancée before his own meeting with the tycoon. Brunt followed Stingwell into the dam tunnels, locked him behind a drainage grate and turned on the water and power, sending the tycoon shooting out of the dam to his doom (and really grossly twisting his neck in the process). Emerson and Simone manage to escape the same fate by stepping to the side of the ledge and letting the deluge pass them by.
So although Lilah leaves Emerson high and dry in the woods with a broken down car and a dummy version of his daughter, he does catch a glimpse of Penny as her mother drives away, finds out that Lil’ Gumshoe will be published and strengthens his relationship with Simone – I’d say that’s a pretty good win for Emerson Cod.
Also win for:
- Lilah’s amazing harlequin-print neutral sheath she wears on one of her flashback dates with Emerson.
- Olive and Randy Mann, for enjoying a date filled with subterfuge in the service of crime solving.
- Chuck and Ned, for making sure Olive doesn’t give up on Randy.
- Chuck’s riding hat.
- Mennonite lawyers, who are really bad at lying.
- Lilah putting Ned and Chuck in their underwear after finding them in the trunk of her car. Lee Pace has such pretty arms! Seriously, check him out in Soldier’s Girl, the story of Calpernia Addams (whom I have actually had the honor of sort of playing in “They Beat the Girl out of My Boy,” a newish monologue in The Vagina Monologues), a transgender Southern girl in love with a military man. Pace plays Calpernia and he is 100% divine. You will see a lot of his arms in that movie.
- “You just blew a whole dog whistle full of crazy, and I’m not a dog.” – Olive
Fail: Total underuse of Robert Picardo in this episode. On Voyager, he was a hologram, so his holodeck fantasy in that show was to cultivate an artistic life, often as a painter or a playwright. To see him play a detective on this show felt like he was acting out one of Captain Picard’s Sherlock Holmes holodeck fantasies from ST:TNG. Not saying Picardo was bad in this episode, just saying it could have been anyone. A little too hard boiled for him, not enough of a chance for him to show off his comic timing, which he was great at on Voyager.