TV Detail: Pushing Daisies review. Episode 2.03—"Bad Habits"
Well, I feel silly. I've been pretty explicit in expressing my indignation over some of the story lines set up in the second season of Pushing Daisies, but I stand corrected. Last night's episode, "Bad Habits," miraculously wove all the separate plot lines together in a profound and transcendentally touching way. It was not only one of the best episodes of the entire series, but one of the best episodes of any show on television in recent memory. Period.
Pitch-perfect from the very start, the episode gleefully contained one
delight after another: a cheek-pinchingly cute young Olive Snook
digging for her heart's desire (and dinosaurs, it turns out); the entire detective troupe disguised
as the Vatican police, garbed in white collars and veils; the secret
labyrinth-like catacombs and passageways and hidden laboratories
scattered about the convent. Even the episode's murder mystery—Sister
Larue (played by Mo Collins) and her leap of faith, of sorts—completely captivated, and convincingly brought the show's four principle actors
back together to do what we love to see them do: solve crimes together.
The ludicriously-lovable plot—involving $4,000 dollar-a-pound truffles, a sensitive and broken-hearted Swiss-German chef named Hansel, and black market swag of "CDs, magazines and top-shelf femme care"—had expert pacing, something missing from this season's openers. More importantly, it was the emotional undercurrent that permeated through each scene that places "Bad Habits" among the series' finest.
The very idea of Pushing Daisies—that is, the ramifications of bringing the dead back to life—has always been rooted in a certain sense of metaphysical philosophy. Nearly every person Ned brings back to life asks if they are in heaven, or asks about God and angels and the absence or presence of a white light. The show never makes any pretensions as to what comes next, instead opting to express a feeling of hopeful uncertainty about the afterlife that awaits.
The show's honest exploration of death seemed heightened in this episode. When Chuck bemoaned, "I'm a person with no past and no future, because of what I am," she was referring to the state of purgatory she's trapped in. She's neither truly dead nor fully alive, yet also simultaneously both. It's a contradiction the show has explored before, but never with so much clarity, or tenderness.
How do you pick up the pieces of an old life when it becomes increasingly apparent those pieces will never fit back together? Chuck clings to her past (thereby explaining her need to hire a genealogist to fill in the gaps of her makeshift family tree), but realizes in order to have a future it will mean accepting her old life is no longer her's. In actuality, moving out on her own and tracing her lineage are signs she's headed toward acceptance. But finally learning Lily is her mother during the episode's lyrical coda will undoubtedly throw a wrench or two in her path to self-rediscovery. (Ned has now ironically both given and taken away a parent.)
Ned has issues of his own, and finally came to terms with how his dad abandoning him as a child has manifest itself into his adult life. It can sometimes be a sobering thought to realize we are more like our parents than we'd like to admit, and it's a reality Ned found himself confronted with in a church confessional, of all places. "If you ever want to change, you've got to rectify your past. Otherwise you won't have a future," Father Ed (Michael Hitchcock) tells him. Ned is in the same situation as Chuck, wrestling demons in his past he didn't even know existed.
For a show so deeply entrenched in fantasy, "Bad Habits" showcased a startling portrayal of adults actually acting like adults, something that is depressingly lacking on primetime television. Man-children and stunted growth run rampant on shows like The Office and 30 Rock, but are forgiven because they are, after all, comedies. But it's also something a show like AMC's superlative Mad Men is guilty of, featuring lead characters who continually lie to themselves and others to be happy. (Of course, that is intentional and also the point.) So when Ned and Olive had their honest conversation about their (unrequited) feelings for each other (over an enormous crucifix-shaped table no less), I coudn't help but admire how the writers have effortlessly imbued a sense of realism into such an undeniably escapist show.