“The Legend of Merle McQuoddy”
December 10th, 2008
I am going to miss Olive Snook most of all.
Yes, I will miss everything else about Pushing Daisies: Emerson Cod’s quippy one-liners, Chuck’s emotional integrity, Ned’s neurotic worrying, Jim Dale’s charming narration, Lily’s shotgun, Vivian’s heart on her sleeve, and the various quirky individuals who populate this world week after week, incapable of sitting still as they balance between our world and the whimsical universe Bryan Fuller has created.
But there is something about Olive Snook that pleases me the most, and makes me most upset for the show’s passing. It’s her sheer exuberance: without Ned and Chuck’s burdens, or Emerson’s gruff persona, Olive is the character who most gets to interact with the more fanciful elements of these storylines. The best mysteries are often the ones in which Olive takes part, or where Olive’s participatory spirit extends to the other characters – they have a certain bounce to them, a visual and aural sharpness only possible by the spunk her character brings to each scene, and they are in fashion throughout “The Legend of Merle McQuody.”
It is a testament to Kristin Chenoweth that Olive is still this charming even as she returns to idea of unrequited love, a notion which nearly sunk the character in the first season when it felt like an excuse to keep Ned and Chuck from connecting. Now that the show has settled, Chenoweth has made Olive’s emotional state more natural while also being integrated more closely into the week’s mystery. After being paired with Ned on “Comfort Food,” Olive here becomes a Jr. P.I. in Training with Cod Investigations, resulting in a fantastic comic pairing, some wonderful Olive moments and, most importantly, another in a series of great segments as Pushing Daisies marches towards its final Legend.
Like last week’s episode, this is a very clear A/B story split, something that the show is smart to incorporate at this stage. While the show has always been good with developing characters, who it will be the hardet to say goodbye to when the series ends, it is often best at doing this while they are somewhat separated. This can be done in a variety of ways, but as the episode dealt so heavily with Ned and Chuck’s relationship there wasn’t really room for mystery within their development, much as their emotional storyline made it so that Emerson and Olive’s larger existential issues would have to wait another episode.
But the episode did a really good job of ensuring that everyone got their due. Yes, the episode did more for Ned and Chuck as characters than it did Emerson and Olive, but this was inevitable: the resurrection of Charles Charles was going to have this affect on our characters regardless of whether he emerged as a kindly father or as the stubborn, protective and reckless Elephant Man look-alike he ended up as. In his current state, though, he was infinitely more dangerous, and also the kind of volatile influence that often brings out the best in Ned and, while not for her own emotional well-being, the best of Chuck’s emotional state.
Anna Friel and Lee Pace did a lot with both sides of this conflict: Friel, in particular, was almost too adorable in scenes that required her to be, while being heart-wrenchingly honest in those moments that were more along those lines. Pace was given less of those moments, but he as always does “angry and frustrated yet still Ned-like” very well, and I especially liked his more neurotic side. His book of rules was especially humorous, and gave us a sense of the lengths to which Ned has organized his life around Chuck. This was maybe the episode’s biggest problem: we know Ned is dedicated to Chuck in ways that Charles couldn’t understand, but the latter’s inability to give him any credit for it made for a bit too unsympathetic a character. I say this not to say that he had to be perfect, but that for us to buy his emotional moments with Chuck we need to see some side of him that isn’t like that – that we instead saw a lying sonofabitch certainly made it easier for us to see Ned’s side, but it also made Chuck’s side of the story even more sad than it needed to be.
There is really only one ending to this story: Charles Charles will be dead-again at some point in the future, getaway or no getaway. I’m kind of disappointed that there wasn’t any hint at some deeper reason for his resentment or anger. Passing it off as “stubborn, jealous and protective father” seems a bit of an undersell in terms of his behaviour, and it’s kind of unfortunate that we didn’t get even a hint at why Dwight Dixon was so desperate to try to kill them over the locket and whatever else he was after. From the synopsis of next week’s episode, we haven’t heard the last of this storyline, but it felt like even a scene of it might have put a better label on Charles Charles than “douchebag father.” It made the central message, that Chuck could have a life of adventure away from Ned, kind of moot: not only do we already find this world to be pretty adventurous for Chuck as it is, but we also can’t imagine such a mean decayed corpse as her guide.
The episode had a recurring theme of parenthood, extending into the murder mystery that spurned from Ned and Chuck’s first moment of dusktime cuteness. The Legend of Merle McQuoddy is quite simple: sailor gets wrecked at sea, gets picked up by “that boat of homosexuals,” returns to a wife who found another lover but decided to give her marriage another try before being harpooned onto her own lighthouse lamp. The story is, although I’m too young to have put this together, an homage to the 1977 film Pete’s Dragon, with connections found in the name of the couple’s son (Elliott, played by Alexander Gould [“Weeds”], was the name of said Dragon), the quaint East Coast lighthouse setting, and the impromptu acapella performance in Gus’ pitch to Elliot – the song was “Candle on the Water,” an Oscar-nominated song from the movie.
That song moment was one of, I felt, the best moments for Olive Snook, as mentioned above. I remember back in the second episode, when Olive broke into song and I thought it was all a bit obnoxious and overdone. It felt like “She was on Broadway, so let’s have her sing,” which was a bit too rote for my tastes. Over time, though, I’ve come to love it, and the show must have realized it was reaching its end when we’ve had two Olive songs in a row. This one was perhaps my favourite though because of the sheer radiance on Chenoweth’s face as she realized there was an opportunity for a sing-along. It was like Christmas: here she was just minding her own business on a murder investigation, and here comes an opportunity to break out into song.
The entire episode was full of moments like this from Olive: she was never invited to take part, she was downright compelled. She launches into the flashlight ghost story the second the power goes out, she shows up with awesome rain slickers on her own accord, and the entire episode was filled with great little moments. Emerson and Olive has been one of my favourite relationships on the show ever since “Girth,” the episode where we learned Olive was once a famous horse jockey, and it was in great form. I love everything about them: from the way they were squished on the end of the booth so as to emphasize how different they were in size, to their simultaneous “Oh hell no,” they were just charming to the max. Combine with Olive’s amazing one-woman chest bump against Emerson (such a great physical gag), and extend to their rather frank discussion about how Olive is still in love with the Piemaker and Emerson hates rainy days because they remind him of the mother of his child who he left behind, and I don’t know if you can beat this pairing.
Emerson, for his part, was just as on: he only had one scene with Ned, really, but it was that great scene in the morgue where he rattled off both his alternative meaning of “Tap that” and the rather fantastic suggestion of “Trip over an Ottoman and Dick Van Dyke that ass!” Now I do agree with Alan Sepinwall on this issue, who notes in his review that there are positives to the way last week’s split of Ned/Olive and Chuck/Emerson brought out different sides of every character. Placing the more dramatic characters on one end of the spectrum and the comic ones on the other might create an imbalance, but only on a lesser show would it create a serious concern: I thought the thematic ties of the case spoke to both of their emotional sides enough that, as Emerson invited Olive to switch sides to the P.I. gig from her job at the Pie Hole it felt like a nice evolution for both characters.
The mystery itself was just kind of there, although between its various lighthouse-like touches and the sheer morbidity at that munitions explosion widower diorama I thought it was well within the show’s usual quirk levels. It was just a really clever episode on that side of things, and it proved a nice diversity: Ned and Chuck provided the bulk of the emotion and the action, while Emerson and Olive’s story was just a lot of fun (for a murder mystery, anyways). It was an episode that reminded us how deep these characters are, and how the writers are quite adept at finding ways to exercise them on a regular basis – yet another sadly hopeful note for the show to be leaving on.
- We haven’t had an outright fight scene for a while, so the epic Broom vs. Mop showdown (my money was on the Mop, guess I lose that bet) was nice to see. I do have to wonder whether even an Alive Again person could fight quite that well, but that’s the joy of the fantasy procedural.
- There’s one more episode to air, next week’s “The Norwegians,” and then no further scheduled dates. All signs point towards the network either saving the three episodes for DVD or, depending on their schedule, burning off all three episodes ala Arrested Development sometime in the new year.
- In more good news on the bureaucratic side of things: Bryan Fuller, originally saying that the 13th episode had a few cliffhangers, has now confirmed that through the magic of postproduction there will be an “ending” to the show after episode 13. Whether this will make any further attempts at continuing the storyline, like comic books or movies, irrelevant, but I know what my suggestion is: a Broadway Musical.