“Water & Power”
June 6th, 2009
“It’s like putting your faith in the idea of someone before really knowing who they are.”
The above quotation, pulled from the episode, was my personal reaction to Pushing Daisies. I was “all in” from the moment I heard the premise of the pilot, pretty much, and was even more excited based on that episode. And there is something dangerous about that like, for example, having to deal with the fact that it was on the air for about 1/8 the amount of time as According to Jim. But the one thing that Pushing Daisies, as a show, never did was to displace my faith in any violent fashion – I was disappointed by its short end, but its quality rarely faltered, and that is something important to remember as we continue our journey through these final three episodes.
When you enter into a bittersweet series of episodes like these, knowing that the show has been canceled and that not all resolutions will be possible, an episode like “Water & Power” is a real microcosm of that feeling. As soon as the episode begins with a shot of a young Emerson Cod, you realize that this will be the show’s last chance to give this character a proper sendoff, especially as it relates to his search for his missing daughter. It was a recurring bit of story that was never actually a storyline: we saw the book he made, and we were there when he told Ned for the first time, but it’s never actually been the central point of a mystery of the week.
But, of course, it never will be again either: although the episode allows the issue of young Penny to emerge as the purpose of the show’s narrative, it doesn’t resolve the storyline in some sort of final way, and leaves the door open for all of the things we know the show won’t have. It introduces a few highly compelling recurring guest stars, for example, but we know the show will never get to see them return, and since it doesn’t offer any real finality for Emerson and Penny it feels like yet another chapter that, while satisfying for what it could have been, isn’t all that satisfying for what it ended up being.
While I don’t want to insinuate that last week’s return episode was poor, I would tend to argue that “Water & Power” is a strong episode simply because it more seamlessly integrates a mystery of the week with the show’s characters. I’m fine with Ned and Olive having a more dramatic storyline, but sometimes the fun of this show is how it is able to take the most mundane of mysterie, imbue them with a personal edge, and let them run wild as a result. The lengthy subterfuge between Ned and Olive last week was such that things were almost always off kilter, and that’s helpful for creating drama and awkwardness but kind of felt like the flow was being somewhat disarmed.
This one felt more like a traditional and familiar episode for the series, and I think it was better for it. Emerson’s journey to find his daughter has been long ruminating, and it made sense for there to be a case that hearkened back to his first interactions with Lila Robinson (the baby mama, as he calls her) considering the circumstances. This is the second episode where a case has been given a character-driven back story that we had no previous knowledge of, but it works better here because it wasn’t as completely from scratch as Olive’s – we knew Emerson had a daughter, and the show was telling that story more than it was telling a generic story about a damn dam operator, his fancy ruby, and the rivalry and feud that erupted as a result. However, since the latter story was pretty interesting as well and was only made more interesting by our previous knowledge, the episode sat really well with me on that plot level.
And, as one would expect from anyone who has seen Firefly, or Alias for that matter, Gina Torres is always fun to see on television, and considering her work on both of those shows she has plenty of experience playing for brawn and enough experience (with Zoe, at least) playing the more emotional side of things to sell that Emerson would have fallen in love with her. It also helped that Simone returned to create a bit of a rivalry for them: I love Olive, but she’s not one for such confrontations (dramatic ones, anyways – the comic one she had here was great), and even if it was a bit too easy for Simone and Emerson to have been engaged in an off-screen romance enough to make their closeness realistic I think their standoff was a good way to let Torres play with someone her own size, so to speak (seriously, Kristen Chenoweth, I really do think you’re great, it’s nothing personal).
Sure, it was clear the moment Matt Winston’s Michael Brunt showed up that he was the one who did it (anyone who saw him on Scrubs or the early part of John for Cincinnati knows that the man does not play good guys), but that was really almost a tangent at this point. The storyline worked because Emerson was always being driven by the desire to see Penny, and that Ned and Chuck’s efforts to help him (with Simone, Olive and Randy in tow) were in order to assist Emerson with this goal and not part of their own neuroses or anything similar. The episode did get to make some personal discoveries: Olive finally got Ned out of her head with a kiss from Randy, plus Ned and Chuck got to put their own relationship into context and discover the cardinal rule of trunk stowage. What worked is that the episode didn’t try to make this into their fight, or need to give them an A story or a B story, to make it work.
Yes, the Aunts were missing, but I honestly think the show sometimes operates better without them, remaining more focused (although one presumes that they are back for the finale, as it would have at least been designed as a season finale and the whole cast not being involved would be very strange). The episode really got to settle onto Emerson’s own plight, and they even managed to pull of a bit of a surprise at the ending: sure, we all knew that Lila wasn’t actually going to let Emerson have Penny, and we immediately presumed she was going to run off with his car, but I didn’t expect Penny to be smiling in the back seat, with braces as Lila had said, waving goodbye as they drove away. It was actually a really touching little moment, sly without being malicious, heartwarming without being entirely moral.
We don’t get that moment we wanted, with Emerson and his daughter together again, or even the moment when Emerson’s published book makes its way into her hands. This is ultimately frustrating, since while this episode didn’t solve that issue it certainly did enter into a new chapter, offering the right amount of interaction to keep it alive without turning it into a preoccupation. This was the next step, and the knowledge that there will never be another step is tough to swallow. But, that’s the nature of this burnoff, as we knew going in that these situations were going to pop up. This doesn’t mean that I don’t wish Gina Torres could have eventually came back, or that the absolutely wasted Robert Picardo (appearing briefly as the detective) could have been far more useful in the future as a recurring part, but it does mean that this little mystery was a satisfying hour of television by every metric but finality.
And that’s all we can really hold the show to, in the end.
- This is a show that can get away with comedy that many other shows can’t, and the Mennonite lawyers was a fine example of this: it was like an old-school comedy routine, not a television scene, and yet it all worked because this universe is just that awesome. Their inability to lie was a real comic highpoint of the episode, and may go on the books as one of the most ingenious ways to get some exposition onto the table in order to move on with the mystery. That’s an example of the way the show was so unique within its genre, and how I’m really going to miss it.
- David Arquette continues to be a good addition to the group: being dubbed Rebound Randy was kind of cruel, but I thought he was fun in the midst of the scheming and charming with Olive when he needed to be. Who knew he would come around to being a half-decent actor?
- Loved the various “damn/dam” puns throughout the episode – it’s a little thematic thing, but it’s rarely overplayed by the show, and I enjoyed how they never brought direction attention to the “Best Damn Dam” on the sign in the conveniently placed photo booth area.
- Anyone else think that it was kind of highly suspect for Chuck and Ned to climb into the same trunk considering how easy it would be for them to touch one another should she take a turn too quickly, or brake quickly, or anything else? Or am I the only person still having anxiety attacks then they’re in close proximity?
- I knew a guy in elementary school named Michael Brunt who threw a chair at a guy once – I don’t have any reason for bringing this up other than the fact that it struck me while checking through my notes, and that it was quite a coincidence.