Series Finale – June 13th, 2009
I should have known this day would come.
No, I don’t mean that I was actually in denial that, after the show struggled to regain its ratings foothold towards the end of Season One and bombed out the gate during season two, the show was short for this world, and that its final episode would be tossed aside in a ridiculous Saturday timeslot by ABC. Rather, I should have known when I first watched and fell in love with this pilot, but struggled to convince people I talked to that the show was worth watching, that it would never get the ending I knew it deserved.
When I reviewed that pilot (oh, sorry – “Pie-Lette”), I said the following:
…Pushing Daisies is as much a fairy tale romance as it is a dramatic television series. Unrequited love is one of those concepts that you see a lot of in television, but never has it been so whimsically (and maturely) portrayed. The entire pilot is about love and loss, and how mending those fences can be more difficult than you realize.
We, of course, don’t have Ned’s power to bring things back to life, but if we did I think all of us who watched until the end would, in an instant, touch this show and rescue it from the television graveyard as Ned did with Chuck. However, we can’t do that (although, presuming Lost would be protected, I’d be totally willing to let fate choose which ABC show has to die as a result of keeping it alive), and we’re left with a finale that we know shouldn’t be the end, that promises more than it concludes and that captures in its aquacades and elaborate disguises the whimsy that has set the show on a well-deserved pedestal that ABC chose to knock down late last year.
But I will give ABC credit for inadvertantly assisting in my ability to mend the fences of love and loss, delaying the airing of this episode until the show’s cancellation was no longer fresh. It may still hurt, certainly, but it’s given me a less angry and more celebratory perspective. While not everything you want a finale to be, and ending on a cliffhanger that seemed poised to breathe new life into the series, this finale finds the show joyously entertaining in a scenario and an environment that could only exist in the world of Papen County, the mind of Bryan Fuller, and, as fate has decided, the fond memories of viewers.
When Gilmore Girls ended earlier than its writers had intended, after The CW hummed and hawed over a potential renewal before playing the financial card with no time left to adjust, the season (now series) finale had low expectations. However, it was an impressive piece of television because it did two things: it not only resolved a long-standing conflict that had been season-long in its focus, thus putting to rest one lingering question, but it also spent almost the entire episode focused on the dynamics that made the show work best. It was not the show’s best episode, nor was it as final as you might like, but despite the pieces staying firmly in motion they did so in such a way that resolved any audience anxieties.
There are some ways in which this finale serves the same purpose, albeit with a slightly more maddening cliffhanger to go with it. Like all “big” Pushing Daisies episodes, it integrates the world of the Aunts with that of our detectives, eschewing B-Stories or anything else with a decidedly important story of past, present and future for all involved. And it does so well within the show’s comfort zone, capturing the world of the aquacade (essentially a water circus) with the kind of creativity the show is known for. You get the heart that the Aunts bring to the story, with the secret of Lily being Charlotte’s birth mother and Chuck’s lingering efforts to watch over her aunts like a ghost who’s not actually dead, but then you get the spectacle of the Aunts returning to the world of ridiculous costumes, even more ridiculous hats, and the whimsy the show is known for.
The show has done better episodes, in terms of its procedural mystery structure: while the introduction of Wendie Malick and Nora Dunn as the Aqua Dolls offered some fun gags (I particularly enjoyed Lily’s dig at their horizontal stripes), and the overall setting was well established, the actual act itself was pretty much disconnected from its initial purpose as possible. It was the shark’s owner who instigated Emerson’s involvement in the case, and yet he never reappears, and the identity of the killer becomes an afterthought to the action going on within our core group. That’s logical, of course, but it was an example of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and not the kind of balance the show is actually capable of when it sees fit.
And yet, the result was that the real focus of the episode, the relationship between Lily and Vivian, was far better executed, in particular thanks to Carla (Malick, the surviving Aqua Doll) proving particularly capable of wriggling her way between them and wreaking some havoc. That the show spends so much time with them may seem strange at first, considering that we didn’t even see them last week and, to be honest, I didn’t even really miss them that much. This was more or less always one of the show’s largest problems, figuring out how to integrate these extremely talented veteran actresses into a show when they weren’t allowed to interact with the female lead who just happened to almost always be around its main characters. The result early on was sending Olive out to spend them with them, a decision which led to more of their back story emerging and as a result the characters feeling more intricately involved in this universe both through their wit and, more importantly, their relationship with Charlotte.
And I’ll tell you right now, Swoosie Kurtz has to be considered at least a dark horse for an Emmy nomination with a performance like this one, as she takes Lily from the depths of hidden grief to the joy of reconnecting with the one thing that got her through the pain, only to have things all explode in those final moments as her secret is finally set free. That final altercation shows why Kurtz and Ellen Greene remained with the show even after it seemed they were proving a distraction early on: they are amazing actresses, sure, but their characters are the only ones who have legitimately been harbouring deep secrets, something that can explode and feel like thirty years of pent-up sadness and regret, rather than a few months of television time being blown out of proportion (especially once Ned’s secret murder of Chuck’s father, inadvertant as it was, was out of the picture).
On that level, the end of this episode feels like the most meaningful “big” story that they could have told considering that they didn’t want this to be a definitive series finale – allowing Chuck to “come out of the grave” to her mother and her aunt is a gamechanging moment, but less for our core characters (who can go on pretty well the same as before) but rather for those characters who have lived the longest with these circumstances and struggled the most as a result. For Ned and Chuck to keep living with saran wrap kisses and the ability to see each other and solve mysteries with Emerson and Olive isn’t exactly a cursed life, but the Aunts and Chuck being forced to live apart despite being capable of being together, and for Lily’s secret emerging to tear them apart as opposed to reuniting them as a family, would be a far worse fate for the series. As it is, the finale CGI sequence, clearly added following the news of the show’s cancellation in order to provide something approaching a conclusion, is not an unrealistic notion: sure, it ties up a few too many loose ends, but the show left things in such a place that our imaginations can follow the lines and believe in the results presented.
Yes, of course, the real ending moment is that moment when Ned and Chuck are finally able to touch and embrace one another like normal people, at least as the pilot was told. But that wasn’t some sort of lingering struggle that drove them crazy: they seemed to be getting along perfectly well without touching one another, and the show remained highly entertaining (and their dectective business highly successful) regardless. One could argue that Ned is the most gipped in this arrangement, with no closure for either his father’s sudden appearance (saving he and Olive from a deadly fall) or his strange ability, but these last few episodes gave Ned some decent closure in my eyes. The first episode allowed him to come to terms with using his abilities despite the disaster with Chuck’s father, while this episode saw him realize that his anxieties over the Aunts knowing about his ability were entirely selfish and forgot to take into account Chuck’s happiness, a highly mature and fulfilling notion that leaves the character at a really engaging place.
Both Anna Friel and Lee Pace were strong throughout the show’s run, but Friel’s reaction to Lily and Vivian’s potential Europe excursion was particularly well done here, as was Pace’s various birthday gifts and his decision to allow her to see her aunts. The show has often been at its most emotional with these two (although I think I prefer Emerson/Olive more even on that front), and the actors were more than up to the task, and the fitting final image of them on the aunts’ doorstep with flowers and champagne is a fine one for their characters.
Emerson and Olive, of course, were never going to get quite the same amount of resolution as the other characters, and their little moments at episode’s end (Emerson’s daughter showing up at her door in shadow form, Olive falling in love with Randy and opening up a Macaroni and Cheese restaurant called The Intrepid Cow) were slight if fitting for their characters. However, more importantly, this was a great episode for both performers: whether it was Olive’s misguided gymnastics or Emerson’s hilarious reaction to being asked to start the Wave, both Kristen Chenoweth and Chi McBride bid farewell to the show in a hilarious fashion, and that’s all we can really ask for.
In Jim Dale’s final narration he says that “Endings, as it is known, are where we begin,” as we see the opening shot of Digby running through the daisies from the pilot. It’s weird the way he says this, as it isn’t actually very final – it doesn’t sound like he’s reading the final words of an audiobook or that this is actually closing a chapter, but rather that he believes that he says, and that this is in some ways only the beginning of a story. Unfortunately, of course, we don’t “see” this story, only finding it in comic books, or wherever else Bryan Fuller decides to take the idea while he avoids working on Heroes because it’s boring him to death. But the fact that these characters will live on might well be enough to satisfy me, now that the wound isn’t as fresh and I’ve had time to time to terms with this ending.
But, at the same time, seriously people – if I could get rid of The Forgotten and have Pushing Daisies instead, just let me know.
- Interesting to see Josh Hopkins continue to make the ABC rounds – he pops up on Private Practice at the end of the season, plays the romantic male lead in this fall’s Cougar Town, and here appears as the murderous alt-universe Charles Charles, this time in a ridiculous outfit and, more importantly, without a conscience. It’s not a particularly strong character, and Hopkins doesn’t do much with it, but it’s still interesting to see what was his first (filmed) ABC appearance in a string of them.
- If I had to change one thing about this finale, it would be that we didn’t get to see Digby at all, not even for a second – it’s one thing to only see a paper cutout version of Paul Reubens’ sewer dweller in the CGI sequence, or some other recurring characters who didn’t make the cut, but Digby was an important part of this cast and I really wish that we could have had a final moment with him.
- One other thing I’d change: I’d add a musical number for Olive. Perhaps have her singing in accompaniment with the Darling Mermaid Darling’s performance? That was such an important part of what set the show apart, and I wanted more of it.
- In light of the finale, I’m now wondering what I’d call my “favourite” Pushing Daisies episode – looking through the Wikipedia list, I think I’m going to have to go with “Pie-lette,” but if that’s out of the running it’s “Girth” all the way. As for Season 2, I think I preferred “The Legend of Merle McQuoddy.” Any disagreements?