Pushing Daisies, as a series, hovers somewhere in the intersection of comedy, mystery, and serialized drama. Generally the comedy and mystery elements vie for most recognition, tossing punny quips and last-minute twists back and forth to compete for the audience's attention, while the serialized elements–Chuck's secret, Ned's father, Emerson's missing daughter, etc.–usually get a passing mention or two to keep the forward momentum going. Tonight's episode, however, struck as perfect a balance of those three aspects as we've seen thus far.
First, the mystery. The past couple of weeks I've commented on the somewhat convoluted path the weekly whodunits often take, but tonight nothing seemed superfluous. Silly, yes, but not superfluous; every hollow wall and dollop of bat poo served to move the mystery forward, and every misdirection actually added another layer to the story. The "diamonds" that the temporarily resurrected Sister Larue mentions, in between her potty-mouth proclamations (helpfully censored by the Lord's church bell)? Rare Italian white truffles that the former fungal scientist was secretly cultivating up in the bell tower. The scary Swiss chef wielding a butcher knife at the end of a secret tunnel? Larue's connect for the nunnery-prohibited contraband that financed her operation–and her jilted romantic plaything. The seemingly damning bat poo on Father de Donde's dirty cassock, indicating a scuffle with Larue before she plunged to her death? Obtained as he tried to get her to repent for her not-so-pious actions–just before an amorous Pigby ran her down for those sweet, sexy truffles. For the first time this season, every element locked into place really nicely, even without the helpful "the facts were these" wrap-up narration.
As always, there was a nice selection of quips and visual gags to pick from tonight; I'll let you nominate your favorites in the comments. (My pick: Olive cluing Ned in to the identity of the nun in the picture by covering up one of the young Aunt Lily's eyes.) The humor may have been a teensy bit more subdued than the last two episodes–no wacky clown gags or incessant bee punnery–but it fit the flow of this very packed hour. There was too much going on, bigger-picture-wise, to distract with a lot of physical humor or meta joking.
And here's where this episode moved ahead of the last two in my mind. Often the vague theme set out in each episode's prologue–hidden secrets, new beginnings, etc.–seems a little half-assed, usually woven into the nightly mystery via a narrative addition or a last-minute "serious discussion" between Chuck and Ned. But tonight's theme of digging dug up a whole lot of developments in some of the series' ongoing arcs. The fact that it also tied into the mystery on two levels–Olive getting more than she bargained for in asking for Emerson's assistance, and the literal digging for truffles–is just gravy.
I was wondering when Chuck would have a little existential crisis over the fact that she's kind of hovering between worlds, not dead, but not your traditional definition of alive either. This was hinted at during the scene in the church with Ned, but generally took on the less philosophical bent of her unknown family history–neither her future nor her past is clear to her. She, of course, wants to go digging, and hires the inept genealogist Mr. Pennybaker to help fill in her stunted family tree's missing limbs–to Ned's obvious discomfort, due to the fact that he inadvertently lopped off her dad's branch all those years back. And while Chuck and Pennybaker don't turn up anything new, Olive unloads a whole bunch of knowledge on Ned: Not only does she finally get to vent about him rebuffing her, she accidentally lets spill Lily's secret. Ned–who did his own bit of emotional digging tonight when he finally, tentatively recognized that he might have some abandonment issues thanks to daddy–promptly clues Chuck in to her mother's real identity, which simultaneously gives her something in her past to hold on to, and gives us one less secret to keep track of.
Maybe it was because the "deeper issues" of tonight's episode went beyond Ned and Chuck's relationship–which sometimes feels a bit trivial because it's so sweet and innocent–but "Bad Habits" seemed more emotionally hefty, in a good way. These characters, Chuck in particular, need to occasionally address the dark shadows that loom behind them, otherwise they risk becoming too cartoon-y. Even Olive, who usually serves mostly as comic relief, was able to exorcise a demon or two tonight–albeit during a super-slo-mo fall into a giant pile of hay.
— So much good Olive stuff tonight, especially Young Olive's "inability to accept negative statements" and the resulting giant pickaxe. And her zig-zag fleeing from the priest.
— Olive's returning to the Pie Hole! And she's bringing Pigby with her! Which means no truffle pies unless you're looking for trouble, Ned.
— Those of you puzzling over how the Lily/Chuck/Chuck's dad relationship worked got your answer tonight: STEP-aunts, they were her STEP aunts. Clever…
— Ned's guess to Olive's hints about Lily: "Something to do with the sacred feminine…?"
— In case you missed it: Mother Mary Mary, Father Eduardo de Donde (of where?), and Sister Christian.
— A bit of a "whoa" moment tonight in the conversation between Ned and Chuck when he asks her, "Do you want me to touch you again?" and she doesn't exactly say no