Pushing Daisies Review: “Circus Circus”

The episode opens with another glimpse into Ned’s troubled childhood, the moment he ran away from boarding school. Young Ned (Field Cate) soon encounters a school group in the forest looking at a nest of yellow canaries, which he discovers have all died from environmental poisoning. This is no problem for someone who can bring the dead back to life, so he decides to give the birds, and the students, a new beginning. The children’s joyful receipt of the birds quickly turns to horror when Ned’s power exchanges the canaries’ lives for those of the red-breasted woodpeckers the children had planned to release into the wild. Thus Young Ned learns a harsh lesson early on, that “new beginnings only lead to painful ends”—a sentiment that makes the Piemaker wary of change, and serves as the theme of this installment of Pushing Daisies.

Everyone seems to be going through change. Chuck (Anna Friel) enjoys living alone in her new apartment, while Ned (Lee Pace) is miserable without her and afraid that one day she’ll move out of his life completely. Olive (Kristin Chenoweth) is trying to adjust to the nunnery, and Aunts Lily (Swoosie Kurtz) and Vivian (Ellen Greene) have begun leaving their house, which increases their chances of learning that Chuck is still alive on their frequent visits to the Pie Hole.

Private Investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) takes on a missing daughter case, which hits too close to home since his wife left with his own daughter seven years ago. Georgeann Heaps (Rachael Harris), a woman who states her emotions instead of showing them (as opposed to our main characters who usually talk around their feelings), wants Emerson to find “Sweet” Nikki Heaps (Hayley McFarland). The girl has run away in an attempt to become less sweet, looking for her own fresh start with a traveling circus. When her mime boyfriend is killed with poisoned face paint, the search for her takes on even more immediacy. The body count increases dramatically when a clown car is forced off the road, drowning fifteen clowns in a lake. (The scene where the coroner pulls the bodies from the car is morbidly hilarious.) Bailey, the ringmaster, tells them that there are two things clowns make at the circus: “balloon animals, and enemies.”

It turns out the clowns were threatening to form a union, and someone has decided to murder them to protect the circus from being ruined by change—there’s that theme, again. It should be no surprise that Ned and Emerson find Nikki and reunite her with her mother, who faces the reality that her daugher may change who she is but their love will stay the same.

Ned takes this lesson to heart, finally understanding that wanting things to stay the same is just as bad as change. Chuck also tells him that she’s grateful for the new beginning he gave her, and that she’s determined not to be afraid of change the way she was before she died. They make their own fresh start the next morning, when they reinvent themselves and pretend to be neighbors meeting for the first time.

I began to realize in this episode that the weekly mysteries, as entertaining as they are, are simply a way of externalizing the characters’ conflicts and moving their personal stories forward. In a show where the characters often exist in CGI landcapes, their relationships are remarkably real and poignant. With all the different plot threads this season, it may be difficult to please everyone all the time. Whose storyline are you most interested in? Chuck and her aunts? Ned and his father? Emerson and his daughter?

With the second episode of the season drawing lower ratings than the last (the show is down 3.2 million viewers from last year), why do you think people aren’t tuning in? If you aren’t watching the show, what prompted you to turn it off or not bother trying it out? Is some of the show’s quirkiness wearing thin?

I continue to hope that the series stays on the air, at least until the upcoming crossover with Bryan Fuller’s previous cult favorite that flopped on network television, Wonderfalls. In the meantime, we can look forward to fun with nuns and puns in next week’s episode, “Bad Habits.”

If you missed “Circus Circus,” check it out online at ABC.com. Pushing Daisies airs Wednesday at 8:00pm EST on ABC.

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