Season two picks up where the first left off, though nearly a year has passed (following real time) and the characters have settled into a familiar if not entirely comfortable routine. The narrator spends several minutes refreshing us on the premise and explaining the current status quo, accompanied by dramatized recreations of key moments from the previous season (which are much more entertaining than relying on showing episode clips). Apparently the solution to heavy exposition is to just have Jim Dale read it—he makes it go down just like honey.
When we last saw Ned (Lee Pace) and Chuck (Anna Friel), he had just confessed to accidentally killing her father with his power. Awkward. I’ll admit some surprise that the show skips over the immediate fallout of this revelation, but ten months later they seem as close as ever, though Ned is obviously still guilt-ridden. Still, I understand the choice. The cliffhanger was largely included because of the writers’ strike that ended the first season so abruptly. And I imagine most viewers want to see Chuck and Ned being cute together, and what better way than to start off with them stripping on the roof of their apartment building, leaving Ned in his boxers and Chuck in her “silky underthings.” Chuck’s bees have all died, and her hive is her home, so Ned agrees to bring them all back to life. She pours bee carcasses over Ned’s nearly naked body, and as they make contact with his skin they fly off in a golden shower of light.
One of the trademarks of the show is coupling beauty with the grotesque; a minute after this magical moment, we see a mass of dead waterbugs fall from the gutters—their lives traded for the bees. There are many other examples of these morbid reminders that life brings both good and bad. When Aunt Vivian (Ellen Greene) tells Ned a touching story about Chuck’s “special pillow,” her father’s pillow that she keeps at the foot of his bed, she adds that it’s probably teeming with fungus by now. As Olive (Kristin Chenoweth) indulges in a gratuitous musical parody of A Sound of Music, nuns pass by and shush her.
The show maintains an even more frantic pace than last season, feeding the audience with jokes, plot development, sentimentality, and double entendre almost faster than we can keep up. The snappy dialogue ensures that you can watch the episode over again and catch something you missed the first time. Almost every character becomes my favorite on the show whenever they talk, even the guest stars, and that’s a remarkable accomplishment with such a large and rich cast.
As with most episodes, there’s a mystery to solve, and as the teaser sets up, bees are somehow involved. The facts were these: Kentucky Fritz, a “Bee Girl” who works at cosmetic company Betty’s Bees (a clear riff on Burt’s Bees) is horribly killed by a swarm of bees. Ned does his thing, and in her borrowed minute of new life, a stung and swollen Kentucky (more of that grotesquerie, this time more directly juxtaposed on the usually attractive face of guest star Autumn Reeser) admits to sabotaging the bees. As soon as she dies again, bees escape from her body through her open mouth, adding an element of horror to the episode. Bees escape from her mouth. Yeah, it’s creepy.
Chuck decides to go undercover as a Bee Girl at Betty’s Bees, and as with all good mysteries, we learn that there’s more going on than there seems. That’s pretty much the theme of the show, as we continue to explore and discover the secrets held by each of the main characters, secrets that drive Olive to quit the Pie Hole (and more importantly, quit Ned!) and seek shelter in a nunnery. Olive describes Kentucky’s death as “like little stinging secrets that don’t just sting you once. They keep stinging you until you’re bloated and filled with pus. Who wanted a la mode?”
Much of the dialogue like this carries double meaning, revealing inadequacies, regrets, and sometimes romance with the most innocuous or humorous comments. Jim Dale often states characters’ inner thoughts for the viewer, usually when we don’t need the extra interpretation of their motivations, but in a show that has so many plot points buzzing around, a nudge in the right direction can also help.
And oh yes, there are puns. Take them or leave them, but I suspect most fantasy and sf fans will either laugh or groan at them cheerfully, even at lines like “Kentucky’s affairs were clearly a bee in Betty Bee’s bonnet.” The writers have a penchant for alliteration as well.
Much of this episode is concerned with questions of home and family, and letting go of the past. When Chuck moves out of Ned’s apartment and into Olive’s newly vacated apartment, Ned must deal with his abandonment issues and redefine his definition of home, and Chuck must learn to create a place and a life for herself. Still unknown to Chuck, her Aunt Lily (Swoosie Kurtz) is really her mother, and she still misses her dead father who was apparently engaged to her Aunt Vivian! Meanwhile the surprise appearance of Ned’s father at the Pie Hole at the end of the episode, also unknown to Ned and the others, hints that he figures heavily into future episodes. Then there’s Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), the gruff, knitting private investigator who himself is a father in search of his daughter. There’s a fair amount of moralizing at the end of the episode, where everyone learns a lesson, something that is key in many fairy tales; it’s a bit of a throwback to the kinder, gentler days of network television and is strangely refreshing today.
I kind of want to rate this episode a B on principle, but it scores an A all the way. Pushing Daisies has hit the ground running on its second season, likely thanks to the creators holding over several scripts from the first season post-strike. Everything you loved from the first season is thankfully intact, and there are a lot of interesting plot lines developing that promise another enjoyable season. Interestingly enough, Ned mentions the “Happy Time Temp Agency,” which he uses to place himself at Betty’s Bees as a receptionist to protect Chuck during the investigation. Happy Time is the same temp agency featured in creator Bryan Fuller’s other death-obsessed show, Dead Like Me. This surely implies some crossover potential between the series, or at least provides some fodder for fan fiction…
The full episode “Bzzzzzzz!” should be available via free online streaming at ABC.com beginning today. New episodes air on Wednesdays at 8:00pm EST on ABC. Next week: “Circus Circus”—featuring a dead mime and sinister clowns!