“Well, I suppose dying’s as good an excuse as any to start living.”
With shows like Dead Like Me and Hannibal on his résumé, Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller has established himself as a master of the macabre. But that doesn’t mean he always examines death in the same way. While a show like Hannibal is a contemplative meditation on death, Pushing Daisies approaches the topic from a much quirkier, more whimsical viewpoint. Even within Pushing Daisies’ pilot episode, cutely titled “Pie-lette,” Fuller’s script adopts multiple perspectives on the idea of death.
For Ned, the lonely piemaker, death is tragedy. His own mother and his best friend’s father both died when he was very young, and he has carried the responsibility for their deaths ever since. It has made him a closed off, emotionally distant person. (Just look at how he doesn’t actually spurn Olive’s advances; he just doesn’t even engage with them.) He takes little joy in his powers. At worst, they’re a curse; at best, they’re a means to an end.
“Look here: if the dog is innocent, then it’s murder, and if it’s murder, then there’s a reward.”
For Emerson, death is an opportunity. With his emotions hardened, he doesn’t see minor tragedies as deserving of his sympathies. However, he’s perfectly willing to profit off these minor tragedies, using the piemaker’s gifts to augment his private investigation service. Emerson also sees Ned’s powers as a means to an end. But the powers are not his own, and he doesn’t have to shoulder the emotional burden of using them. Chuck too sees death as an opportunity. But in this case, the death is her own, and it’s her chance to redefine herself completely. Her relatively sheltered childhood left her with a lust for adventure and exploration, and she’s determined to put her second life to good use.
These three perspectives on death play off each other in Pushing Daisies’ pilot (and continue to do so for the rest of the series). To its credit, the pilot never suggests that one is necessarily more valid than any of the others, though it does put its emphasis on the advantages of Chuck’s. After all, Chuck’s perspective on death is one that leads to happiness – and not of the monetary kind, like Emerson’s.
Chuck: I can’t even hug you? What if you need a hug? A hug can turn your day around.
Ned: I’m not a fan of a hug.
Chuck: Then you haven’t been hugged properly. It’s like an emotional Heimlich; someone puts their arms around you, and they give you a squeeze, and all your fear and anxiety comes shooting out of your mouth in a big, wet wad, and you can breathe again.
The pilot sees Ned starting to adopt a little of Chuck’s perspective. We see him opening up due to her infectious enthusiasm, and though he’ll probably always be more tightly wound than her, he does seem more at ease around her than he does around others.
“Do you have any last words or thoughts or requests?”
There is one flaw in Chuck’s perspective, though. Chuck has the luxury of a positive view on death because it resulted in a permanent rebirth for her. The other people Ned touches aren’t so lucky; after 60 seconds, they’re back to being corpses. They don’t get a second chance to redefine themselves. That’s why Chuck’s question at the end of the episode is so crucial: other dead people may not have the same opportunities she had, but if they can get a chance to carry our their final wishes, then maybe wherever they go after death, they can be content.
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