“‘Surprise’ has never been a very good word for me.”
Since his childhood was upended by his mother’s death and his father’s abandoning of him, Ned has desperately clung to whatever scraps of familiarity he could find. He thinks of the period when his family was all together as happier times, when life was less complicated and confusing. In fact, the reason he started baking pies was to remind himself of his mother. Since he was making them with reanimated fruit, he wasn’t even baking them for food; he was actually making pies because the smell of pie brought back memories of his own mother lifting a freshly-baked pie from the oven.
“Death by scratch-and-sniff… What the hell happened to people shooting each other with guns?”
“Smell of Success” generalizes Ned’s behaviour to the idea that smells can unlock memories and stir up emotions. The scent of cold, hard cash is what brings Emerson happiness, whereas Lily is excited (to the extent that the crotchety old woman can be excited) by the odour of chlorinated water – which makes sense, given her past as a synchronized swimmer.
Ned gravitates towards smells that remind him of his childhood home, i.e. the smell of pie. Ned craves safety and familiarity, which is in short supply in his relatively dangerous job as Emerson’s sidekick. On the other hand, Chuck wants adventure and novelty. She doesn’t have special feelings for any smells in particular. So she thinks her cup pies – with honey baked right into the crust! – would provide a nice addition to The Pie Hole’s menu.
One subtle point that the episode never makes explicitly clear: Ned isn’t put off by the size of the cup pies, per se. Sure, it’s part of the excuse he offers for why they shouldn’t be on the menu; he claims The Pie Hole is a traditional pie shop that serves pie by the slice, and that’s that. But it’s also worth noting that the honey in the crust gives the pies a different scent, one that’s unfamiliar – and dare I say scary – to Ned. Perhaps the reason Ned never articulates this is that he’s embarrassed to admit the real reason he bakes pies.
Ned’s desire for safety and familiarity clashing with Chuck’s desire for adventure and novelty is the main conflict of “Smell of Success.” This conflict is mirrored in the rivalry between Napoleon Lenez – who favours controlled, pleasant smells – and Oscar Vibenius – who is fascinated by uncontrolled, unpleasant smells. Of course, the conflict between Ned and Chuck is nowhere near as severe! But it’s important to note that this sort of conflict comes up again and again in Pushing Daisies. Ned wants to stick with traditional menus; Chuck wants to try something new. Lily wants to stay at home and mope; Vivian wants to get outside and enjoy life.
In the end, Chuck and Vivian’s perspective wins out. Lenez is arrested for his crimes, the cup pies end up on the menu, and Lily and Vivian return to the pool for the first time in years. Pushing Daisies’ message in this instance is a motivating, uplifting one: the familiar can be comforting, but it’s only by experiencing the unfamiliar that one can truly enjoy life.
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