'Pushing Daisies' lets off some steam

Leepace_pushingdaisies_240In addition to making me hungry for dim sum, this week's Pushing Daisies featured the return of one of last season's more memorable guest stars and a strong thematic tie-in between case and character, all of which added up to another tasty hour.

I'll bet three edamame on these spoilers.

Ned is generally a rather risk-averse guy, as you might be if you had killed your sweetheart's father after reviving your dead mother and then lost the chocolates she made for you before her death in a boarding-school roulette game. In fact, the only things he's gambled on since then have been opening a pie shop "in a time when carbohydrates had fallen out of fashion" and on the hope that Chuck could love him. Which really are a couple of pretty big things. Nonetheless, having won those two hands, he generally prefers a safe bet.

This week's case, though, involves a rather unsafe bet. It seems the brilliant chef at the dim sum restaurant below Emerson's office -- his name is Bao -- has died in a steamer explosion that the cops deem an accident but which his widow is sure was murder. The deceased, who has a pipe through his head, isn't much help after being revivified, panicking that someone wants to kill him over a bet.

Conveniently -- perhaps a little too much so -- an old friend of Bao's sees Emerson, Ned and Chuck snooping around the restaurant and offers up some background information on the restaurant, which has had a high-stakes poker game running since Prohibition. After the cops caught on, though, the players replaced their cards with dim sum, with soybeans serving as chips.

One of the current players, we soon learn, is Simone, the controlling dog trainer who click-clicked her way into Emerson's dreams last season. She's not tied up in the case, but she and Emerson are pretty quickly tied up in one another's arms -- despite his warning that the more he's into someone, the greater the likelihood that it ends badly.

After another steamer mishap kills a busboy, who turns out to be an insurance investigator, Emerson and Ned learn that Bao, desperate to open his own restaurant, had bet his life savings in the game and lost. To get it back, he offered his daughter's hand in marriage -- and lost again, enabling Shrimp Boy, the gangster who runs the game, to get his nerdy brother Robbie a wife. Feeling guilty, he then tries to win his daughter's hand back -- which Robbie agrees to only if he'll put up a $200,000 life insurance policy. Bao loses again, and Robbie collects right away.

Chimcbride_pushingdaisies_240 This puts Emerson and Ned in something of a bind, as they've gone all Ocean's 11 (complete with goofy disguises and slo-mo scenes of the plan swinging into action) to infiltrate the game on the assumption that Shrimp Boy is the killer. Fortunately -- again, a little too -- Simone storms in to tell Emerson to buzz off, and her dog pawing at Robbie's pocket reveals that he's cheating at dim sum poker, violating Shrimp Boy's sense of fair play and winning Bao's daughter her freedom -- something she never thought he'd do, given their outwardly frosty relationship.

All of which inspires Ned to consider that maybe there had been something more to his own father's actions -- which is germane to this week because at the top of the episode, a mysterious stranger (the wonderful Stephen Root) came to the Pie Hole and remarked on Ned's resemblance to his father. Dwight Dixon is, in fact, looking for Ned's dad, an old buddy from the service.

That, of course, brings all of Ned's bad feelings -- as he notes, "it's a colorful mix of anger, chronic distrust and misplaced guilt" -- to the surface. He grudgingly gives up an old address for his father for Chuck to pass on, but instead she and Olive check out the house for themselves. There they meet twin magicians Maurice and Ralston, who say their old man isn't around anymore, which combined with the fact that they and Ned have similarly thick eyebrows leads them to discover that they're Ned's half-brothers.

Chuck's a little hurt that Ned would withhold such information, but he too has a point that she shouldn't have gone all sneaky on him and snooped into his family. In her Chuck-like way, though, she convinces him to take that gamble and meet his brothers -- and it turns out to be OK, as they embrace him wholeheartedly. You know, except for (cue ominous music) Dwight Dixon watching from across the street with a gun lying on the passenger seat of his car. That may not be good news for Ned, but it's excellent news for the show, as it means we'll be seeing more of Root.

Odds and ends from "Dim Sum, Lose Some":

  • Ned on how hearing Dwight made him feel: "You ever shiver when you pee? That's how it felt when he spoke." And Chuck's response: "If someone said something to me about my family, it would give me the piss-jitters, but I'd ask them about it, not hide in the kitchen." Your task is to use "piss-jitters" in conversation at least twice in the next week.
  • Chi McBride's comedy chops have been well-documented in this space, but if you DVR'ed this episode go back and check out his facial expressions when Simone clicked her clicker. Brilliant.
  • Also enjoyed Ned's reaction on hearing his brothers' more mellifluous names. "Maurice and Ralston? I'm glad my dad got so creative with naming after I left. Hello, Mercutio and Ribald."

How'd you like this week's Pushing Daisies? Why would anyone be out to get Ned's dad, and by the way, are you hungry?