“You know, if you think about it, we’ve already been murdered once. How many people or dogs can say that, huh? You know what we are? We’re the walkin’ dead on Halloween. If anyone should be scared, it should be them!”
As a special Halloween treat, I thought I’d write a bit about the Halloween episode of my favorite television show of all time, Pushing Daisies. Pushing Daisies is an especially appropriate show to talk about for Halloween with all of its candy-bright colors and sweet characters.
“Girth” is a great example of what Pushing Daisies did best. There was darkness and sadness all wrapped up in gorgeous visuals and wacky situations in a way that still makes me able to watch with a big, stupid grin on my face. “Girth” was, I believe, the darkest episode the series had produced up to that point. This is immediately apparent from the opening childhood flashback to Ned’s first Halloween at the Longborough School for Boys. Ever since his dad had abandoned him there, Ned waited expectantly at mail call every week, hoping for some word from his family. On Halloween, that word finally came. In the form of a “We’ve moved!” card. His father had found a replacement family, complete with a new wife and twin sons. Pretty traumatizing stuff for little Ned.
We see just how deep this trauma runs as the episode moves ahead into the present. Chuck, who is really still just working with what she knew of Ned when they were ten years old, has gone all-out decorating the Pie Hole for Halloween. Olive warns Chuck that Ned hates Halloween, but Chuck doesn’t believe it considering how much Ned loved the holiday when they were kids. The wonderful snark bubbling under the surface of this conversation between Chuck and Olive is what keeps the beginning of the show from getting too dark. Olive is loving that she knows something about Ned that Chuck doesn’t, and she’s also loving the fact that she knows Chuck’s aunts believe Chuck faked her death. She had been feeling down since Chuck invaded life at the Pie Hole, and she is now feeling like she has some power back.
Olive’s jubilant, jumping on the bed celebration doesn’t last long, however. She sees on the evening news that Lucas Shoemaker, a friend from her horse jockey days, has died. She rushes to the bank and pulls a large trophy and a stylized bag of money (white canvas with a big dollar sign) out of a safe deposit box. Her actions are somewhat explained when she approaches Emerson as he finishes his pie at the Pie Hole. She wants to pay Emerson to investigate Shoemaker’s death. Police are ruling it an accident, but Olive doesn’t believe it.
Tensions are rising between Ned and Chuck thanks to the Halloween decorating incident. Chuck wants to know why Ned now hates Halloween, and Ned is being evasive. I love that Lee Pace makes the acting choice to continue Ned’s lying eye twitch from the Pie-lette even though it’s not specifically called out in this episode. Chuck is similarly evasive when Ned asks her why she gets an odd look on her face whenever he mentions Olive. The two put their differences aside when they go to the morgue with Emerson to visit Shoemaker. When Ned brings Shoemaker back to life, there’s a lovely bit of subversive humor as Chuck is the only one who can understand what Shoemaker is saying through his crushed jaw because her aunts thought having her wear full orthodontic head gear for three years would be a good form of birth control. Shoemaker reveals he was trampled by a horse ridden by the ghost of John Joseph Jacobs. This is freaky enough to provide a temporary distraction for Ned and Chuck.
The distraction doesn’t last long. When the group is dividing up assignments for the investigation, Ned insists that he needs to go check out the stables alone. It’s quickly apparent that he’s lying that he plans to go to the stables. Chuck is worried. Emerson gets away from the tension to go ask Olive what she knows about John Joseph Jacobs. He gets a reaction none of them expected- Olive faints. It turns out that she and John were rival jockeys back in the day, and at the Jock Off 2000, an accident happened that lead to John being trampled by Olive, Shoemaker, and two other jockeys. Olive won that race and quit her jockey career the next day.
Olive takes Emerson to a jockey bar, where after getting past the hostility of the barkeeper, Pinky, another of Olive’s former competitors (the bar only serves patrons under 60 inches tall- guess I’m in!), they learn some interesting information from Gordon McSmalls, the final jockey involved in the incident who is now perpetually drunk. The grave of John Joseph Jacobs has broken open.
Olive and Emerson go to check out the grave, and they find small crackers strewn about and an open lid to the tomb. After a failed attempt by Olive, Emerson manages to pry the lid completely off. I do enjoy the “Olive is short” jokes, considering I’m 59 inches tall, just like Kristin Chenoweth. When Emerson and Olive look into the tomb, they don’t find the bones of John Joseph Jacobs. They find the skeleton of a horse with no legs.
Meanwhile, Ned is wallowing in Halloween sorrow. He’s gone back to his old house in Coeur d’Coeurs and lies on his bedroom floor, where the carpet marks where his childhood bed once was. The house is abandoned and dilapidated. Ned finds himself drawn across the street to the house of Aunts Vivian and Lily, who offer him a piece of pie. Ned realizes when the strawberry rots in his mouth that the pie was sent from the Pie Hole by Chuck, but he covers by saying he sent the pie himself. Lily (sort of) rightly says that Ned’s dad was a jackass for leaving when Ned was a boy, but Vivian offers some comfort. Nobody talks about Ned’s father, they all talk about how Ned grew up so well.
Emerson, Chuck, and Olive go to see Mrs. Jacobs, John Joseph’s mom, although neither Chuck nor Olive is pleased that the other is there. After hurling insults about Chuck’s masculine name and Olive’s style of dress, Mrs. Jacobs does reveal some interesting information. John Joseph’s ashes are in a trophy on the mantelpiece. His horse, All the Gold, was secretly buried in the grave Emerson and Olive found due to Health Department opposition. Mrs. Jacobs says she forgave Olive for the accident, but Olive doesn’t quite believe it.
Ned rejoins the rest of the crew at the jockey bar where they’re looking at the trampled body of Pinky. Chuck and Ned say they miss each other, but the sweetness is quickly cut by an eye roll and quick quip of disapproval from Emerson- the perfect balance of characters. Chuck hurries Olive outside so Ned can do his waking the dead thing. Pinky says he was a victim of John Joseph’s ghost too, and he also says that he was the one responsible for what happened to John Joseph. It was a secret they all swore to keep. Olive has a lot of explaining to do. Apparently, before the Jock Off 2000, Pinky cut the girth on John Joseph’s saddle. After the race, the four surviving jockeys burned the saddle and swore never to speak of it again.
Ned and Emerson lock Olive and Chuck in Olive’s apartment (for Olive’s safety) as they go out to continue the investigation. Chuck is brewing tea when Olive notices a horseshoe out her bedroom window. She decides to confront the ghost of John Joseph, and when she climbs up on the roof, there he is. It turns out that he didn’t die in the accident, but his legs were crushed. The bones were replaced with leg bones from All the Gold, and John Joseph is now two feet taller. And living in his mother’s basement. Chuck and Olive convince him it’s time to stand up to his mother and get some independence.
Olive and Chuck accompany John Joseph to his house for the big intervention. John Joseph says he needs to go eat some crackers for his low blood sugar, and that makes the girls suspicious. They start fearing for their life when they open up the trophy from the mantle and find out it contains the saddle ashes. A flaming horse bursts through the door, and their fears are most definitely confirmed.
Meanwhile, Emerson and Chuck have collected Gordon to protect him from being the next victim. They’re riding in the car, and Gordon is babbling about how he misses the other jockeys. He lets slip a disturbing fact. Before he died, Pinky went to make amends to Mrs. Jacobs and told her everything about the saddle and the cut girth.
Chuck and Olive figure out Mrs. Jacobs is the culprit at just about the same time, and she (on her scary horse) chases them through the woods. Chuck does the patented horror movie girl fall and twist the ankle because she was wearing adorable red heels as usual (I was Chuck for Halloween two years ago…the costume was awesome, but the shoes freaking hurt). Olive hides Chuck behind a tree and goes out to confront Mrs. Jacobs. Luckily, Emerson and Ned had arrived at Mrs. Jacobs’ house and heard the scuffle in the woods. Ned scoops up Olive and carries her out of the way as Emerson knocks Mrs. Jacobs off her horse with his shovel. Olive, caught up in the moment, tries to kiss Ned, but Ned breaks it off pretty quickly. He sees Chuck is injured and only has eyes for her. Ned takes Chuck trick-or-treating to her Aunts’ house in yet another aww-worthy Ned and Chuck ending