“Leave It To Beaver” (season 1, episode 22; originally aired May 10, 2005)
At the end of last week’s review, I wrote up a list of the questions that the finale was looking like it should answer. It was a pretty impressive list, which would be difficult even for a double-sized episode to answer. And, other than the credits being skipped, “Leave It To Beaver” is a normal-length Veronica Mars. Which makes the fact that it answers most of the questions—and the big ones satisfactorily—all the more impressive.
Let’s start with the ones that do get a little bit too rushed. First, the Weevil/Lilly relationship is left unclear, specifically what Weevil broke into Lilly’s room to steal. In fact, that Eli isn’t treated as more of a suspect seems rushed overall, especially given how quickly the Marses jump to the conclusion that Logan was the main suspect. But Weevil was always peripheral, and this ends up being pretty unimportant.
Second, a big early scene where Jake Kane tells Duncan that Duncan killed Lilly is just ridiculously rushed. I felt like this should have been shocking or deeper—or something. Anything more than “Hey son, you did it, but you’re not a bad person and we’re moving right along to the next scene now.” Along those lines, the Kanes in general, for being the prime suspects for most of the season, are underplayed (although I did like the “When did we become Republicans?” bit). Interestingly, Clarence Wiedman, set up as the Vader to Jake Kane’s Palpatine all season, doesn’t even appear in the finale.
The last thing that I thought doesn’t really work in the finale is Lianne. From the first scene of the happy Mars family, to the too-fast reveal of her continuing alcoholism, to Veronica kicking her out, and the final glimpse of her swiping the $50,000 check, I didn’t feel like we ever have a good grasp of who she was or what it all meant. She had always been something of a cipher, but her return for this episode seems to indicate something more plot-wise than it turns out. As I mentioned last week, I am often delighted when shows aim for character over twisty plots, but in this case, I think that it adds a little bit too much to an already extraordinarily dense episode.
With that out of the way, let’s focus on what worked: everything else. The Keith-Veronica relationship, which was the heart of the show at the beginning, proves to be the heart of the show at the end of the season. It seemed like half a dozen times they do something to prove their familial bond and cause viewers to choke up a bit.
Veronica’s simple, happy signature saying she wouldn’t sue the Kanes is one of the best moments of the season, especially when immediately followed by the paternity test reveal. And Keith’s well-timed rescue of Veronica, twice over, at the climax certainly wins him prime real estate in the TV Dad Hall of Fame.
Most of the other main characters have moments to shine. Wallace saying “Can you do me a favor” in unison with Veronica is about all he has to do, but it’s terrific. Weevil seeking vengeance shows off a bit more of his dark side. Duncan may have been an iffy character at the start of the season, but I think in these last two episodes, Teddy Dunn really demonstrates a grasp of the character that, for whatever reason, wasn’t around at the start of the season. And Duncan also has a really, really good day, in contrast to just about everyone else—especially Logan.
While Logan only thinks his day is terrible because Veronica has decided he could be the killer, the big twist only improves matters slightly: The killer is his father, Aaron Echolls.
I’ve noticed that there tend to be two reactions to the reveal: Either people say he was the most obvious choice, or they say it was a complete and total surprise. I’m firmly in the first category, since Echolls fits every category needed to be a twist reveal: He isn’t an obvious choice (the Kanes), he isn’t a character we are too sympathetic towards (Logan, Weevil), he is connected to Lilly peripherally through Logan, and he is a major recurring character. Only two other characters fit these criteria: Lianne Mars and, of course, Abel Koontz. Aaron Echolls beats both of them by having obvious violent tendencies from the beginning, as well as being portrayed by the show’s biggest name, Harry Hamlin (although I didn’t realize that it was Hamlin immediately—it’s been a long time since I saw the original Clash Of The Titans).
Despite my immediate suspicion of Aaron, I foolishly followed a trail on Wikipedia to discover a spoiler that he ends up in prison, so from then on, the issue, to me, wasn’t “Who did it?” but rather “How did he do it?” with a smattering of “Well, maybe he was imprisoned for something else… ” which gained some momentum after his brutal assault against Trina’s boyfriend. But nobody else ever made a strong enough play to really be considered.
But that I knew/was spoiled wasn’t a bad thing. I actually think that spoilers can be beneficial at some times, because on any great show, what happens shouldn’t take priority over how it happens (I wrote about this when I was spoiled about a major death at the end of Season 3 of The Wire). Watching the tape that eventually points everything at Aaron—yeah, that was tense. And excellent. Even though I was 99 percent sure it was him, it’s still extremely well done.
The thing that interested me about the reveal was that it’s an immediate thing—Veronica had never suspected Aaron. She had no evidence that it was him before then. Instead of painstakingly putting together a case, it comes out with an immediate shock of a clue, which, I thought, takes away slightly from Veronica’s agency. On the other hand, there are still the benefits of the long-running investigation, except that the investigation was into Abel Koontz’s innocence, instead of Lilly’s murder specifically.
It’s also an interesting choice to have the reveal come about two-thirds of the way through the episode, and have the episode end with a dramatic chase and fight scene. Veronica has so rarely been in direct personal danger that having Aaron Echolls chase and capture her, and having Keith show up for a brutal fight and rescue, is jarring. And I think it is effective—as the narrative stakes are raised for the final murder mystery, so too are the physical stakes. Veronica can’t simply quip and look innocent when she has information capable of outing a man who has murdered before. I also quite like the simplicity of the fight. Other than Aaron’s dramatic lighter sequence, it seems to be human, and fits nicely with what we know of the characters involved.
The big fight scene also means that there isn’t much time spent on cleaning up the mess left behind. We get a shot of Jake Kane yelling at Aaron for a while, and being arrested for obstruction of justice. But what happens to Celeste? Logan and Weevil? Veronica’s social standing? Keith’s social standing? Obviously these are big things to launch right into season two, but it does kind of make me wish Veronica Mars utilized a Sopranos/Wire structure, where the second-to-last episode has the big climax, and the final episode is about the fallout from that.
Yet these are fairly minor complaints, or even just nitpicks. “Leave It To Beaver” succeeds at what it needs to do with the biggest stories of the season, and does so in style.
As for the season as a whole: I really liked it. But having seen a few people call it a “perfect season of television,” I have to say that I’m not quite at that level of love for the show. It’s not quite a pantheon-level season, to put up with Arrested Development season one, The Wire season three and four, Angel season five, half a dozen Simpsons seasons, and a few other classics. But I would put it a notch behind that, alongside, say, Battlestar Galactica season one and two, as an excellent, slightly flawed season which rises above those flaws thanks to strong thematic consistency. On early Battlestar Galactica, that theme is the nature of leadership in crisis situations. On Veronica Mars, it’s more personal.
The recurring joke from both the pilot and the finale of Veronica Mars—“Who’s your daddy?”—gives the most direct explanation of Veronica Mars’s themes in its first season. From a transgender parent to Jake Kane trying to support Duncan’s lack of ambition to Lianne Mars’ failures to the woman running from the stepfather who raped her, most every episode deals with parenthood in a significant fashion. And it’s done so in a fairly mature and intelligent fashion, rarely resorting to simplistic “parents love their children more than anything” clichés. Veronica Mars shows that love, with Keith and Veronica, but it also shows that parent-child relationships, like everything else, are as complex as the world they inhabit.
- Hey, just for fun: Season Grade: A-. Episode grades: B+, B, B-, A, A, A-, B, B+, A-, A(+?), A-, A-, B+, B+, B+, A-, B+, B, A-, A-, A, A-
- “I guess Abel Koontz didn’t kill Lilly. Let’s open the floor for discussion on that one, what do you say?”
- “Hey, so, I guess we broke up.”
- “Adversity is the diamond dust with which heaven polishes its jewels.”
- Does anyone really think the person at the door is Duncan?
- After discussion with editors, we’ve decided to take a brief Veronica Mars break—we should be back with season two in October!