"Like A Virgin" (Season 1, episode 8; originally aired November 23rd, 2004)
Well this was an odd little episode of Veronica Mars. It did a lot of good and important things, certainly. As a vehicle for introducing moderately important new characters, it succeeds. The most important in this episode is Meg, a preppy overachiever with a dark secret: she's a preppy overachiever on television who's not a horrific hypocrite. We also meet Mac, a nerdy computer whiz who seems to be trying her best to be not-quite-Willow, and Wallace's mother Alicia.
It's also a really good idea to a purity test, which is so very early-2000s, and having it briefly disrupt and reaffirm the social order at Neptune High. This is the kind of thing that teenagers will do; the kind of thing that will sweep through social networks both online and off. Teenagers are hardly alone – remember “25 Random Things About Me”? - but the social crucible of high school makes these things seem much more important. It's very important for Meg, whose purity seems important to her and her boyfriend, so when someone does her purity test in order to make her look skankier, it ruins her life. This is a nice little small-scale, high school mystery for Veronica to sink her teeth into. Conceptually, everything about it fits.
There are two major problems, though. The first is that Logan is missing from the episode. Given his role as Neptune High's Smirker-in-Chief, who exists to make fun of but reaffirm the social order, who defines himself by his masculinity, this is a major loss.
The other major issue is that the plot is absolutely riddled with holes. It's a little too obvious from the beginning that one of Meg's personality-less friends is responsible for hers, but why do they move on to Veronica? Why does the episode introduce Meg's sister as a suspect, mention that she's the only one with a subscription to the magazine that built the purity test, and then drop that entirely? Why does the purity test seem to only exist at Neptune High? Sid Mac set it up just on a school server or something? Why was the IT guy chatting with the person who'd gotten into Veronica's account while she was on Veronica's account?
The B-plot involving Wallace and his mother trying to deal with a possibly insane renter is somewhat similar. Yes, it does involve the introduction of the potentially important character – and gives us some more insight into Wallace – but its resolution seems equally half-assed. After some drama, Keith goes and looks up the guy, discovering that he's been arrested. For what? Doesn't say. But it makes Keith go a little obsessive with kicking him out. Sometimes Veronica Mars' leaving information out makes it look smart, like it trusts the audience to figure things out. For the first in this episode, it makes the show look like there were several scenes deleted.
Another thing that makes “Like a Virgin” feel a little disjointed is its connection to the main plot. Veronica is trying to take her new evidence to Abel Koontz in order to give him the chance to try to get a retrial. It's not really connected to anything that goes in the case of the week, unlike last week, where the seed of Veronica not being Keith's daughter was planted. Instead, we get a confrontation in the prison between Veronica and Abel, doing his best Luther Lee Boggs impression. He wins it, hands down: gleefully mentioning how it felt to smash Lilly's skull in, and telling Veronica straight-up that she's Jake Kane's daughter. I don't believe either of those things are true, but for the first time, I'm starting to be convinced that they might be.
“Drinking the Kool-Aid” (Season One, Episode Nine; originally aired November 30th 2004)
This episode starts off right where the last ends, with Veronica crying in the parking lot after being told about her potential parentage. Everything in the cold open deals directly with this, as Veronica declares that if she is Jake Kane's daughter, she's gonna take him for as much as she can. It was nothing but main plot, which made me say “Looks like we're getting a mythology episode.” And then it all got thrown into the background. Which wasn't terrible, just an odd way for the show to behave – the integration between the main plot and the cases of the week are at times brilliant, at times forced.
After the cold open, there's a bit more about Veronica's parentage, but it's mostly taken over by this weeks main point, the investigation of a Mooncalf cult and a classmate of Veronica's who's fallen in with the cultists. His parents claim to be worried, but they may have ulterior motives themselves, since he's the heir to his grandmother's fortune.
At a certain point, subversion of expectations becomes expected. Take the last episode, which introduced a goody two-shoes in Meg, and then failed to immediately make her a hypocrite. In tonight's episode, we get a cult, which is a TV staple of evil ever since the 1990s, when the Branch Dividians and later Heaven's Gate made all kinds of headlines. Of course, here on Veronica Mars, the twist is that, like Meg, the happy cult is exactly what it appears to be – a rejection of “late-stage capitalism” where lost souls gather to find some kind of meaning. This appears to be something of a calling-card of Veronica Mars. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is leaning towards predictable.
That doesn't mean it can't be interesting, though, as the investigation of the cult drives a wedge between Veronica and Keith. He orders her to stay away, she gets invited in and doesn't say no. She wants to protect the “cult” but he wants the money. She wants to do a paternity test, and he has no idea that's going on. Shit hits the fan in the endgame, when a “deprogrammer” shows up and kidnaps the target. But that's not as important to Veronica and her dad, who have made up, and Veronica comes to the conclusion that even if he's not her biological dad, he's her real dad. Which, honestly, who wouldn't have at this point? Those two are perfect together.
That the end of the episode becomes about the morality of Veronica in dealing with her father is a little disappointing, because the morality of Casey and the cult is fascinating – and downplayed. He gets kidnapped by his parents and brainwashed back into capitalism, and Veronica and Keith are helpless to prevent it. But their helplessness is only mentioned and doesn't become an emotional point. Perhaps they're a little too resigned to letting the bad guys win sometime, while carving out happiness for themselves. Or perhaps the episode was just a little bit too short.
- “You crazy kids and what you're into these days.”
- “I believe cartoon birds braided your hair this morning.”
- I think “Like a Virgin” might be the first Lilly-flashback-free episode.
- “He seems boring for an imaginary friend.” “Mom seems to like him.”
- Alicia Fennel is played by Erica Gimpel, who also had a role in Babylon 5, our first crossover between my first TV Club Classic show and my dream TV Club Classic show!
- “That well-known bedrock pragmatism of elvish culture.”
- “The fake fur was a poor choice for infiltrating utopias?” Perhaps one of the benefits of doing voice-over is that you can have the characters comment on their outfits after-the-fact. Possibly the worst thing we've seen modern Veronica in, and the writers know it.
- “Like listening to the Brady Bunch with a reggae soundtrack.”
- “Should I check myself before I wreck myself?”
- Coincidence alert! Missing girl on the milk carton who Veronica just met! How about that?