“Lord Of The Pi’s” (season 3, episode 8; originally aired 11/21/2006)
Normally, when I review Veronica Mars, I watch an episode, write about it, then watch and write about the next, rarely intersecting the two reviews except perhaps in the final/first paragraph. Yet here I was stumped. If I took “Lord Of The Pi’s” at face value, I’d have started the review as a “fuck you” to the show, just like I did last week, because “Lord Of The Pi’s” ends with the strong, ultimately unnecessary implication that the Lilith House feminists had faked all the rapes. I supposed that was just a red herring, but there was always that possibility. The resolution comes in the next episode, and it largely exonerates the Lilith House (from the rapes that weren’t Claire’s). But that resolution doesn’t make “Lord Of The Pi’s” a good episode.
In fact, this episode is downright weird. It veers wildly in tone, from parody to melodrama to silly to self-referential to dangerous. It reminded me of “Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner,” perhaps the strangest episode of the series to date, though it was nowhere near as successful. Part of the reason for the connection between the two is that they both rely heavily on Big Lebowski references. But what had been a cute running gag for the show gets way overused here, with an entire scene devoted to aping the film, down to a character’s name. (Both episodes were written by Dianne Ruggiero, an executive producer who wrote several episodes over Veronica Mars’ run.)
The references continue: The episode is about a member of Hearst College’s namesake family. It stars real-life Hearst heir Patty Hearst as that character, who gets kidnapped (or “kidnapped”), in a plot that combines Hearst’s life, The Big Lebowski, and the overarching Veronica Mars storyline about the Greek houses on campus. What is this about? Who is this for? I’m not one to get too worked up about meta-textuality and references—I love this clip from Misfits—but when there’s too much, it threatens to pop the show’s surface tension.
With all the comparisons between Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars, here’s a point that is often left out: Buffy almost totally eschewed big name casting (with the exception of John Ritter in “Ted,” which also happens to be my least favorite episode of that series). Veronica Mars has embraced/been forced into it from the beginning, with Paris Hilton, Harry Hamlin, Kevin Smith, Patty Hearst, and of course, Buffy creator Joss Whedon himself. Sometimes the show’s guests are a nice little referential spice. Sometimes they destroy any flavor the stew might have had.
Of course, that referentiality isn’t the only thing making this episode odd. The oscillations between drama and comedy, normally the show’s strength, seem excessive. One minute Veronica is gleefully flouncing around during a burglary, the next she’s having a massive fight with Logan. And the rape storyline continues to be tonally difficult at best, tone-deaf at worst. The Lilith House feminists are given some shape and sympathy here (finally), but they also sexually assaulted a person on their own.
The best parts of “Lord Of The Pi’s” comes from the Logan-Veronica relationship—although that’s not entirely pleasant, since they’re on the fast track to breaking up. Logan is growing protective of Veronica, and tells her to keep her nose out of the rape case because she’s in such danger. Veronica, obviously, declines. So Logan goes behind her back and hires private security, which freaks her out because she thinks she’s being followed, and pisses her off when she discovers he’s taken that step. They seem to make up, but… it’s not enough. Only this ridiculously over-the-top screenshot can really express how this story is going.
“Spit & Eggs” (season 3, episode 9; originally aired 11/28/2006)
“Spit & Eggs” is a much better episode, comparable to the previous seasons’ finales, “Leave It To Beaver” and “Not Pictured.” Like those hours, its puts Veronica in serious physical danger and effectively raises the tension. It also shifts viewer expectations on multiple levels, and even responds to a few criticisms in surprising fashion.
The episode begins in medias res, with Veronica running through the dorms, apparently being pursued by the rapist. She comes to rest at someone’s feet—someone’s fairly dorky feet at the bottom of some corduroy pants. This character’s face isn’t shown, giving the impression that they’re dangerous, while the location and dorkiness suggests that it’s Moe, the Hall Advisor.
Moe’s shown throughout the episode as being especially nervous whenever asked to help, which keeps adding to idea that he’s the rapist. But we’ve already seen him as a suspect, and that didn’t work. So it looks like an interesting switch of expectations when it’s revealed that Mercer is the rapist, not Moe. But Mercer’s been exonerated, just like Moe was. But the two together, able to give each other alibis? That makes sense.
That twist overall is effective because it plays on everyone’s expectations. The characters all believe there is a single culprit here. The viewers have reason to believe that, because that’s what the characters believe and that’s the way the show has behaved before. But the potential of the shorter mystery arcs in the third season is finally demonstrated in “Spit & Eggs.” It makes the revelations more plausible, while also making the need for those revelations less intense (the two are related).
With that said, I still think the “Hearst rapist” storyline was misguided. Maybe at a later point it could have worked, but as the introduction to Hearst College, it’s too emotionally charged to make a good impression. I also think that Veronica Mars doesn’t do a great job of portraying the rapes sympathetically. The use of the Lilith House women as villains and red herrings is especially egregious, as is the lack of focus given to the victims.
In the end, though, the storyline redeems itself, just a little bit. What gets Veronica to the right place, and what saves her in the end, are the tools given to her by Parker at the Take Back The Night booth. One’s a new technology: a coaster which can test for GHB in a drink. One’s an old technology: a rape whistle. Both end up necessary, which may be a subtle apology for the show’s treatment of the radical feminists. (Although, to get radical on my own, Veronica Mars still places the onus of stopping rape on the victims).
“Spit & Eggs” also has a callback to one of the odder, less-realistic storylines of the season: the variation on the Stanford Prison Experiment from “My Big Fat Greek Rush Week.” This subplot, where students were forced to act as prisoners or guards, seemed at the time like something no school would possibly allow, because of the legal factors, even though it was mostly played for an odd kind of comedy. There have been brief callbacks to it, implying that the asshole guard and the kid he abused the most had a continuing, somewhat dysfunctional relationship. And here it’s revealed that Mercer and Moe know each other from the experiment, and Mercer is still playing the dominant, asshole guard, and Moe still playing the subservient prisoner who helps him. Creepy—and, appropriately, not comedic in the least.
While that works conceptually, Mercer and Moe just don’t entirely work as villains. Mercer’s big monologue about why he goes through the rape process seems like mustache-twirling evil, while Moe barely has any motive. Aaron Echolls was so marvelously portrayed that he could get away with what he did, and Cassidy was well-played and fully fleshed-out. Perhaps this is the counterargument to the idea that shorter arcs are better—the villains may be more effective plot-wise, but less effective character-wise.
Two more important events take place in this mini-finale. Logan and Veronica break up, and yeah, this was coming. Their story was epic, and epic may be attractive for high schoolers, but this show is, in part, about growing up, so they’re doing the right thing. “I’m always here if you need anything. But you never need anything.”
Secondly, Dean O’Dell ends up dead, and nobody sees the culprit. The perfect murder? Perhaps. I hear better things about this second arc, so here’s hoping.
- “The sheriff is an idiot. I’ve met smarter sandwiches.”
- “What’s next, you want to know where I buried Jimmy Hoffman?”
- “If I have another altercation with Snow White and her Disaspproving Dwarves, you’re taking Sneezy this time.” Oh man, of all the flashbacks we get, we don’t see this one?
- The show’s intense focus on Veronica more than all the other characters is especially apparent in the fight at the end of “Lord Of The Pi’s.” Chip starts a fight, Wallace tries to break it up, gets dragged in, Veronica tries to break it up, gets dragged in, and then gets dragged out. So what happened to Wallace? The show doesn’t care.
- “One of the chief pleasures of my life is the anticipation of opening that bottle. For tonight, I’m just getting drunk.” Should have gone for it, Dean.
- Back when Hearst, and its rapist, were introduced, I suggested that it looked like Michael Cera was being set up as the culprit. My guess was kind of correct, though ruined by Cera’s budding film career.