Veronica Mars: “Mars, Bars”/“Papa’s Cabin”
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Veronica Mars: “Mars, Bars”/“Papa’s Cabin”

Mars, Bars” (season 3, episode 14, originally aired 2/20/2007)

RIP Sheriff Don Lamb.

He was a good man, always willing to listen to concerned citizens, even when they were former rivals. Indeed, helping Keith Mars in his investigation of the O’Dell murder helped lead to Lamb’s own unfortunate demise. If Sheriff Lamb were here today, he would no doubt say that such an act was part of the job, and harbor no ill will towards Keith Mars.

Don Lamb was also a kind man, and a firm believer in the ideal of innocence until guilt is proven. He respected the suspects he was forced to arrest, making certain to find them in public places, like a class, or graduation, where they would be prepared to look dignified. He also enjoyed volunteering time with at-risk teenagers, making certain they stayed on the path of legality.

The sheriff was a hard worker. When people came to visit, they often had to wait literally minutes just for the chance to see him working so hard. “I dunno, Keith, he looks kinda busy.” “Well, this I gotta see.” He wasn’t what you would call “book-smart” but he was determined and creative. If his first attempt to crack a case didn’t work, he’d come at it from any direction that might prove fruitful.

Perhaps most of all, Sheriff Don Lamb was a gracious man. In competition, he always played fair, never seeking to dig up dirt on his opponents, and always taking them seriously. Even if someone embarrassed him, repeatedly, he wouldn’t do anything like lock them in a jail cell as long as he could, merely out of spite.

Don Lamb wasn’t perfect, of course. He too easily flip-flopped when presented with hard evidence that indicated that his initial gut instinct was wrong. His bias surrounding abused children could occasionally blind him to criminal behavior. And while he was a clever man, no one would ever claim he had any particular skill at banter.

Sheriff Lamb is survived admirably by Michael Muhney. He will be missed, despite everything.

I gotta say, Lamb’s death was totally unexpected. And I did grow to like the role that the character filled, though obviously he’s not someone I would have wanted to be drinking buddies with. Still, this goes back a bit to what I discussed last week: Knowing that the show is almost finished limits its impact. It feels like Mac has been missing for six episodes at a time before, and that’s how many we’re going to have without Lamb. On the other hand, it gives Keith the chance to be the sheriff again, which could get interesting.

“Mars, Bars” is one of Keith’s stronger episodes. With Veronica in jail, albeit briefly, the focus turns to his investigations, of both the coach’s and the dean’s death. Even though Veronica is freed and begins to work in parallel, having her trapped in the early part of the episode means that the viewer’s mental energy switches over to Keith. It’s nice to see him unraveling the threads instead of just Veronica.

On the other hand, once Veronica got out of jail, the episodes seems to intentionally work to have Keith and Veronica each solving the case the same way from different directions. Keith works with the coach’s wife Kathleen, Veronica with his son Josh. Each initially comes to the conclusion that the wife did it for the insurance money, but are quickly proven wrong. This would be a cute parallel, except in both cases the writers contrive to built tension beyond the limits of suspension of disbelief.

Keith subtly interrogates Kathleen about the murder, when she says she’s going to “show him something,” grabs the coach’s gun, and wanders through the house looking for Keith, shot to look like she’s wielding the gun to attack Keith instead of just holding it. Meanwhile, Josh convinces Veronica to help him go on the run, but first he needs a $10,000 coin collection being held by his bank. According to Veronica, if the coin collection is there, his mom didn’t do it, but if it’s gone, she looks guilty. So Josh, an accused murderer who broke out of prison… just waltzes into his bank and gets the coins without anyone caring. So much for tension.

Still, while there are some holes, that storyline works well enough on an emotional level that I can’t call “Mars, Bars” a bad episode. And the stuff with the dean’s murder, including Lamb’s death, is also effective. The same can’t really be said for the C-story, involving Logan, Parker, Bronson, and Mac going on a scavenger hunt for Valentine’s Day. I guess it’s nice to see Mac happy, but the whole point seems to be little more than starting to hook Logan and Parker up. She demonstrates portions of a personality, which isn’t a bad thing. But the whole storyline just feels totally detached from what makes Veronica Mars work normally. It’s… cute. And cuteness in an episode with the shocking death of a recurring character seems very out of place.

Papa’s Cabin” (season 3, episode 15; originally aired 2/27/2007)

I’ve written about how enjoyable the O’Dell murder case has been at an intellectual level, and “Papa’s Cabin,” its conclusion, maintains that level of involvement. In a sense, it’s the most conventional mystery. There’s the roughly equivalent suspects, but it also gives Veronica and Keith the most agency. The case wouldn’t be solved without their sleuthing—even if it was in the wrong direction. They meticulously build the case against Mindy O’Dell and Hank Landry, and all that evidence ends up pointing to the true culprit: Tim Foyle, Landry’s teaching assistant.

This compares favorably with the other big mysteries in terms of making Veronica and Keith look smart. Aaron was only revealed to be Lilly’s killer based on one particular piece of evidence that Veronica realized might exist. And the intuitive leap by which Veronica decided that Cassidy caused the bus crash still confuses me. The Hearst rape case was a little bit closer for Veronica, but even that relied on getting one crucial piece of evidence— the name of the girl who had likely been drugged—and following up on that to lead to a physically tense climax.

In “Papa’s Cabin,” though, it’s just solid detective work. Picking up the clues that Landry, O’Dell, and Foyle leave creates a story that Landry can’t argue his way out of, O’Dell flees from, and Foyle manipulates to make the others look even worse. There are clues that Foyle did it, but only if you already suspect him.

The bug on Landry’s phone is the biggest one, and the one that Veronica grabs hold of. But there’s also Tim’s connection to the juvenile offenders from several weeks ago. There’s the fight he had with Bonnie the night of the murder, and a line about how “everybody” hated Dean O’Dell. And his access to Veronica’s “Perfect Murder” paper. And also Tim’s vaguely creepy investigation of everything that goes on at Hearst, including the Landry/O’Dell affair, which makes it an easy logical leap to consider him the most likely to bug Landry’s phone.

It just takes one tiny slip in class—Tim saying he knew that Mindy had shipped the kids off to England—for everything to fall into place for Veronica. A little bit of physical evidence, from a bug on Veronica’s phone, and she can call Tim out. Which she does, in class, standing her ground. Veronica Mars finally resolves the mystery with her brains and her words, not escaping or getting rescued from physical danger. That’s the way it should be.

Stray observations:

  • “His plan was to take advantage of my kindness.” “That’s gotta be the first time that’s worked for anyone.”
  • “Super Titans?” “It’s a curse, actually.”
  • “What?” “I’m just trying to figure out which Gilmore Girl you are.”
  • “Or papa could be Earnest Hemingway… ”
  • Another component of the resolution I liked intellectually: Landry and O’Dell having a backstabbing, violent falling out. Although emotionally, I’m less happy, Patrick Fabian played Landry with charm and zest. That’s right, zest.

Filed Under: TV, Veronica Mars

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