“Mars vs. Mars” (Season 1, Episode 14; originally aired February 15th, 2005)
In which Veronica defends a favorite teacher from sex charges and somehow finds the time helps Logan track down his mother and then makes a little room to steal Duncan's medical records....
Veronica's a busy bee in this episode, making time to dominate the A, B, and C-plots. Yet even though she concludes her investigation in each, only one of them is an unqualified success. That's the one that Veronica spends the least amount of time upon, and since it's the one connected to the main plot, the one most likely to be subverted later: the medical records. Veronica manipulates Duncan into getting the name of his doctor, then steals his file...and while she's at it, well, Koontz just happens to show up in the same drawer as Kane. Which leads to a satisfying reversing of the tables when she returns to visit Koontz, revealing to him – and us – that she knows that he's dying and so could take the fall for Lilly's murder.
This, combined with Duncan's violent epilepsy, provides a simple explanation for the murder: Duncan accidentally did it, and Jake bought Abel off in order to maintain a normal life for his son. Of course, we've still got eight episodes of twists to go, so this seems likely to be a hollow victory for Veronica.
It's hollow like her other successes. Logan hires to find his mother, and Veronica appears to discover that she's certainly dead...immediately followed by an indication that she might be alive. It's a fast twist Veronica Mars has used before (in the kid's transexual father episode), and it's a little too contrived in a plot sense.
But what makes it work here where it didn't work before is that the plot isn't the most important thing. Whether Lynn is alive or not is interesting, but it pales in comparison to seeing Veronica and Logan working together. Though I've avoided spoilers, it's almost impossible not to note people talking about the Veronica/Logan relationship as one which forms the core of the series later on. It's easy to see why – the two are the most dynamic characters, but their relationship prior to this has been almost entirely antagonistic. The characters, and the actors, portray exactly the right kind of tension I'd expect from the two.
The in-depth focus on the characters also keeps the main plot's predictability from causing it problems. In simple narrative terms, it's pretty much identical to the election episode, as one of the few people at school who Veronica respects enlists her aid. As much as she might respect these people for other reasons, they're actually kinda bad people. In this case, Mr. Rooks, Veronica's favorite teacher, is much worse, getting a student pregnant and throwing money at her when she tells him. That something is wrong with this guy is telegraphed from the start, since Veronica is way too supportive of Mr. Rooks, and she finds holes in his opponents' story way too easily. So there must be a twist. And there is.
But again, it's the character work that makes this episode stand out. Thanks to having three different plots, all using Veronica, it has a constant narrative drive. Adam Scott is great as Mr. Rooks, even if I am predisposed to like him after Parks & Rec (shouldn't he have offered Veronica a calzone?). And the conflict that gives the episode its title, with Veronica and Keith on the same side of a different case, is great fun if a bit undercooked. Last week one of you suggested that the show hadn't necessary gotten better from its somewhat iffy early weeks, I'd just gotten more used to it. I think an episode like this demonstrates pretty clearly how the show has gotten more comfortable with itself, to tremendous effect.
“Ruskie Business” (Season 1, Episode 15; originally aired February 22nd, 2005)
In which Veronica helps a Russian lady out for the mob, but that's really not important compared to hookups, mothers, and Willow....
And so we move into the endgame. The pieces have been set up, feints have been made, but we haven't actually hit a “point of no return” until now. Perhaps this isn't actually one, but it sure feels like one. Veronica has been getting creepy phone calls. A *69 at the end of the episode finally reveals that it's near a bar, and Veronica goes there to discover her frightened mother, and apparent supervillain Clarence Wiedman. Sure, she's almost certain to get out of it and continue some variation on her cases of the week – but something's gonna give.
We're also moving into an emotional endgame for Logan Echolls, which seems to bring to a conclusion the dominant storyline of the middle of the season, Aaron's infidelity and Lynn's (apparent?) suicide. The tip which led Veronica and Logan to believe Lynn might still be alive turns out to be a false one, with Logan's sister Trina being behind the card charges.
Trina is played by Alyson Hannigan, one of the most recognizable guest stars we've seen yet (though Harry Hamlin might be a bigger name overall). And at first it's jarring to see dear sweet Willow as a, ah, superbitch, but she does handle sniping with Jason Dohring about as well as anyone suddenly could. And at the end of the episode, there's a nice little moment where they show some sibling love, as antagonistic as it might be.
But first, Logan has to collapse. Which he does, in Veronica's arms. And...well, I don't really know how to feel about this. It's awkward, and Veronica knows it. We don't see much of the direct fallout from this – not their drive home, or subsequent conversation. Just Logan going crazy at a party.
There are two more pieces of emotional transition in this episode. Dear sweet Meg wants Veronica to find her secret admirer, which in a not-very-shocking-twist, turns out to be Duncan. Eventually, Veronica realizes this and then tries to let Duncan go. She's not very good at it, which leads to her sobbing in her car, only to be rescued by the dashing and bashful Deputy Leo. And they kiss. And, well, I like Veronica and Leo. She and Logan might make a better team for a buddy comedy, but as a boyfriend? Dear sweet Leo might be better for her (and I'd probably gag from the dear sweetness if Leo and Meg hooked up....)
This isn't even mentioning the case of the week, something of a trifle involving a Russian woman trying to reconnect with a lost love. Veronica is savvy enough to eventually get her man, but her romanticism is getting the better of her and she doesn't quite see that she's being played by some very bad people. Keith does – and they end up saving the day.
But the trifling case of the week doesn't matter all that much, any more than the predictable one did last episode. Veronica Mars has huge amounts of emotional and structural momentum heading into the last part of the season, and I'm looking forward to seeing how things turn out.
- “I remember when you were new and eager to please. Good times....”
- “We should do this more often.”
- Cliff and Deputy Leo? Fun recurring guest stars ahoy!
- “If you get past her megalomania and reactionary politics....”
- “And I don't want you seeing Kid Rock.”
- “We're not exchanging friendship bracelets.” “I'll stop braiding.”
- “To be fair, I am your patron.”
- “So you got a trophy for a rimjob?” Snuck right by the censors. Nice.
- How dumb is the principal for giving Veronica of all people his phone? “True pirates share their booty.”
- “When I've had my fill of soulmates, glitter, and puppy love, I always find a private detective's office a refreshing change of pace.”
- “What are you now, the love detective?”
- “How many cases you workin' on, Rockford?”
- “This is Logan with today's inspirational greeting: 'The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams' – Eleanor Roosevelt. Leave a message.” How is it that Logan just gets better and better?
- “Who the hell names a dog Steve?”
- “Russian for 'hi'. I looked it up.”
- “I look like Vanilla Whore Barbie.”
- “As long as you let me puke in your car.” “Just like old times.” Awwww!
- We don't see a resolution to the Russian mobster woman's plot, do we? Might have been interesting to see her being confronted.