“My Big Fat Greek Rush Week” (season 3, episode 2; originally aired October 10, 2006)
Veronica Mars is built for Neptune High. She understands it, she navigates it, she manipulates it, and in a sense, has conquered it. Veronica Mars took over Neptune High, to the point where it adapted to her as much as she dealt with it.
This isn’t the case with Hearst College. Hearst College doesn’t know Veronica Mars. Veronica Mars doesn’t know Hearst College. So they have to feel each other out. The institutions which make Hearst work are the institutions which Veronica Mars must navigate. The professors, the fraternities, the sororities, the campus radicals, the newspaper, the Safe Ride Home program, those are all part of what Veronica (and her friends) must decode.
Veronica Mars is used to being control. She’s used to knowing who to trust and who not to trust, and who can be manipulated regardless. That’s the sort of confidence many college freshmen have. They think they can deal with an entirely new situation by sorting into categories they know and understand. Sometimes this works. More often, they have to learn harsh lessons. That happens to Veronica in this episode. She’s not in charge here. She doesn’t wield the power she had at Neptune. She still has power—but she doesn’t know how to apply it. Thematically, “My Big Fat Greek Rush Week” is one of the best episodes the show has done.
Veronica Mars is built for Neptune High. It understands how it works, it shows us how it works, it manipulates how we perceive it, and it succeeds in its depiction. Veronica Mars made Neptune High one of the great settings in television, making the show part of the school in the same way the school was part of the show.
This isn’t the case with Hearst College. Heart College isn’t made for Veronica Mars. Veronica Mars doesn’t know how to make Hearst College work. So they have to feel each other out. The mechanics which make a high-school show work are not the same mechanics that make Veronica Mars work in college. How big is Hearst? How liberal or conservative is it generally? What are the popular majors? How much power does the newspaper wield? These are all structural issues that show has to figure out.
Veronica Mars is used to knowing its setting. The show has succeeded by building its mysteries from the understandable, societal class conflicts mirrored in high school. That’s why it was so confident from the start. Its mysteries were about who had money, who had power, and a usually clever batch of twists on those two concepts. Those structures aren’t so clear at Hearst. So we have moments that don’t seem to work. It pushes the viewer away to have people who live in Neptune not know who Veronica is. The show is still tense, still powerful, still amusing. But it doesn’t know how to apply those things in its new setting. Structurally, “My Big Fat Greek Rush Week” is one of the least comfortable episodes the show has done.
This is the core issue of “My Big Fat Greek Rush Week”: In order for the new setting of Veronica Mars to work, it has to make Veronica Mars struggle. But in making Veronica Marsstruggle, it makes Veronica Mars more difficult to watch.
This is apparent from the first scene. Veronica and Mac are sitting in Parker’s room, as she tries to describe what happened to her the night before. Lamb comes in and unsympathetically starts pressing Parker for details. Veronica interrupts and mentions that she grabbed the concert tickets, and Parker demands to know why she didn’t stop the rape. Was it because Parker was a big ol’ skank? And Veronica kind of acknowledges that it is.
In this moment, the confusing conflation of the show and the character makes things difficult for the viewer. The issue I had last week was not Veronica’s behavior around Parker. It was the show’s apparent punishment of Parker for her sexuality. I don’t think Veronica’s behavior was poor. Unless she has a specific reason to believe that a person you barely know shouldn’t be having sex, what should she do—interrupt the sex by demanding if it’s consensual? Obviously Parker is having an intense experience so her outburst is understandable, but it makes the scene difficult to watch, because the character is getting conflated with the viewer.
While watching “My Big Fat Greek Rush Week,” I couldn’t help but compare it to, oddly, The Sopranos. The episode positions Veronica as a kind of antihero, doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, or doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. The entire episode seems set up to put her in difficult situations and make her look bad to someone. Beyond Parker blaming her, the most egregious example is her manipulative journalism adviser, who encourages Veronica to bring down a sorority house concurrently with the rape investigation. The adviser’s behavior, and Veronica’s misgivings, don’t actually seem to create a coherent logical sequence of events. Veronica didn’t want to expose the sorority, but wrote the entire article and delivered it and the pictures before expressing those concerns?
The Sopranos did this all the time. Many of its episodes were almost parables, more interested in how Tony reacted when his ethical choices (or lack thereof) were rendered in their purest forms. And of course, he’s the model of a television antihero, or at least he was until it became clear he was a villain. I don’t think Veronica Mars wants its protagonist to be viewed in such a way, but it’s opened that door. It’s all set up to give a distinct impression: Veronica Mars does’nt how to wield her power in a new environment. That’s fascinating for the character. But it’s awkward for the show.
That same awkwardness involving the college setting is apparent in the secondary plotline. Logan and Wallace are off in their sociology class, taught by Professor Voice Of Homer Simpson. He’s doing the Stanford prison experiment, because, well, that’s a college thing. Never mind that there’s no way this experiment actually exists in reality. But even still, the show appropriates an experiment which demonstrates the essential darkness of human society… and makes it funny. Mostly. It’s also uncomfortable, but it’s certainly the most lighthearted thing going on in this episode, concluding with a masked, naked Logan giving Wallace a salute.
Veronica Mars is a mess right now. But it’s an extremely ambitious mess. I’d watch rather “ambitious and difficult” than “boring,” and “My Big Fat Greek Rush Week” was anything but boring.
“Wichita Linebacker” (season 3, episode 3; originally aired October 17, 2006)
While “My Big Fat Greek Rush Week” struggled with creating a college setting—but largely succeeded—that’s not the case with the next episode. “Wichita Linebacker” is more what I would expect were the show not so ambitious. Here, Veronica isn’t going to Hearst College, she’s going to Television College, where things that are college-y happen.
One of those college-y things? Football scholarships! Our case of the week involves Kurt, an injured star who now seems to be on the outs with his coach. His playbook gets stolen, which threatens both his position on the team and his scholarship. His girlfriend runs the radio station, which Piz is starting to work for, so he hooks them up with Veronica and she’s off to solve the case. It’s fairly predictable: She moves through the obvious suspects, but the most obvious suspect is right there all along. Not anything special, but they can’t all be special. It’s something of a missed opportunity for the show to discuss the implications of how universities treat student-athletes, but that would make things more complicated.
There’s much more to talk about with the side plots—four of them, which seems like a lot, but they mostly intersect with one another. “Wichita Linebacker” introduces the dean of Hearst College, played with dorky aplomb by Ed Begley Jr. The first of those subplots involves him trying to find out uncover the identity of the weed-distributing professor from Veronica’s article—or else she’s expelled—but that’s generally an empty threat. It leads to the joy of Veronica showing another authority figure that bullying her tends to not work out the way the bully intended. But more than that, it grants her access to the Dean’s office, which pays some story dividends this episode, and will likely continue to do so.
In this case, it lets Veronica see a fight between the radical feminists she encountered last episode, and a newly introduced comedic newspaper called the Lampoon. (It’s hard to summarize what happened without sounding slightly dismissive of potentially emotional events, but I’ll do my best.) The feminists are centered on a dorm called the “Lilith House” and they’ve done an anti-rape protest that the Lampoon, disgustingly, riffs by determining which of Lilith members is attractive enough to consider. Piz manages to get both groups on his Crossfire-esque radio show, but it’s interrupted when the woman the Lampoon guys singled out is revealed to be the latest victim of the serial rapist.
The issue I have with this story—continued from the previous episode—is that the radical feminists are caricatures so far. They stand against rape and sororities, but that’s all we know about them. They haven’t become horribly negative caricatures yet, except perhaps when Fern harangued Veronica in the Safe Ride Home cart, but they’re in desperate need of being humanized, lest this turn into P.C.U.. The Lampoon editors have even less personality, although they’ve just been introduced. What I especially don’t buy is the way that both sides were brought into Piz’s radio show. I cannot imagine that actually happening for any reason beyond its convenience to the narrative.
With all that said, as I consider it in retrospect, I do find something narratively interesting about how a college campus goes into spasms when it’s hit by a scandal. I’ve seen it (we called it the “Eighth Week Crisis” it happened so often.). You can tell stories within that context, but they’re going to be difficult for the viewer and characters. I just don’t think that’s how the story can or should start.
The other side plots are better, largely because they deal with characters, not types. Weevil makes his first appearance since the second season’s finale, on work release from prison and having a tough time of it. So Veronica hooks him up with her father, who is in need of an assistant. This is a great pairing. Weevil’s chemistry with Keith has been exciting in their few interactions, and I can totally buy that he does have the skill set to be a great private eye. However, he gets in trouble with his temper, and Keith has to fire him. So Veronica gets him hired as a maintenance guy at Hearst.
I enjoyed this storyline throughout, and am happy to see Weevil given reason to interact with Veronica and the crew again (something that the show has struggled with consistently). I must admit that I’m disappointed that he didn’t stay with Keith, though. It would have been a nice redemption story, and a great change in character dynamics. It’s extra disappointing that the reason he was fired was relatively contrived, but I can’t complain too much about the show giving one episode of the Weevil-Keith pairing, something I never would have expected.
Finally, there’s the relationship stuff, which works the best of the side plots, probably because it’s so necessary. Ever since Logan and Veronica hooked up late in season one, we’ve only been teased with bits and pieces of them in a relationship. To use Logan’s terms, we’ve seen the epic, but never the mundane. The mundane includes Logan being a flirt and intensely private to the point of being secretive, while Veronica is an investigator with trust issues. This is not a good combination unless both of them can work on their issues, and I think “Wichita Linebacker” does a good job of showing them doing just that. It’s payoff for almost thirty episodes of tension.
- “Worst Roman orgy ever.” I don’t understand sororities. Is that at all realistic?
- Speaking of, “Den Mother” must be the weirdest job in the universe.
- “This girl accused me of rape last year.” “Haha. Learn to take a joke, you.” Veronica flips the women-can’t-take-jokes trope on its head here, a fascinating moment that’s easy to miss.
- “Oh, jealous would involve piano wire.”
- “Didn’t he get busted for murder?” “Assault!” “So he’s not even a very good murderer.” The Mars family relationship is still the core of the show. Has to be. Which may explain some of the struggles so far.
- “He don’t feel like a thief. Look! He reads comics.”
- Going to college upgrades Veronica’s mopey relationship music. Neko Case’s “Hold On, Hold On,” featured in “Wichita Linebacker,” is my seventh favorite song of the 2000s.