“One Angry Veronica” (season 2, episode 10; originally aired 12/7/2005)
Some of you warned me about “One Angry Veronica.” Or maybe it was just one of you who repeated it consistently in the comments—this was a controversial episode. The “Seeing Red” (if you don't know what happens in “Seeing Red” of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I’d recommend not wiki-ing it) of Veronica Mars, in that some people see it as fairly regular episode, while others consider it the devil incarnate. And I have to say that while I felt that it was a regular, if a bit odd episode for the bulk of the time, those last three twists at the end put it at a whole different, odd, bad level.
It makes sense to divide this episode into two bits, the conclusion and everything else. Let’s start with the conclusion, since that’s probably where the bulk of week-to-week reaction comes from. The episode has three big twists: first, that Deputy Leo stole the Aaron Echolls/Lilly Kane sex tapes to sell them for his special needs sister; second, that Meg died but her baby was saved; and finally Wallace returning. Wallace’s return is the sort of cliffhanger or surprise that the show uses commonly, so it’s only really worth mentioning as another big surprise. It’s the other two that are problematic.
Way back at the very start of this feature, I was worried about how difficult it can be to maintain a mystery show, or at least, how difficult it can be for me to maintain my interest in a mystery. There’s a fine line between too obvious and too twisty, with the sweet spot in-between either making viewers feel clever for figuring things out, or making them surprised and impressed at how they should have figured it out but didn’t. Usually, if Veronica Mars has erred, it’s been on the side of obviousness (and in some cases, it’s not even an error). As a general rule, it’s avoided the “What? Why? Where did this come from?”
Until we get to “One Angry Veronica”, that is, and its treatment of Meg. At the end of the episode, Keith Mars gets a phone call. His face goes dark. And the next time he sees Veronica, he tells her that Meg died on the way back to her home planet. Or a blood clot or something. It doesn’t really matter—just suddenly Meg’s dead out of nowhere, after having awakened just at the end of the last episode. Long enough to apologize to Veronica. Conveniently not long enough to say how the bus crashed.
This might be forgivable except the episode does almost the same thing to Deputy Leo. After the sex tapes get stolen, Logan manages to buy them from the thief. Keith, going through the records, discovers that Leo’s sister has Down’s syndrome, something only discovered at the end of the episode when Keith confronts him. There’s no real build-up to this, and it’s treated as a strike from above. I’ll grant that the tension of this section was clearly supposed to aim towards Logan instead of Keith’s case of the week, but Leo, like Meg, is a character we have history with, suddenly wiped away by something that takes place essentially off-screen. He can come back from this, I suppose, in a way that Meg obviously can’t. But it doesn’t feel like a betrayal from the character—it feels like a betrayal from the author.
Then there’s Veronica’s case of the week, her re-enactment for 12 Angry Men from which the episode takes its title. This is kind of cute, and it kind of works, but in both cases, it’s only “kind of.” One issue is that Veronica isn’t in the Henry Fonda role as the lone original holdout, but instead, a Latina woman who recognizes the racism just below the surface of the assumptions of the case. Veronica swiftly switches sides, but it’s the “swiftly” thing that weakens it the most. 12 Angry Men’s 90-minute run-time allows for the whole process to take shape, as we understand each of the jurors, their motivations, and what causes them to change. “One Angry Veronica” seems to imply a similar depth, but it’s mostly just tossing in the “types” from the film/play. Here’s a sports guy, there’s a pastor, but neither of those things motivate the jurors.
On the other hand, the other juror who has his personality fleshed out makes things a little more interesting. He’s a Neptune CEO type, with extreme levels of smarm, impatience, classism, and racism. Unlike in 12 Angry Men, where the final bigoted holdout is pushed to collapse by the weight of his emotions, Veronica Mars’ villain only gives way due to impatience, and finishes by declaring that an appeal would get the boys out of prison anyway. This is probably the best part of the episode, and it’s a throwback to the sort of ethical futility in the face of classism that I so liked about the first season of Veronica Mars. It was just too short, too fast, a plot that would have been difficult to do over the course of an average 40-minute episode, but it’s impossible to do well in an episode that’s already busy with Keith, Logan, and Meg demanding attention.
“Donut Run” (season 2, episode 11; originally aired 1/25/2006)
There’s another way to tell a twisty, mystery story. Well, there are probably many, but this is the one chosen for “Donut Run”: The main characters hide things from the audience. This is a pretty big gamble, because we have to see enough of the characters’ behaviors to get the idea that maybe there’s more going on, but it can’t have obvious clues. The big frustration, and one of my least favorite narrative tropes, is characters talking around a problem for no reason other than that if they mentioned it directly, the audience would no. That’s one of the main reasons I bailed on The Secret Circle, and also one of the biggest warning signs that Terra Nova would disappoint, to take two of this season’s new shows that I had been anticipating.
“Donut Run” actually does this well, in large part because the heist that we’re seeing—Duncan and Veronica stealing the coma baby—requires that Duncan and Veronica stage a breakup, meaning that Veronica seems to be a free, bitter agent for the bulk of the episode. Yes, it’s entirely possible that she would collaborate with the Sheriff and the FBI if she caught Kendall in Duncan’s room, and this has been foreshadowed. So I was surprised, although not entirely shocked, when two-thirds of the way through the episode it’s revealed that Veronica and Duncan were working together on the kidnapping the whole time.
From there, it’s a matter of outsmarting the smarty-pants who don’t trust her—including the FBI (led by Lucy Lawless in probably the best cameo of her career) and Sheriff Lamb, who’s got great scenes in both of these episodes. Both think they’ve got Veronica, but she uses and abuses them, while getting some fun scenes from Neptune’s Second-Least Sleaziest Private Eye, Vinnie Van Lowe.
I couldn’t help but catch some of you noting your dislike of the “coma baby” storyline last week, while others praised it for getting Duncan out of the way. I guess this was something of a spoiler, but yes, Duncan is indeed out of the way, a kidnapper who’s severed all ties to his previous life. This makes sense, really, given the way he’s been seeking meaning ever since we were introduced to him. But that’s something that may make sense to us as an audience. To the characters, both in a direct sense and a wider narrative sense, having a character who was so important suddenly decide to leave everything—specifically Veronica, generally his life—is kind of a shock. Maybe this will be dealt with next week. Or maybe like journalism teacher Ms. Dent, he’ll just disappear without warning. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. This was an effective episode in the short-term, but the long-term effects should be huge.
- “So you would not characterize your day as good?” “More along the lines of bad.” It’s really a bad sign when jury duty is some of the better news Keith could deliver to Veronica.
- “Yeah, he thinks so, he locks himself out pretty often.” I love Deputy Leo, puppy dog or no, retcon or no.
- “Thank the three energy drinks!”
- “One Angry Veronica” might be this season’s most similar episode to the themes and forms of season one, which makes its parodic experimentation that much stranger. Like the only way Veronica Mars could do a formerly “normal” episode was to make it weird.
- I’ve mentioned that the term “09er” hasn’t been used much this season, but it’s back in “One Angry Veronica”.
- “You must be on your way up to see mopey.” “How’s he doing, sleazy?”
- It makes so much sense that Logan and Dick would be playing Dead Or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. Good video game work, Veronica Mars.
- “Small town, big fish.”