“Show Me The Monkey” (season 3, episode 10; originally aired 1/23/2007)
This is how season three should have started.
Okay, obviously it can’t have started with this episode exactly. Too much of it—like Piz’s friendship with Veronica, the Dean’s relationship with the Mars family, and Mac’s willingness to move on—couldn’t have occurred immediately in the première. But this is one of the few episodes so far that is both satisfying on its own and uses the higher education setting as a strength, instead of fighting it as a weakness.
The key distinction between “Show Me The Monkey” and what came before in this season is in its treatment of radical college groups. These are commonly fodder for mockery and disdain. You can even build a whole movie off of that, though it probably won’t be very good (that linked example certainly isn’t). Veronica Mars did that with the radical feminists, as I harped on repeatedly, but it doesn’t do that in this episode.
The P.H.A.T. organization, an animal rights group, are the primary suspects in this episode’s case of the week: a missing monkey from a graduate-student science lab. As such, Veronica and Mac infiltrate the group. Here’s what works: Even though they’re the lead suspects in the case, the cause and methods of P.H.A.T. appeal to the characters (and their leader specifically appeals to Mac). The radical feminists should have appealed to Veronica, in the same way that P.H.A.T. and the sorority from “Charlie Don’t Surf” did. Had that happened, their betrayal would have been meaningful. Instead, it was a stereotype, and frustrating.
The animal rights crew doesn’t actually turn out to have a dark side, somewhat surprisingly. The show teases that possibility, looking like they were going to pressure Veronica and Mac into posing naked for them, but that’s revealed to be a practical joke. A little mean, maybe, but I think this was as much a joke on the audience (who except that) as it was the characters.
“Show Me The Monkey” has its main case end with Veronica discovering that, as hard as she might try to do the right thing, there’s always another potentially dead monkey. She’s oddly surprised by this, although this is a theme she’s dealt with since the beginning: doing the right thing at the micro level often doesn’t change much at the macro level.
This episode is even better in terms of character. The star who shines brightest is Dick Casablancas, in a single scene where he encourages Logan to get over his Veronica-based mopiness. With a half-sarcastic, half-earnest “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” he has finally broken through my resistance to his character due to his role in Veronica’s rape at Shelly Pomroy’s party. He’s still, well, a dick, now he seems downright harmless.
We also get our first Mac-focused episode in a long time. At first she’s helping Veronica with the case as a quality sidekick, but then she develops a crush on Bronson, the activist leader. There’s demonstrated character growth here, as Mac finally moves to overcome whatever Beaver did to her in the second season. I found the process touching and necessary. Although, to be fair, it doesn’t play to Mac’s strengths. (My partner was actually unhappy with the storyline, because it was an example of Mac being defined by relationships with men more than Mac being awesome on her own. I don’t particularly agree, but I definitely do want to see more Mac being awesome.)
Piz, too, is probably at his best in “Show Me The Monkey.” Having read the interview with Rob Thomas where he describes his intention to feature a character who’s a regular college guy, I can see that. His intense focus on the things he loves, his absolute certainty about his latest, most exciting theory, and his puppy-ish crush on Veronica all ring true to me (even if his hair and clothing don’t). I found myself genuinely liking Piz and enjoying his scenes. I wish I could say the same about Parker, but we don’t have a good enough grasp of her character to know whether it’s insane, inane, or impressive that she’s so willing to start dating again despite being “the most recent victim of sexual assault.” But that I don’t know made that monologue simply uncomfortable.
And, finally, the new big plot arc kicks off, as Keith gets hired to investigate the dean’s apparent suicide. An unopened bottle of Scotch is enough to convince him that it wasn’t a suicide, but checking out the most likely culprit—Veronica’s criminology professor—leads to Keith discovering someone who may well be a match for him intellectually.
“Poughkeepsie, Tramps, And Thieves” (season 3, episode 11; originally aired 1/30/2007)
“Poughkeepsie, Tramps, And Thieves” is another good example of how Veronica Mars is extremely (perhaps excessively) confident in its abilities to discuss women’s and feminist issues head-on. In this case, it’s sex work, as Max, the student who sells papers, is in love with a prostitute. Well, he doesn’t know she’s a prostitute. He knows he’s in love with a woman he met at Comic-Con, who Veronica discovers was hired by his friends in order to help him lose his virginity.
Once the woman (Wendy, the third name she gives) has her identity discovered, things start getting interesting. Max is still in love, and Wendy still seems to be utterly smitten with him. Veronica, of course, is cynical—and extremely dismissive of sex work in general. This gives the episode an awkward tone, as usually happens when Veronica’s getting a little judgmental. Sometimes, it uses that edge well, constantly adjusting viewer expectations alongside Veronica’s expectations. Sometimes it’s not so strong, such as when Veronica meets Wendy’s pimp, a scene too cliché to be dramatic, and too straightforward to be comic.
I think a bit of my disappointment also stems from the lack of exploration of Max’s character. His puppy love for the girl he met at the convention, combined with his certainty that his high standards are the only thing preventing him from being with women generally, makes him seem to fit a geek type: the dreaded “Nice Guy.” His difficulty in living with and understanding his dream girl, once he finally gets to that point, seems to indicate that he fits that mold, but he also stays fairly inscrutable. Perhaps that’s a strength of the episode, when I try to intellectualize it now, but when I watched it, I was disappointed in the lack of certainty about his emotional maturity.
Wendy also seems to be slightly underdeveloped. The struggle that she, as a sex worker trying to get out of that life, has to go through is mentioned, which is good. But her motivations for doing so seem to be little more than “I like this boy.”
Those are generally minor quibbles with a decent standalone episode, however—an episode that has some great moments. Logan and Veronica are enjoyable to watch as they try to deal with Max and the approaching hookers. Keith Mars is in fine form, dressing as a cop in order to interrogate the Lilith House, and then singing in order to amuse Veronica: “I finally got the police department’s report on the dean’s suicide!”
The other crucial part of the episode involved Veronica and Logan, back together after Piz’s earnest, unfortunately-for-him too-effective speech to Veronica in “Show Me The Monkey.” But Veronica’s still having trust issues, and the eventual reveal that Logan had sex with Madison Sinclair (making her triumphant reappearance) just feels wrong. As with the case of the week, I feel like it’s unclear if I’m supposed to feel like that wrongness is intentional or not. Does it not feel right that Logan would have slept with Madison because I want to think better of Logan? Or does it not feel right that Logan would have slept with Madison because that just seems out-of-character and poorly written?
At any rate—I’m fairly interested in the Dean O’Dell murder case, and I believe I’m almost totally spoiler-free, so let’s have a little fun again:
Veronica Mars Mid-Season-Three Big Bad Power Rankings
- Professor Landry: He’s got the motive and he’s got the skill to pull it off. Maybe he’s too obvious, but I think an interesting twist for the show would be to have the focus on the “how” of the murder, not the “who.”
- Nish: She has motivation too, and has displayed ruthlessness. But murder? That may be a little much.
- Timothy Foyle: Landry’s graduate student hasn’t been mentioned as a suspect yet, but there are a few reasons he’s plausible. Like Landry, he has the skill. He also has some motivation: his rage against his then-girlfriend Bonnie for her inability to resist frat boys. He also, of course, had access to Veronica’s Perfect Murder paper.
- Weevil: For old time’s sake.
- Mindy O’Dell: Much like Landry, she has the motivation. She doesn’t seem to have the expertise, and it doesn’t make sense that she’d hire Keith when she’s the culprit. On the other hand, that second car in the lot is suspicious.
- Veronica Mars uses Wikipedia in “Show Me The Monkey,” which is early adopting for a TV show, isn’t it?
- “My first pacifier was made of jerky.” Ah yes, Mac’s old nature versus nurture family history
- “That was supporting, not joining. I don’t want to be wooed.”
- “Man, quit bringing me down with your bourgeois hangups!” For whatever reason, Veronica and Keith have been really wacky this season. I like it—usually.
- “From where I stand, Wendy’s the idiot. And now we must crush her.”
- Hey, shouldn’t the sheriff’s office have been crushed by the new Aaron Echolls case?