“The Wrath of Con” (Episode 4, Season 1; originally aired October 19th, 2004)
If I had to pick a single moment when Veronica Mars got its claws into me, it occurred part of the way through this episode, when Veronica shows up at the gamers' club in a hipster wig and a Catholic schoolgirl outfit. It's not just that it was hilariously attractive – it was hilariously attractive – but also because it was fun in a way that the show hadn't quite sustained from scene-to-scene. There was comedy, drama, ridiculousness, and important character beats yes, but there was also a driving momentum that screamed “Veronica Mars can be a great show!”
Part of the momentum comes from the structure of the case-of-the-week. As opposed to last time, where it was a somewhat contrived mystery, this is more of an adventure – someone has a problem, and Veronica tracks that problem to its source. Wallace's crush, Georgia, has been scammed. We know it's a scam from the beginning, so there's no mystery, just a trail that leads Veronica into two different disguises, as well as Wallace and Keith each into one. And disguises are a shortcuts to fun.
We also get some great Veronica moments – entering into a gamers' conclave, she quickly finds her target and figures out the best possible way to annoy him: teamkilling (yes, that would work). Learning that the con-men/supergeeks have a heavily-guarded dorm room at their college, Veronica devises a multi-tiered plan to get through – first pick the lock to see the security system and how the geeks react. Then bring in her dad as a “DEA agent” to search the room while planting a bug. Then use the bug to learn how to deactivate the system, bust in, and commandeer the geeks' hard drives to exchange for the money they conned. Veronica makes it seem easy, and the show makes her success seem entirely plausible. It's a romp, and a very good one at that.
The romp is bookended by some much darker character work, focusing on two people, Logan and Lily, who have existed only as one-dimensional ideas for other characters to bounce off of. Logan is and was an asshole, and Lily was a bit of a wild child who is now dead. As Homecoming approaches as well as the dedication of a Lily Kane fountain at Neptune High, memories of Lily come flooding back to Veronica as well as Logan. Veronica's memories are triggered by Troy asking her to the dance, which she last “attended” with Lily (as well as Duncan and Logan) who instead pulled an all-night limo party, which we see in flashback. Logan also takes over the creation of a Lily video for the memorial, which he does via tapes of her in childhood.
The first comment I got on my response to the Veronica Mars pilot a couple weeks ago was about how awesome Logan was, followed by a whole thread I pretty much skipped, though I got the impression that Logan=awesome anti-hero. Until this episode, that hadn't shown through. If anything, he was a pure villain, nothing but pure assholeness to ruin Veronica's day. This episode shows that hey, they used to be friends, and that Logan, as much as Duncan in the past few episodes, is struggling with his unhappiness over Lily's death – and lashing out.
His personality comes through the most in his editing, when he's not even talking. The Lily memorial video starts out saccharine and obvious – although it's cute that they seem to be using actual footage of young Amanda Seyfried. Then, partway through, the classical music ends, the rock music begins, and we see footage of Lily going wild and more importantly and looking human and not like a pretty doll to be exploited. Everyone watching seems to get this, with original suspect Jake Kane shedding what appear to be honest tears and Weevil showing up for a second of emoting. Everyone, that is, except Lily's mother Celeste, who just looks pissed off that the memorial actually showed her daughter. Is she angry because it breaks decorum, or is she a soulless monster who would kill her own daughter? I guess we'll find out.
“You Think You Know Somebody” (Episode 5, Season 1; originally aired October 26th, 2004)
If “The Wrath of Con” is notable for ramping up the entertainment side of Veronica Mars, then “You Think You Know Somebody” is its equivalent on the dramatic end. It didn't take very long at all for the show to take its next step forward, which is pretty great to see.
Troy, Logan, and new character Luke start the episode off in Tijuana, where Luke appears to be drunkenly going through the trash looking for a souvenir, which is a big pinata. The pinata, of course, ends up being attached to drugs (steroids, an interesting choice), but not before Troy's car gets stolen. Veronica goes on a hunt to find both the car and the drugs, for different reasons, before discovering that Troy set it all up so that he'd be able to live with an old girlfriend in the clear, with thousands of dollars worth of steroids and a fantastic stolen car nobody was looking for...except that Veronica beat him to the punch, getting rid of all the drugs and frightening his old girlfriend.
Two things surprised me pleasantly about this episode. When I watched it, the ending was a shock since Troy was so complicit in his leaving. I'm used to shows that have girlfriends or boyfriends who guest star a few times and then leave, but it's usually passive. On Parks & Recreation (not the greatest comparison, but the one that comes to mind immediately for relationship stuff), Leslie had one cop boyfriend for a few episodes before he was shipped off for National Guard duty, and another who she broke up with because she realized his personality wasn't what she wanted. In both cases, they didn't have agency. They were there – and gone – to demonstrate something about the main characters.
Troy hanging out in Neptune for a few months and to get a big drug score and then run off with his girlfriend is the opposite of that. It reveals much more about him than it does Veronica, and as a character who's been built up pretty heavily over the last few episodes, it's quite a surprise. It does lead to a few questions, though: Was Troy just biding time in Neptune until this deal came through? Or did he see an opportunity and take it? There seemed to be a bit too much advance planning for that, which demands a second question: what was he doing with Veronica? Their relationship was built up so much, and the questions that remain so obvious, that I'm really not going to be surprised if Troy comes back.
It wasn't just Troy's agency, though, it was also that he was revealed to be a total fucking bastard. He'd been built up as a nice guy, almost too nice, though just imperfect enough to be trustworthy as a human being. His interest in Veronica seemed honest, and doesn't go along with the master drug-and-car-stealing plan. Yet the writers pulled the rug out from that perception in an impressive, not frustrating fashion. I didn't think “Whoa, this came out of nowhere and is totally unbelievable” - I instead thought “wow, they're raising the stakes early.” I'm not entirely certain why I gave the show that benefit of the doubt.
Part of it might be what I realized later, when starting to plan this writeup: that the entire episode was beautifully elegant. The key dramatic scene comes about 3/4s of the way in, when Veronica confronts Troy over his drug-possession past and ex-girlfriend. She comes across as the bad guy here, and he gives the perfect speech to make us believe that she's in the wrong here. Why? Because she got that information from her dad running a background check on Troy as semi-vengeance against her doing the same about his new girlfriend. It all seems petty and co-dependent, both of them sabotaging the other's love life.
The thing is, Veronica was right. And, tracing the plot backwards, she was right and she knew she was right the whole time. A scene that made her look like the bad guy, at least temporarily, was actually her giving Troy a last chance to come clean. What impressed me most was noting this in retrospect – this is a show which rewards thinking about or rewatching what happened.
- “I believe Keanu Reeves said it best when he said: 'Whoa.'”
- Wallace says “Japanimé.” Sigh.
- I'm one of those people who gets easily annoyed when things I know about aren't treated well on TV. I got pissed off about The Sopranos' depiction of soccer, or No Ordinary Family getting the Sicilian Defense wrong. So how did Veronica Mars do with gaming? Pretty well – on the plus side, a lot of the terminology is good – ragdoll physics, OWNAGE. On the down-side, how is Veronica playing multi-player FPS on the same screen as other people without a split? And “It makes Quake look like Asteroids" would have been a better line when Quake came eight years before. So, mixed, but on TV about video games, mixed is good.
- “I do a surprisingly effective admissions assistant.” I liked that we got to see that after she said it.
- “Papa bear?” “Never happened.”
- “Dude! Where is your car?”
- “Ohhhhh, you still have a subscription to Mad Magazine!”
- What was up with the awkward Postal Service shout-out?
- “Please tell me the dog isn't a BMW.” “Think he'll notice?” “Yeah....”
- Veronica's hunt for her mother succeeds to a point – we get an actress to play mom! In a flashback, she seems quite unhappy that Veronica is dating Duncan Kane, which is a clue...for something.
- Mom also says “Everything will make sense when the time is right.” I never trust anyone who says this, largely because the only people who say it are assholes on TV or people intentionally trying to sound like assholes from TV.