It seems like just yesterday that I was praising Veronica Mars’ second season premiere. “Normal Is The Watchword” seemed like a perfect, necessary continuation of the story. The Lilly Kane murder was so important for Veronica’s perception of herself as well as Neptune’s perception of her that there was a huge amount of emotional work that needed to get done, and it did. That’s not the case here. Although the bus crash had a higher body count, it had less emotional impact on Veronica. It wasn’t even actually aimed at her.
So, instead of the fallout from the last season’s case hitting the main character and most everyone around her, there are only two supplemental characters who have to be dealt with: Mac and Dick. “Welcome Wagon” spends more time on Dick’s issues than Mac’s, as he has an entire subplot devoted to his rambunctious self-destruction. We get the picture that Dick is broken up about Cassidy’s death, but it’s unclear how this will affect him in the future. I hope more comes of this, but for now, it seems to tell us more about Logan’s loyalty to his friend than it does Dick Casablancas. Their bro-hug, though, was a nice touch.
In the comments after the second-season finale, several of you debated whether Cassidy had raped Mac or not, but I think the few lines to reintroduce Mac early in this episode make it quite clear that she was indeed raped. Her mention of how she’s frozen below the waist indicates a personal trauma well beyond simply having had a boyfriend who turned out to be evil. Certainly she could have been willing at the start of that evening, but there are any number of things Cassidy could have done to make her withdraw her consent.
Rape is clearly becoming a theme, as the Hearst College rapist episode from the second season – which I remarked was odd in that Veronica didn’t find a culprit – is brought back in force here. First, there’s a “Take Back The Night” rally, being run by another woman with a shaved head, trying to demand that the school do something about the rapist (before the rally is interrupted by Dick, just begging to get kneed in the groin).
There are things that I appreciate about the focus on rape. Learning about it can important component of young womanhood, and college often serves as an awakening for people about the prevalence of sexual assault. It’s fairly rare for a show to treat rape from the victim’s perspective, especially a show aimed at young people, like Veronica Mars. I’m also interested in the idea of an overarching plot that’s not a murder, for novelty’s sake. And it’s certainly a topic that the show has dealt with before, so it’s not a sudden surprise. Plus it’s been dealt with well enough on Veronica Mars before that I’m willing to wait to judge it.
However, I have some pretty significant issues. I have to admit that it’s partially personal. I went to small liberal arts, although not one like Hearst, but one with a tormented history surrounding sexual assault and community and administrative response. I wasn’t there for this biggest aspects of it, but I was engaged enough with the college’s politics, history, and communications that it strikes a nerve with me. It’s one of those complicated nerves, though, with some good, some bad, and a lot of nervousness.
There are also some plot issues. The headshaving rapist seemed to strike rarely in “The Rapes Of Graff”, with the two assaults taking place weeks apart (which is how Troy was absolved). Here, we have a woman assaulted at orientation, who goes public with it, and another one getting assaulted almost immediately afterwards. It’s difficult to believe that the rapist would be so careless yet also have been operating for so long (it’s possible that there are multiple rapists, which would make this make more sense).
I’m also a little bit unhappy with the choice of victims. Parker, Mac’s roommate, is introduced almost entirely as a boy-crazy skank. The episode ends with the revelation that she is the rapist’s latest victim, seemingly punishing her for her promiscuity. This is the sort of slut-shaming that Veronica Mars has avoided in the past. And yes, on the surface, it doesn’t appear to be a punishment for skankiness, since it’s happened to other, non-skanky girls, but Parker is the character that the episode focuses on for these purposes. It’s difficult to defend, other than by going back to the series’ generally classiness before that and giving it the benefit of the doubt.
There’s one thing that makes that difficult, which is the new setting: college. College is not a setting traditionally associated with successful TV shows, especially shows that transition from high school into higher education. There are probably many reasons for that, and I’m sure we’ll have reason to discuss some of those later, but for now, I think just the comfort of the setting is a big issue. The social mechanics which made mysteries in Neptune High effective aren’t necessarily the same as those that will make Hearst College effective. Sure, maybe the mysteries could work, but the stuff that supports those mysteries – the classes, the random characters, even the sets – all have to change.
So does the cast. The most striking example of that is Piz, a new character introduced as Wallace’s roommate, and the victim of the case of the week. I’ve seen more than enough discussion of Piz to know that he’s an important character in this season emotionally, and also the symbol of what’s wrong with the season generally. Of course, I heard that same thing about Riley on Buffy The Vampire Slayer in its college season. And that’s a comparison that seems totally apt to me. Both Riley and Piz are introduced as romantic foils for the lead characters, but both are done so in an extremely artificial fashion.
Stylized dialogue can be a great tool in the hands of a proper writer, which Joss Whedon demonstrated on Buffy, and Veronica Mars continued. But it’s a delicate tool, and can work poorly if anything breaks down. Both Piz and Riley seem hyper-stylized, to the point where, in those first episodes, they’re practically narrating everything they do. Piz isn’t Piz, he’s “Piz,” a character in a television show. His personality, demonstrated through his narration-ish dialogue, seems more intended to appeal to the audience than to the characters to whom he’s actually speaking. This is off-putting enough, without also adding in the fact that Veronica’s still paired with Logan, which is something of a fan favorite relationship.
Those intro scenes with Piz are probably the worst part of the episode. They’re not that bad, they just seem more than a little off. But the whole episode feels at least a little off. This is fairly normal in season premieres, I suppose, but Veronica Mars has avoided that in its previous two. This is still good. Just also...worrisome.
- Big fan of the new credit sequence visually. I never liked the notebook look of the original, though I got comfortable with it. This one seems to fit the show better, although it might be a little bit too dark.
- On the other hand, I’m not sure about the theme song remix. I had issues with the cutting up of “We Used To Be Friends” before. Haven’t decided if this is better or worse, but leaning worse.
- “A hit? I understand there’s good money in that. How does one break in, is there a union of some kind?”
- In another plot, Keith deals with the Fitzpatricks and Kendall Casablancas, also revealing what made him decide to stay on the vacation. This gives the Fitzpatricks a more human face, which is good. Guess I’ll have to see where this goes.
- “You guys are pathetic.” “It’s a white man’s sport!”
- I know I said I’d do two episodes for this season. That ended up being an untruth. I hope you’ll learn to trust me again someday, like Keith after Veronica helped kidnap the coma baby.