"Betty And Veronica" (Season 1, Episode 16, originally aired March 29th, 2005)
In which Veronica goes undercover to rescue a bird for Wallace's basketball dreams, and her mom has drained her bank account…
As I mentioned last week, Veronica seems to have hit a point of no return in her investigation of Lilly Kane's murder. Her discovery of her mom – and Clarence Wiedman's discovery of her there – have made it impossible for Veronica to keep an entirely low profile. The main plot and character development is going to darker and more intense places.
Yet the world around Veronica keeps going as well, when she gets “hired” by Vice Principal Clemmons to find the mascot. Veronica recognizes the irony of trying to solve a murder potentially worth millions of dollars, and which has torn her family apart, while at the same time trying to track down a lost bird, calling it just another day in the life of a “human Google.”
But as much momentum as the Lilly Kane murder plot is picking up, I'm happy with the case-of-the-week here, too, as trifling as it may be. I like it because it's a Wallace-centered episode, probably the strongest showcase for Percy Daggs III we've had yet – did you see that crossover? Wallace is actually a character on his own here, someone whose choices and abilities are necessary to the plot, and not merely someone to wisecrack with Veronica and do her bidding. It's not tremendously deep, but it's a nice reminder that he can have some character depth.
The basketball plotline is interspersed with the far darker flashbacks of Veronica's conversation with her mother. Flashbacks are often used as a narrative crutch, a way for shows to parse out information slowly to allow for twists that shock the audience but don't shock the characters, a sort of reverse dramatic irony. Veronica Mars could quite easily have done that in “Betty and Veronica” (and it did, to some extent, with the “overdraw” line), but instead it used it to build a tension and provide a counterpoint to the lighter case of the week.
More specifically, it informs Veronica's behavior through the episode. When she's “in character”, she's her normal perky, sarcastic self. Outside of it, she's down, with her voiceover narration providing thematic segués into her encounter with her mom. And what an encounter it is: Lianne describes how she met with Jake Kane on the night of the murder because Celeste was threatening Veronica; how she threatened to run a paternity test on Veronica in order to take Jake for millions; and how she doesn't know whether Keith or Jake is Veronica's father. Worse, she's an alcoholic, and Veronica blows her college fund putting Lianne into rehab. And even worse than that, she doesn't mention why she was in town to meet Kane back in the pilot.
Veronica's decision to put her mom into rehab isn't shown, so we're given the impression that it was quick and decisive. Maybe it was. But it's one of many decisions where Veronica's attempt to maybe do the right thing in the here and now – maybe rule utilitarianism instead of act utilitarianism? - could maybe not be the right thing overall. Putting someone into rehab at great personal cost to yourself may be useless when that person doesn't want to be in rehab. Certainly making Wallace happy in an ethical fashion by rescuing the parrot isn't a bad idea, but it comes at great monetary cost to Weevil and ends up supporting a school and a system she has come to hate. And if Veronica's ethical quandaries seem problematic now, well….
“Kanes & Abels” (Season 1, Episode 17, originally aired April 5th, 2005)
In which Veronica tries to stop a stalker, and nearly gets her hands on the Koontz-Kane settlement papers…
…they're bigger here. I brought up utilitarianism as Veronica's ethical model above because her behavior in this episode can really only be called ethical according to a utilitarian model…because otherwise there's no excuse for this. In this episode, Veronica lies to Abel Koontz's daughter Amelia, temporarily upsets her life, and then behaves in a way that is likely to screw Amelia out of millions of dollars, just to get a little closer to re-opening the Lilly Kane murder (not even solving it!).
Now, unless Veronica believes two things, this is remarkably nasty for our heroine. Those two things are: the ends justify the means, and that exposing the truth is the most important thing in society. The former is a core precept of utilitarianism, of course, while the latter implies a general good, going back to the rule utilitarianism.
Which is a complicated way of saying that it's hard not to see Veronica as the bad guy here. It's not like returning the money is any good, and Amelia seems like a perfectly decent person (if not a perfectly decent actress – her pauses between words made it seem like she was auditioning for Twilight). And Veronica was trying to screw her over in order to fulfill her obsessive needs. On another show, Veronica is the villain, and Clarence Wiedman, who shows up in the nick of time in order to save Amelia's riches, is the hero. Of course, things are more complicated than that – but the end result? Veronica loses.
Veronica is on firmer ethical ground in the case-of-the-week. Sabrina, an annoying '09er overachiever, has someone disrupting her sleep and study habits during midterms, and hires Veronica to flush him out, under the assumption that it's her obsessive ex, the 35-year-old Neptune sports star Kaz. Veronica quickly realizes that it's not, and then, in an annoying plot contrivance where the best students at Neptune end up at a dinner at the Kanes', discovers that she has a potentially motivated rival for valedictorian in lower-class fellow student Hamilton Cho. Cho isn't behind the stalking, but his father is.
Mentally, Veronica is totally on Hamilton's side here: Sabrina is a total bitch, in general and to Veronica, where Cho has to work for what he gets (he's kind of a jerk to Sabrina, but not to Veronica). But when the truth comes out, Sabrina and her mother refuse any kind of compromise. Which they're in their rights to do. By the rules of straightforward morality, Veronica has done the thing, of course. But things are more complicated than that. End result? Veronica loses.
The result to take away here is that no matter what, the structures of power are set up that our perky blonde detective heroine can't really win. She can succeed. She can get close. But achieving a satisfactory result? In the world of the '09ers, that appears to be impossible.
“Wait…THAT's my problem?” Lack of school spirit for Veronica.
The shot of Veronica standing still as Wallace walks backward is gimmicky, but adorable.
“That's this close to taking your hot cousin to prom.”
Speaking of adorable, how about Leo wrapping the interrogation tapes as a present for his GF? Awww!
“You say following, I say taking a walk with a friend.”
“Can you do me a huge favor without asking any questions?” “Isn't that the bedrock on which our friendship is founded?”
“In my culture Chinese food is always followed by gelato.”
“You take that deep breath like you're preparing for battle.” And, in an instant, both Veronica and Meg become that much more endearing. Meg for her insight, and Veronica for being so human.
“Miss Sabrina commands you, put your pants back on and get a job!”
“Can I get you to stop that?” “Tell him to jump.”
I'm pretty sure this is the first confirmation that Veronica's not just a decent student, but a really good one. And it's possibly also the first time she's been mentioned as a junior.
Amelia is watching Clash of the Titans. Clever, Veronica Mars. Very clever.
“What brings you to my…door?” Veronica, of course, can't be the bad guy because Clarence Wiedman is clearly worse.
“You have a little something on your face.” rip
“It takes real talent to make the unfair seem cool.”
“Oh, hey, honey. What are you doing on the floor in the corner?” A silver lining for Veronica's failure with Amelia – she and Keith are pooling their resources to solve the Lilly Kane case. But has Veronica told Keith about her mom…?