“Driver Ed” - Season 2, Episode 2, originally aired October 5th, 2005 & “Cheatty Cheatty Bang Bang” - Season 2, Episode 3, originally aired October 12th, 2005
One of the consistent questions I've had surrounding this show (and one whose presence has surprised me a bit) is that of the Mars family ethical system. In their single-minded pursuit of Lilly Kane's murderer last season, they may have crossed a few moral and legal boundaries, which, on another show, might have cast them as the villains. So it's good to see them having moments of pure goodness in this episode.
The trigger for both Keith and Veronica's better natures is Jessie, the daughter of the driver, Ed, who plunged the school bus into the ocean, killing everyone except Meg (conveniently). The investigation is pointing towards Ed committing suicide, which leaves Jessie and her family out in the cold in terms of insurance money. Veronica initially doesn't want to help, thinking it's impossible, but seeing Jessie get bullied immediately changes her mind. Likewise, Keith is recruited by Steve Guttenberg's Woody Goodman to run for Sheriff again, which like Veronica, Keith initially rejects. However, seeing Jessie bullied by his replacement, Sheriff Lamb in favor of keeping a clearly open case closed, Keith changes his mind. Two major long-term stories for our protagonists are set in motion, and it's wonderful that they're both set in motion by the characters' essential decency.
It's also nice to see Wallace get his own case-of-the-week, since Wallace is both entertaining to watch and has struggled to have an identity apart from his friendship with Veronica. His strategy is similar to Veronica's – interview potential witnesses, use documents to narrow down the information, etc – but his methods and disposition are totally different. Veronica might say “See, if that's all you got, I gotta look at every nice-assed blonde chick in the school” but it would be sarcastic or accusatory, but Wallace? He makes it seem both plausible and charming.
The problem, though, is that he's doing it in support of new character Jackie. Adding another female character to the cast is not a bad idea, and having her be rich as well as both somewhat antagonistic and sympathetic could work well. But it doesn't yet. Her initial introduction, bitching at Veronica for coffee, sets her up as a bad person in a way that neither this episode nor the next one fully succeeds at changing. And it's fairly clear that we're supposed to feel ambivalent about Jackie. But I think maybe the Veronica Mars writers went a little bit too far at first in making her seem nasty. This is totally salvageable – the same thing could almost certainly have been said about Logan in the first few episodes of season one – but at this point, it's frustrating. The frustration only grows in “Cheatty Cheatty Bang Bang”, as Veronica and Duncan hang out with Jackie and Wallace. The boys like her. Veronica does not. Veronica clearly seems to be in the right.
“Driver Ed” resolves both of its storylines, although Jessie's isn't a happy resolution, but its final shot indicates that the show is working in a different style. The police find an unidentified body on the beach, and discover that his hand has VERONICA MARS written on it. There's no reason other than cliffhanger creation for us to see this in this episode, and, combined with Veronica's immediate dive into the bus crash investigation, indicates that the show is moving in a more directly serialized direction than it had in the first season. I'd say that both of these episodes were more serialized than any between S1's pilot and “A Trip To The Dentist”.
In many respects, this is a good thing. From what I can tell, Veronica Mars is using small-scale serialization, for example, with the introduction of the Casablancas father and step-mom, followed by a resolution of sorts by the end of the third episode. Likewise, Veronica's first major lead – that the dead body was Aaron Echolls' former stunt coordinator – happens in the third episode here.
But it's not necessarily good. As Keith Mars and Alicia Fennel are on a romantic getaway in Chicago, she is recognized by an undercover cop, and called by a different name. Now, I'm entirely open to being proven wrong, but as of this episode, this strikes me as a character history twist (and retcon of sorts) for its own sake. Does Alicia Fennel really need a complicated backstory? It doesn't seem that way to me, but I can see it yielding potential fruit down the line with the election starting.
But the most important aspect of the episode is that it starts to bring Logan back into the fold. Not necessarily as a friend, but as a character who interacts with people other than the Casablancas, which has become a critical component of the show. He sees Duncan and Veronica in a “Future Business Leaders” club and goes overboard, triggering a fight with Duncan. It's theoretically a good scene, but the dialogue is far too direct and totally lacking any kind of subtlety. This seems to happen throughout the episode – Veronica confronting Logan at the end felt exactly the same. These scenes were necessary in one sense – we've only seen them through flashback – but they just don't entirely work. Which is odd because the rest of the episode includes some stellar writing and acting, with a level of wit a bit above average for the show, which is saying something.
But despite generally liking both of these episodes, there's something that strikes me as a bit odd about both of them. Last season, Veronica's mysteries seemed grounded, and they were in many ways her response to almost random events. She was a part of the world, albeit the part of the world we viewed and sympathized with the most. This season, she seems to be the entirety of the world. The entire Casablancas real estate scheme, involving millions and millions of dollars, gets taken down by our intrepid hero. A bus crash kills a bunch of people? All about Veronica Mars. This makes a lot more sense in supernatural shows, as they can deal with prophecy and larger-than-life heroes. But it's a bit offputting here.
- “Sportsmanship! It's what separates us from the animals. That and…opposable thumbs.” There was no way I was going to use anything else as a photo here. I'm liking Guttenberg's character so far, but witholding deeper critical analysis until we see some more of his character.
- “Goth money spends just as well as…..non-goth money, I guess.” Kevin Smith's cameo initially comes across poorly, I think, but quickly turns around. I guess I'm gonna be saying “over-the-top” a lot this season until I get used to it.
- “I have excellent time management, I'm very good with people, and I have a very soothing phone voice.”
- “Honestly, and tell me the truth, how much of an ass-kiss would I be if I admit it's to be close to you.” Veronica's interactions with Sheriff Lamb are almost always a high point.
- “I think my father has a similar philosophy. Course, he's a murderer.”
- “You look just like your picture.” “That's why they call them pictures.” I wonder if Jessie will be used more often, or was simply the small push needed to get the Mars family more involved.
- “So who are we exploiting now?” “The workers.” “Exxxxcellent.” Still don't hate Duncan, even though I feel like I should.
- “So are you going to tell me why I'm here, or should I just sit back and enjoy your impression of a mildly constipated David Caruso?”
- “Didn't plug her right the first time, huh?”
- “And your ass looks totally awesome, by the way.” I'm having a hard time dealing with Kendall critically because, you know, Cordelia.
- “I'd love to have deputies and underlings other than my daughter.”
- “To love and win is the best thing. To love and lose is the next best.”
- Interesting to note that every episode still seems to be focused on parents and children.
- I liked Mr. Pope of the Future Business Leaders. Pity his retirement was eaten by wild dogs, but I guess it could be worse.
- Another interesting thing I've noticed about this season: the class war is being talked about simply as the “rich kids” and the “poor kids”. The term “oh-niner”, so prevalent in S1, seems to be on the backburner. I wonder if the producers or network thought that it was a little too jargony and pushing viewers away, or just a coincidence?
- Finally, the budget for the show seems much bigger. Helicopter shots! Chicago nightlife!