If you're like me and you've been watching television for most of your waking life (and much of your asleep life), then two things might be true: (1) Your brain has turned into a warm orb of pink nonsense, and (2) nothing on TV is surprising anymore. You can tell how an episode will end by how it begins; you know what will happen between which commercial breaks; you know who will live or die by the placement of their credit in the opening title sequence; you're familiar with and regularly use phrases like "Chekhov's Gun" or "MacGuffin" or "Red Herring" or "Excitable Barbara." (I might've made that last one up). But still: Sometimes I know too much about how TV episodes work and it can be sort of annoying!
THAT is why Veronica Mars is so good: It's surprising! I'm 16 episodes in and the mythology is still pretty tough to pin down. Like any good mystery, most of the supporting characters had motive to kill Lilly Kane. And just when I think I've picked up on the show's clues, it's not long before I realize I fell for a misdirection and the show's still several steps ahead of me. Veronica Mars' week-to-week procedural elements are equally high-level; if there's a formula to them I definitely haven't figured it out yet, so the mysteries' explanations are surprising and well-written even for the most jaded viewer. The main difference between these eight episodes versus the first eight is that Veronica Mars has gotten more confident and heartfelt (and way less '90s!), so if I wasn't hooked before I definitely am now.
As many of you predicted, I've definitely come around on Logan Echolls. I mean, duh, his humanization has been a big element of this particular stretch of episodes. I'm still not sold on Keith Mars, though. My opinion of him ties in with the one criticism I have of the show so far: Keith's active disapproval of Veronica's burgeoning detective career. You know? Why is he constantly hassling her for solving tons of crimes all the time? She is great at it! It's getting to the point where Neptune might just fall into the ocean without Veronica's efforts. So relax, Keith Mars. And stop breaking up with foxy teachers so that you can spend more time with your daughter. We might start thinking the relationship is creepy! (Real time: I sort of think it's creepy still.)
All right, enough yammering. Let's talk about these hot, hot episodes:
Season 1, Episode 9: "Drinking the Kool-Aid"
Case of the week: A well-to-do couple enlisted Keith Mars to track down their '09er son who'd left behind his decadent lifestyle to go live with a cult up in the mountains. Keith had the audacity to ask Veronica for intel on the teen (he was a bully because one time he made fun of Weevil's fake poem?) but then forbade her from investigating on her own. Which, of course, she did. By JOINING the cult herself. But just when we feared Veronica was in over her head, we learned that the cult WAS indeed harmless and the Mars' efforts to separate the kid from it only resulted in a creepy forced-brainwashing back into '09er culture. Poignant twist!
The plot thickens: Two big mythology things: First, Veronica followed up on Abel Koontz's claim from the previous episode that Jake Kane was her father by tricking Keith into giving a blood sample for some kind of at-home paternity test. But then wouldn't you know it? She shredded the results (at 3am, at Keith's bedside) without ever finding out for sure. The second thing was, Veronica traced those spooky cross-hair photographs that she'd found in her mom's safety deposit box to the head of Kane Security.
Don't I know you from somewhere? While the first few episodes were remarkable in their prescient casting of future stars, it's really more fun to point out ALL of the recognizable faces that keep popping up. Starting with this guy:
Hey, Jonathan Bennett! He played Casey, the former jerk who'd joined the cult. He's still in a ton of stuff, but it'll be a while before anyone mentions something from his resume that isn't Mean Girls. But, you know, there are worse things to be remembered for.
Episode verdict: I'm not going to lie to you, Sirs and Madams, but I was pretty uncomfortable with this episode's unsettling pro-cult stance. Maybe I've just seen Martha Marcy May Marlene a little TOO recently and I've read Helter Skelter a few times too many for me to get on board with this supposedly harmless, poinsettia-farming commune. Sure, it STARTS with poinsettias and fireside singalongs, but we all know these people will be creepy-crawling mansions and pining for apocalyptic race wars by year's end. Still, though, I appreciated the unexpected twist. Uncomfortable yet refreshing.
Season 1, Episode 10: "An Echolls Family Christmas"
Case of the week: In this episode the series plunged neck-deep in Echolls territory, as most of the action revolved around the most Hollywood-esque family in Neptune. First Logan and three of his closest bros (and Weevil for whatever reason) experienced a holiday poker game gone bad when the cash prize up and disappeared. (Can someone explain why Duncan and Logan were wearing matching underwear during their forced strip search?) After frequent flashbacks, Veronica soon deduced that the thief was not, in fact, Logan, but one of his bros who'd been only posing as a rich kid. Meanwhile Keith was on the hunt for Mr. Echolls' stalker, who'd taken to leaving threatening pumpkins on his welcome mat and ended up being some jilted ex-mistress. She then had the audacity to stab him with an ice pick while the Christmas carolers were trying to sing. VERY rude.
The plot thickens: Not a ton of mythology action other than fleshing out the Echolls situation, but at their Christmas party Veronica DID confront Jake Kane about those cross-hair photos she'd traced to his head of security. Kane denied knowing anything about it, but then took his wife aside and basically implied that she'd done something crazy again, hadn't she? Whoops, now Mrs. Kane was the #1 suspect in my opinion!
Don't I know you from somewhere?
Logan's famous actor bro was played by Travis Schuldt, the original Ethan from Passions! Okay, I realize that's not exactly the highest-profile gig ever, but I'll take any opportunity I can to talk about Passions. Can you even believe that show was on the air? One character was played by an orangutan. AN ORANGUTAN.
Episode verdict: This episode WORKED. There are few things I like better than seeing a bad person get reformed, so the scene between Logan and Veronica in which he acknowledged her skills and accepted her help went a long way toward making him less reprehensible. Plus I just love me a Christmas episode, you know?
Season 1, Episode 11: "Silence of the Lamb"
Case of the week: After Veronica discovered that there was a demand amongst her student body to dig up blackmail-worthy dirt on their parents, she put that magical private-detective search engine to good use and uncovered a switched-at-birth scenario right in Neptune! The (unlucky) kids happened to be computer whiz Mac (hello again, Tina Majorino!) and the awful-seeming, platinum-blonde Madison. Over the course of a handful of really very compelling scenes, Mac struggled with whether to approach her birth mother or not, then finally opted to appreciate the mismatched family that raised her. (But not before having a truly touching, wordless exchange in her driveway with the suddenly aware woman. So good!) Meanwhile Keith Mars was temporarily reinstated as a sheriff's deputy to help solve a serial killer case he'd worked on back when he was sheriff. Someone had been strangling women with guitar strings! That someone ended up being the owner of a local guitar store. Whoops! Way to dig deep, guys.
The plot thickens: Veronica also turned her attention back to the trove of Lilly Kane evidence currently stored beyond her reach at the sheriff's station. But after flirting with a plucky young deputy, she finally obtained the phone recordings of whoever fingered Abel Koontz and it ended up being... the security dude who worked for Jake Kane! So yeah, more clues linking the Kanes to a cover-up. Nothing too shocking, really.
Don't I know you from somewhere?
Oh, Max Greenfield, I didn't know you were in this! The slightly schlubbier, lower-energy Deputy Leo D'Amato was a far cry from New Girl's Schmidt, but still plenty charming. I'm not trying to pat myself on the back for being so ignorant about Veronica Mars, but not knowing Greenfield would be here just made his introduction that much more fun. Oh, and check this out:
Aaron Paul! The future Breaking Bad star played a shifty, troubled dude here. So, you know. Why change what works, Aaron Paul? This Eddie LaRoche character was kind of a proto-Jesse Pinkman basically.
Episode verdict: That driveway scene between Mac and her birth mom was some great television, and the serial killer plotline was surprisingly intense for this show. While people HAD died before, this was the first time we edged into SVU territory. Fortunately both plotlines were balanced pretty well. Great episode.
Season 1, Episode 12: "Clash of the Tritons"
Case of the week: Veronica got framed for selling fake IDs and traced it back to a Neptune High secret society. You know, Skull & Crossbones type stuff, but in HIGH SCHOOL. (Ugh, this school.) But after infiltrating the group and absolutely nailing a Blondie song at a karaoke bar, she ended up unmasking the culprits on camera only to discover they they hadn't framed her after all. Instead, it was a disgruntled student whose father had been thrown in prison after a Keith Mars investigation.
The plot thickens: After a particularly crafty bit of espionage in which Veronica bugged her school psychologist's stapler, we confirmed a couple things about the Lilly Kane thing: (1) She and Logan had been broken up at the time of her death; (2) She'd dated Weevil at some point; and (3) Duncan was on medication and even blacked out in the days after her death. Meanwhile, in Echolls family drama, Aaron discovered that his wife (Lisa Rinna's lips) had been feeding info to the tabloids and threatened to divorce her. The episode ended with a pretty frightening final image of her abandoned Mercedes on a bridge, having been left there after her supposed suicide. Dang, Echolls family!
Episode verdict: Despite the increasingly weird behavior of this school's in-crowd, Veronica's fearless takedown of a very feared club was a thrill to watch. And again Logan ended up being downright likeable when he defended his mother to his awful father. Plus, it's hard to not like an episode with the title "Clash of the Tritons" when it guest-stars Harry Hamlin. I saw what you did there, Veronica Mars!
Season 1, Episode 13: "Lord of the Bling"
Case of the week: When a fearsome record producer—who was NOT Suge Knight, but was basically Suge Knight—discovered that his daughter was missing, he enlisted Keith Mars to find out who abducted her. After clearing a local gangsta rapper of the crime, Veronica traced the plot back to the missing girl's nerdy younger brother, who'd pretended to be the kidnapper in order to get his dad's attention. Or something? Anyway, it turned out the girl had run off to Mexico with her father's agent's son. Happy endings all around.
The plot thickens: Not a ton of movement on the Lilly Kane case, but we did learn that the missing girl was one of Veronica's friends back in the day and also the same girl Veronica had spotted Logan kissing at a party, which had caused Lilly to dump him. In other Logan news, he showed up at Veronica's apartment asking for help finding his mom, who he believed had staged her own death. Which, you know, actually seemed pretty plausible when it came to that family.
Don't I know you from somewhere?
Hey, Anthony Anderson! It was definitely weird seeing him playing a supposedly fearsome dude and not comic relief. And was he old enough to be playing a father of two teenagers? I don't know. Still pretty cool seeing him here, though!
Episode verdict: Okay, so the absolute BEST part of this episode should be obvious: Veronica, in the cold open, talking about the missing girl: "We used to be friends... a long time ago." CUT TO the theme song, "A long time ago... we used to be friends." I mean, come on, that's just comedy right there. MY kind of comedy. You guys are the super fans, so tell me, was this a classic Veronica Mars moment? It had to be. I don't know, it's all news to me. I definitely laughed out loud at that part. Anyway, the episode as a whole wasn't quite as compelling as some of the others. I'm not sure I cared a whole lot about the missing girl, but I DID really like the flashbacks about how Veronica had kind of spurned her back in the day. Those kinds of past-life regrets Veronica has to live with really make me like her so much more.
Season 1, Episode 14: "Mars vs. Mars"
Case of the week: In a scenario that felt slightly icky (in the same way that cult episode did), Veronica decided to defend her cool, hunky history teacher from allegations of statutory rape brought on by a loose-cannon outcast of a student. Meanwhile that student's parents hired Keith Mars to dig up the dirt on the teacher, ostensibly pitting Veronica against her own father. Fortunately Veronica discovered that the teacher was indeed a lecherous creep, and in a twist, the accuser WAS also lying, but only on behalf of her friend who'd been victimized and was too frightened to do anything about it.
The plot thickens: A couple of juicy tidbits were revealed in this episode. First Veronica uncovered a possible motive for Abel Koontz's false confession: He was dying! And during the same medical-records sting operation Veronica also discovered that Duncan suffered from epilepsy, thus the medication. (Although, wasn't it earlier implied that he was on anti-depressants instead? I don't know anything.) Meanwhile a videotape was discovered that SEEMED to show Logan's mom plummeting from the bridge, however when someone used her credit card after her disappearance, Mrs. Echolls' fate was again called into question.
Don't I know you from somewhere?
"Gossip Girl here..." Yup, that was Leighton Meester playing the scorned student! We all know she'd go on to re-team with Kristen Bell (sorta) as Blair Waldorf in Gossip Girl. But I loved Meester in the wonderful piece of filmmaking known as The Roommate, which of course featured both Bonnie AND Elena from The Vampire Diaries. Everything's connected, you guys.
Check another Party Down cast member off the list: Adam Scott played Mr. Rooks! In a scene that reminded me of the cool, goes-his-own-way English teacher from My So-Called Life, Mr. Rooks led a spirited, hands-on lesson about the fall of the Roman Empire. It looked super fun! Who WOULDN'T fall for this teacher? The black silk sheets were pretty gross, but that's life sometimes.
Episode verdict: This was just a good episode of Veronica Mars. Lots of different conflicts, reversals, and reveals. Also, am I crazy or was there a straight-up rim job joke at one point? Is that even allowed?
Season 1, Episode 15: "Ruskie Business"
Case of the week: The main plotline of this episode was surprisingly tense: A Russian-accented femme-fatale type hired Keith Mars (but really Veronica, acting on his behalf) to track down a former flame. Veronica personally took on the case mostly on the strength of this woman's emotional speech about how much she'd loved the guy. Except, WHOOPS! It turned out she was in league with the Russian mob and they were merely looking to murder a member of the witness protection program! Fortunately the Marses caught on to the scheme and prevented this. In a parallel story, Veronica's bud Meg had a secret admirer and Veronica agreed to help her discover who it was. After enlisting a sketch artist to identify the guy who'd purchased Meg flowers, Veronica made a discovery that promised to make her friendship with Meg a bit more awkward:
Oh, but taking SOME of the sting off was the fact that Leo showed up to Veronica's dance and they kissed! Take THAT, Duncan.
The plot thickens: Continuing the previous week's thread that Logan's mom's credit cards had been used after her disappearance, Veronica and Logan staked out the hotel where they'd been used only to discover that Logan's mean actress sister had them. Finally, Veronica traced her own mother's whereabouts to a dive bar in Barstow only to discover that Clarence, the Kane security dude, had followed her there.
Don't I know you from somewhere?
Logan's sister was played by this lady. No idea who she is. Just kidding, it's good ol' Alyson Hannigan, star of My Step-Mother Is An Alien, and other things!
And Home Improvement's Zachery Ty Bryan was Meg's Red Herring love interest!
Episode verdict: I really liked this episode, particularly everything to do with the '80s dance (Spandau Ballet AND Cyndi Lauper??). And I COULD NOT believe they busted out a replica of the Pretty In Pink dress for Meg and THEN had the outrageous good sense to dress Duncan up like Duckie. And obviously Veronica's "Lucky Star" get-up was really something special. See, I love when this show can balance its various mysteries and intrigue with some good, old-fashioned teenage romantic shenanigans, and this episode did just that.
Season 1, Episode 16: "Betty and Veronica"
Case of the week: This week's throwaway subplot was pretty silly: Neptune High's live animal mascot, Polly the Parrot, was stolen right around the time Wallace was poised to become a sensation on the basketball court (because sure). So after Veronica went undercover at the rival high school as Betty, a ditzy transfer student, she eventually learned that the entire parrot abduction had been masterminded by just some jealous kid on Wallace's basketball team. And in a slightly less shocking turn of events, Veronica admitted that she'd been secretly baking Wallace snicker doodles because she hadn't quite gotten over her cheerleading years yet. Or something. I don't know, I'm still distracted by the idea of a 5-foot 4-inch man being a basketball star out of the blue.
The plot thickens: In a plotline that, strangely enough, played out in flashback form, we learned what happened to Veronica in Barstow the previous night. After reuniting with her mother Lianne (a very-far-gone alcoholic), Veronica cashed in her college fund in order to send Lianne to rehab. Before that, though, we learned that not even Lianne knows who Veronica's true father is. We also learned that Lianne was chillin' with Jake on the night of Lilly's murder, and that Lilly's mom Celeste didn't quite have the alibi she'd claimed. ALSO, in a creepy turn, Veronica discovered that Clarence had BUGGED her bedroom. So Veronica bugged his office right back and discovered that the imprisoned Abel Koontz was not only dying, but he had a living heir: a daughter!
Episode verdict: Okay so I got slightly bored with all the mascot stuff. After plotlines involving the Russian mob and serial killers, this story felt like children's programming. Still though, the mythology reveals were pretty great, even if the discovery of Abel Koontz's daughter WAS slightly far-fetched. Nobody had figured this out during the original investigation? It never came up in Veronica's magical P.I. search engine? And nobody had known about his health issues either? For such a high-profile case, all the journalists were real lazy about it. So yeah, I realize Veronica Mars had to dole out its clues throughout 22 episodes, but this episode in particular really made it feel like the wheels were being spun a bit. I'm not mad, I'm just restless. I want to know who did it! Right now I'm guessing Lilly's mom, but I suspect that's TOO obvious.
Guys, I liked these episodes a whole lot. Even more than the first eight, these really seemed to fly by! Not only are the stories getting tighter and more interesting, but Veronica herself just gets funnier. Her voiceover during the cult episode was the most I've laughed yet (and I usually HATE voiceovers). So it's pretty nice watching a show evolve into this fully formed thing right before my eyes. I'm admittedly still in that exciting stage before I know what's going on, so I still don't have a lot of basis for casting too much judgment on the season overall. But I'm pretty thrilled about all that I don't yet know. All I really ask of a TV show is that it surprise me, and this one just can't stop doing that. My addled brain thanks you, Veronica Mars!
... Have you ever thought about joining a poinsettia-farming cult?
... Leo D'Amato or Schmidt?
... Who is the worst member of the Echolls family?
PREVIOUSLY: The Veronica Mars Season 1 Dossier, Episodes 1-8