Sunday, June 16, 2013

Late to the Party: Veronica Mars, Season 1 Disc 2

(I've never seen Veronica Mars. Though I watched a few episodes out of context during its initial 2004-2007 run, the vast majority of the series remains unseen by me and I have little to no knowledge of where any of the major mysteries or character arcs are going. With the film continuation coming next year, I figure now is the perfect time to watch the show, and I'm going to chronicle my journey with mini-reviews written immediately after watching each episode.)

Season 1 Episode 5 - "You Think You Know Somebody"

First things first: Apologies for not posting one of these for, like, two fucking months. Chalk it up to one part being busy watching May season finales and Arrested Development, one part just being a standard-issue lazy ass, and one part a lack of being especially impressed with episode 4. But at least as for that last one it turns out I just needed to push a little further, because "You Think You Know Somebody" is my favorite episode of the series so far and the first to make me really see a hint of what Veronica Mars fans won't shut up about.

The case of the week here, involving Troy's stolen car and Luke's missing steroids, is both the first with stakes that feel immediate and personal to Veronica herself and the first to twist and turn in directions and end in a place I genuinely didn't predict. Benefits of knowing almost nothing about this show, I really thought Troy was just a nice kid! Him turning out to be the villain? Awesome, as was Veronica's owning of him by figuring out the truth, flushing his steroids and replacing them with piñata candy. In fact, Veronica dominated the bad guys satisfyingly every which way in this episode, with her also getting the roided out gym guy busted by border patrol with a simple fax.

All around fun, quick, twisty stuff that gives the Troy character the feel of a nice arc; a sort of tiny "big bad" for the first run of Veronica Mars. As for Veronica's relationships, she and her dad, while not really unlike many parent/kid bonds I've seen on TV before, are sweet enough in this episode. And Logan (who, as I mentioned in my last post, is one of the few parts of this show I did know about before starting, as ten years of internet love for a character is hard to avoid) and Veronica's relationship already seems noticeably softened from its toxic status in the show's pilot. Unless I'm mistaken, Duncan Kane was absent, which is also a plus.

And Veronica missing the phone call from her mom at the end? Great little capper that took me completely by surprise and grabbed my attention. Again, I have no idea what's going to happen in this story – this could be Veronica's mom's last appearance on the show, or she could be in twenty more episodes! And I don't have a clue! God, isn't being unspoiled the fucking best?

Season 1 Episode 6 - "Return of the Kane"

Aka Veronica Mars does Election. This episode's high school presidency A-plot seems like the most the series has really embraced its high-school-show roots to date, and it's pretty fun for the most part, if a touch predictable. It's the show's second instance in two episodes of revealing that the person initially cast in the role of victim is in fact the villain, which, you know, I find entertaining and don't object to on principle, though it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to space such episodes out just a little more.

But the thing that really stands out in memory is the Logan Echolls B-plot, which kicks off on the weirdest fucking note ever as Logan pays homeless people to fight each other. What the fuck?! I guess it is memorable, though, so I'll give the writers that much. His actor dad Aaron Echolls then whips him with a belt, which, I mean, I don't condone parents abusing their children or anything, but in this case can you really blame him all that much?

There's also a little stuff with Duncan and his dad (I mean, technically the election A-plot revolves around Duncan, but he's given thankfully little actual screentime in it, "thankfully" because this dude continues to seem like an extra who they've charitably given lines to), and I have to say, Mr. Kane does not seem like a killer. I know that Troy also seemed like a decent guy until episode 5, so this could be the same kind of fakeout, but my prediction as of this point is that Mr. Kane is a red herring in Lilly's murder.

Season 1 Episode 7 - "The Girl Next Door"

Ok, just like my "Holy crap it's Melissa Leo!" response from a few episodes back, allow me a moment here to go "Holy crap it's Jessica Chastain! Not looking especially different than she would ten years later when she started starring in a million fucking movies either!" She doesn't get the chance to do any especially juicy acting, spends the bulk of the episode missing and I doubt that if I was watching this in 2004 I would've pegged this minor redheaded guest star for future movie stardom, but it was a pretty fun jolt to see her nonetheless.

Beyond Chastain's presence, the case-of-the-week is alright, if a bit weirdly erratic in its pacing: Too slow when Veronica hears the thud in Jessica Chastain's apartment in the morning but doesn't bother going in there until evening, and too fast when we cut immediately from Keith telling Veronica to stay off the case to the very next scene, where Veronica tells us in one sentence of voiceover that she convinced her dad otherwise. It's also by far the darkest case of the week we've had so far, with rape and rape pregnancies and a guy attempting to murder his stepdaughter and a shooting. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with darker storytelling, but I did find it a little jarring after last episode's light-as-whipped-cream high school election shenanigans.

The highlight of the episode is unquestionably the (largely disconnected from the A-plot) Weevil/Logan B-story, which is easily Weevil's best episode of the series to date and marks yet another inch in Logan's heel face turn as he manages to rescue Weevil from expulsion. Detention poker, elaborate pranks against teachers, Logan shedding evilness – what's not to love?

Season 1 Episode 8 - "Like a Virgin"

So, unless Abel Koontz is lying out his ass or there's some other twists we don't know about yet, it seems that Veronica is genetically a Kane? Which both explains why Duncan Kane abruptly broke up with her and immediately fills this show with all kinds of bizarre incestuous overtones. Game of Thrones, eat your heart out!

Putting aside that final twist (which, by the way, is excellent, and the first ending on this show to immediately compel me to watch the next episode), "Like a Virgin" marks a quick turnaround from "The Girl Next Door," bringing the case-of-the-week immediately back to light high school shenanigans. Lighter than the election episode, even, as this one revolves around the teens of Neptune High taking online purity tests, which are then sold to the entire student body, sending everything into Mean Girls-esque disarray.

And, if not as much fun as Mean Girls, it's still actually a pretty good spot of high school drama fun. I wasn't massively impressed with where it all ended – the culprits were such minor nonentities that I hardly even remembered who they were – but all the slut-sneezing and general shellshock in the student body was pretty enjoyable stuff that actually felt a little closer to an authentic, if heightened, high school than the series has before.

The subplot with Keith Mars helping Wallace's family out with their dangerous tenant was a pretty good way to develop Keith into someone a little harder and more competent, although it was a little strange how what was seemingly starting as a Wallace story ended up having a resolution that involved Wallace basically zero. Guy just can't seem to evolve beyond Veronica's sidekick; at least not yet.

Pretty good episode for guest stars, too. We got Alona Tal as Veronica's cheerleader friend, who I'm a minor fan of from Supernatural, and the debut of computer genius Mac (who, despite not having seen this show, I still know just from general internet osmosis goes on to be a prominent character). I'm getting a definite Buffy and Willow vibe from Veronica and Mac's relationship, which, hey, you won't see me complaining about. Unless Mac turns into Dark Mac and attempts to give the world a computer virus or something later on.

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