Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Clash of the Tritons" (season 1, episode 12)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Veronica Mars - "Clash of the Tritons" (season 1, episode 12)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Every day, except Saturday, I will offer a short review of another episode until I finish the first season. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on January 11, 2005/written by Phil Klemmer & Aury Wallington; directed by David Barrett): Three stories dominate "Clash of the Tritons," to varying degrees of seriousness. The lightest plot is the one Veronica is most directly involved with. She is framed - even forced to do a perp walk - for manufacturing fake IDs. Rick (J.D. Pardo), the student who was busted when he dropped his now-comatose friend off at an ER, claims that Neptune High's elite secret society the Tritons forced him to (pardon the expression) ID her as the culprit. Through surveillance, clever deduction, and dedicated investigation, including a visit to a karaoke bar to belt out Debbie Harry, Veronica determines that the mysterious but ultimately goofy Tritons were never involved with this conspiracy. Rick got caught out on the town with a friend on his own prerogative, blamed the Tritons out of resentment that they wouldn't induct him (despite past family members getting initiated), and chose Veronica as the patsy because her father exposed his own dad for fraud when he tried to get revenge on a hedge fund that had treated him poorly.

Meanwhile, Ms. James has not left Veronica's life simply because she stopped dating Keith. She is interviewing all Neptune students about Lilly's death as part of grant-funded study of adolescent grief. This is quite convenient for Veronica, who sets up a recording device (disguised as a stapler) on Rebecca's desk and listens in to the various interviews. Most alarming is Duncan's, as he describes not being able to remember the days surrounding his sister's death, and confesses that he's taking an array of different medications. Death and medication coincide most toxically in the third story, which initially seems to just be a gossipy soap opera tangent. Logan's parents may be headed for a divorce; someone has leaked Aaron's affairs to the tabloids, causing extensive humiliation for Logan at school. Eventually, that person is revealed to be Lynn herself. She flees the school after her son confronts and threatens his angry father, hopping in a car and popping a pill before tearing off. The last shot of episode 12 reveals her convertible on the edge of a high bridge, police helicopters whirring overhead. The vehicle is empty.

My Response:
The Triton cult reminds us of Veronica Mars' endless ability to riff on cultural tropes and cross-references (in this case, a touch of Eyes Wide Shut, albeit amusingly sexless) within a high school and/or divided community context. Ideas like this keep the show going episode-to-episode even as it spins out larger stories. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the Lilly Kane emphasis this time is the spotlight it shines on her brother. If I had to make a prediction, I'd guess that Duncan won't ultimately be Lilly's killer, but the series is definitely making us doubt his innocence. Pinning the murder on Duncan does make a lot of sense: it emphasizes Veronica Mars' fascination with the perniciousness of Neptune's wealthy elite, as well as the systemic nature of that corruption (Duncan himself seems like a nice guy, but his cocoon of privilege may have outweighed any personal qualities in leading him to murder), and it also plays into the show's fondness for the dramatic twist, given how many episodes underscore this character's surprising good nature even as it plants doubtful seeds (including this one, in which his Triton membership is teased as a threat before being revealed as a harmless trait). Duncan's unknowability (even to himself) has remained a constant theme throughout this season.

However, I believe the series will go in another direction. For one thing, Duncan's possible guilt is being dangled too obviously for a narrative that prefers to pull the rug out from under us at the last minute, even as we look back and realize the clues were there all along. I also suspect that the series is sincere in investing Duncan with good qualities to make him an exception to its general social outlook. And, despite her questions, Veronica seems to trust him; she implicitly voted for him as class president, after all! Hell, the series is even playing the he's-not-so-bad card with the seemingly irredeemable Logan (I predicted a divorce would make him more sympathetic, but a parental suicide will go a lot further in that direction). After making a very bad initial impression, Logan seems more and more like a wild long shot as the killer. But maybe that's the play, with (for example) Troy's last-minute reversion to type as a precedent. This episode also emphasizes the ambiguity of Veronica's and her father's detective roles - when Rick reveals the reason for his actions, we see a sense of trepidation - even shame - creep across the young sleuth's face. Following some hints in previous episodes (her guilt about her neighbor's fate in "The Girl Next Door" or her disdain for client duty in "Drinking the Kool-Aid"), Veronica may be headed for a crisis of confidence about the morality of her avocation. And, quite possibly, the unwinding of the Kane case itself will only further contribute to this gnawing anxiety, even as she currently considers it a shining beacon of potential redemption.

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