Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Credit Where Credit's Due" (season 1, episode 2)

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Veronica Mars - "Credit Where Credit's Due" (season 1, episode 2)


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 September 28, 2004/written by Rob Thomas; directed by Mark Piznarski): At a beach party, thrown by the elite 09ers on the PCH bikers' turf, a confrontation between Logan and Weevil gets personal. While trading barbs, Logan is keen to remind Weevil that his grandmother Leticia (Irene Olga Lopez) cleans Logan's house - no matter who wins any physical confrontation, it's clear who has the upper hand in the broader cultural clash. This connection comes back to haunt both of them soon after, as Leticia is arrested for committing fraud with the Ecchols' credit card. Given the nature of the expenses, everyone is positive Weevil himself was the culprit and sure enough, the gang leader eventually turns himself in so that Grandma can be released. But Veronica isn't so sure. Helping her father out on behalf of Leticia's lawyer, she initially suspects Logan himself - did he steal his own mother's card in order to set an enemy up? The deeper Veronica digs, the more her focus shifts from Logan to his girlfriend Caitlin Ford (we'll save her actress attribution for the "response" section). Turns out Caitlin was cheating on Logan with Chardo Navarro (Wilmer Calderon), Weevil's cousin.

With Veronica busting the case wide open, Weevil is released, Logan is humiliated, and Chardo is kicked out of the PCH before fleeing town alone, foolishly believing until the last moment that Cailtin would join him. Maybe she wishes she had - after her relationship with Chardo is exposed, she, like Veronica before her, is marginalized and excluded by the social class she took for granted. Veronica, meanwhile, may be moving in the other direction. A stint with the school newspaper, under the friendly tutelage of Mallory Dent (Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Sidney's daughter), hooks her up again with Duncan, while new kid Troy Vandegraff (Aaron Ashmore), already part of the popular clique due to prior connections, is eagerly pursuing Veronica despite her outcast status. Did she make the wrong decision siding with her father rather than her peers? Though the focus is mostly elsewhere, Lilly Kane's presence lingers in "Credit Where Credit's Due," appearing in flashbacks, photos, and of course haunting all the social interactions. And at episode's end, Veronica wonders aloud why her father suspected Jake Kane at all. He won't tell her yet.

My Response:
A few months ago, I noticed a car commercial which depicted multiple decades in the form of fashion and music. The seventies, eighties, and nineties were easy enough to discern but when the montage reached its next segment I was confused. Was this supposed to be the zeroes? The current era? Was there a difference? I took to Twitter and questioned whether or not the previous decade actually had a distinct enough aesthetic to distinguish it from the present. In response, someone posted a picture of Christina Aguilera and pals in crop tops, extensions, and hair bumps and I had to concede the point. They might as well have posted this episode. Between the clothes, the music, and the dialogue I found myself thinking "This feels very 2004" within a few minutes, and that was before I noticed, in the background of the crypto-O.C. party sequence...*squints* Paris Hilton??? Sure enough, the quintessential zeroes celeb is a "special guest star" on episode 2. A quick social media search demonstrates that pretty much everyone has the same reaction when they discover/re-discover this stunt casting.

That distracting if amusing appearance aside, I found the early scenes grating - the dialogue was too cutesy, with some of the worst "white guys drop corny hip-hop references" I've ever encountered - but in a way that works to the episode's advantage, reinforcing the tiresome smugness of the 09ers and placing us even more on Weevil's side. Indeed, the titular hook of "Credit Where Credit's Due" toes an uncomfortable line. Credit card fraud against the Echolls feels like something we should be cheering on, not rooting for a Navarro to get busted for. The teleplay cleverly dodges this bullet to a degree, by hinging Leticia's fate, and then Weevil's, on Veronica's discovery of the real culprit. Even so, as Leticia herself observes, Chardo will suffer serious consequences if he's turned in and the fact that the crime was spurred by foolish romance rather than greed only makes this outcome all the more troublesome. Although he eventually thanks her for saving him from juvie and the highway work detail, Weevil's initial response to Veronica's investigation is scornful: "Be honest, Veronica, you think you're this big outsider, but push comes to shove, you're still one of them. You still think like one of them."

This exchange (which precedes a boldly eight-minute-delayed opening credits) and the episode's overall arc both point to a larger hitch in Veronica Mars' social ethos. Yes, she lacks great wealth or status (especially by local standards); yes, she sticks up for the underdog; yes, her father's firing places her in opposition to the town's social elite. However, she and her dad are still generally working within an unjust legal and social framework (Keith Mars bickers with the police, but they're functionally on the same side), enforcing an order designed to hold down Neptune's underclass, even as they themselves suffer its consequences. How the characters navigate this tug-of-war promises to be one of the show's most compelling challenges.

Next: "Meet John Smith" • Previous: "Pilot"

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