Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "The Girl Next Door" (season 1, episode 7)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Veronica Mars - "The Girl Next Door" (season 1, episode 7)


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 November 9, 2004/written by Jed Seidel & Diane Ruggiero, story by Jed Seidel; directed by Nick Marck): Often Veronica Mars likes to surprise us, but in this case it plays its cards right up front. We begin with classic flashback framing: someone is being transported out of the Sunset Cliffs Apartments (the Mars' home) into an ambulance as Veronica watches and wonders if she should never have gotten involved with her neighbor's problem in the first place. The credits, so often postponed for seven or eight minutes, begin right after this introduction and we jump back a week, slowly leading up to that fateful night. Sarah Williams (Jessica Chastain), a pregnant, troubled young woman, lives with Andre (Adam Kaufman), a painter with whom she frequently fights. When she vanishes, Veronica suspects the worst. Sarah's mother Emily (Eve Gordon) and stepfather Randall (John J. York) show up in Neptune and hire Keith to find their daughter but it's Veronica who eventually tracks her down.

Veronica may solve the case, figuring out who stole Sarah's journal, where she was hiding, and that Sarah was raped and Andre isn't the one who got her pregnant. But she misses one crucial detail, hinted when Emily casually identifies Sarah's change around the time she remarried. Randall is the father of Sarah's child, and when she reveals to her mother that he assaulted her, a fight over a gun ensues. Keith fires through the window, and so the person we see transported to the hospital at episode's beginning - and end - is Sarah's stepfather, not Sarah, and as it turns out Andre has nothing to do with any of it. Veronica speculates that perhaps digging into Sarah's past only exacerbated the situation, openly wondering if sometimes secrets are better left unexplored. This is a question which has additional meaning given some of the other discoveries in this episode (and incidents from earlier ones too).

On a lighter note, Weevil and Logan end up sharing detention and their revenge on Mr. Daniels (Steven Williams), spiking his car on a flagpole - I still have no clue how this was accomplished - almost gets Weevil expelled, until Logan takes credit and essentially bribes the principal into letting them both off easy. Even this storyline, however, hints at a broader significance. Weevil's buddy mocks Logan in the bathroom, noting that Weevil slept with the white boy's girlfriend (Weevil protests that it wasn't like that), and at one point Logan notices a Lilly heart tattoo on Weevil's back. Despite lying and saying it's his sister's name, Weevil clearly had some involvement with the dead girl, a fact hinted in previous episodes (he cried at Lilly's memorial service, and Wanda asked Veronica if the rumors about Weevil and Lilly were true, which Veronica denied). Veronica also discovers another hidden relationship when she's assigned a class reunion montage and finds out her mom was one half of the Class of '79's star couple...with Jake Kane.

Indeed, when she says that some secrets should remain secrets, it's hard not to keep that revelation in mind. The episode's flashbacks dwell on Duncan's break-up with her, which actually precedes Lilly's death, and there's just the slightest hint that Veronica wonders if she herself is actually a Kane. When her father says something to the effect of, "You have to really love someone to raise a child that's not yours," Veronica pauses and has what looks like an epiphany. It could be the realization that Sarah was abused by her stepfather...or it could be something closer to home.

My Response:
There's a lot to appreciate about this episode, from an early turn by Chastain to the very noirish storytelling to the return of Weevil as a central character after a series of minor or non-appearances - this time with a new link to the Lilly Kane case. One subtle aspect I really appreciated, however, was the building up of the apartment complex as a location in its own right. I just love the way this show is able to cultivate and develop various communities. After weeks of seeing the Mars homestead simply as a place for father and daughter to hang their hats after a busy day or engage in some domestic drama, we get a broader look at both the physical dimensions and the social dynamic at this modest but pleasant beachfront property, featuring a swimming pool, several floors with outdoor corridors, and - as it turns out - an all-important laundry room.

Close to a third of the way through the series, now might be the time for some predictions and speculations. I'm doubtful that Veronica will actually turn out to be Jake's daughter (and - yuck - Duncan's sister), though this could be a compelling red herring to ride for several episodes. Weevil's relationship with Lilly will probably prove to be of some importance, but I definitely don't think he's her killer, and I'm even more certain I don't want him to be - after the Wanda disappointment last episode, I can do without anymore "just because they're the underdogs doesn't mean they're not guilty" twists, thank you. Logan is a more ambiguous suspect. The series is clearly trying to build some nuanced sympathy with him after establishing his scumbag bona fides. A few episodes ago, he was shown in a positive light, and in this episode for all his arrogant attitude, he does 'fess up and get Weevil out of trouble. I don't think he did it.

Who else could it have been? Even as I type this, I'm remembering that I overheard a bit too much information once on a podcast, so I'll stop the guessing there in case I know more than I should. (The worst part is, this was some random podcast trashing Fire Walk With Me, so I shouldn't even have been listening in the first place!) Another question, though: was Veronica's rape connected in any way to Lilly's murder? The assault has never been mentioned since the pilot, which is somewhat surprising, but I think some of the events and dialogue in "The Girl Next Door" serve as an oblique reference. Sarah's secret serves as a near-subliminal parallel and Veronica's closing line packs an extra punch when considered in this light.

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