Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Leave It to Beaver" (season 1, episode 22)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Veronica Mars - "Leave It to Beaver" (season 1, episode 22)


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 May 10, 2005/written by Rob Thomas & Diane Ruggiero, story by Rob Thomas; directed by Michael Fields): Well, there's a deceptive title. That said, Beaver does play an important role in this episode, albeit a small one, telling Veronica that Logan's alibi isn't so airtight after all (the morning of Lilly's death, Logan ditched their Mexican surf trip to drive home and check on his ex-girlfriend). But by the end of this roller coaster denouement, Beaver is probably the last character on our minds. Certainly when Veronica opens the door at episode's end to smile, "I hoped it would be you," there are numerous possibilities (Wallace, Logan, and Duncan, for example - my money's on Wallace) and Beaver isn't one of them. That closing moment is just one of several cliffhangers or loose ends in "Leave It to Beaver," quite possibly the most benign one. The last time we see Logan he is standing atop the bridge his mother jumped off, with the water on one side and a furious Weevil, his whole bike gang in tow, on the other. Veronica's mother, briefly restored to her happy home, is sent packing by her betrayed daughter (who discovers vodka inside Lianne's water bottle); on her way out the door, the bitter parent snatches the $50,000 check Keith finally earned from Celeste. Speaking of the Kanes, Jake is under arrest for obstructing justice, and we'll have to wait for the season two premiere to find out what's going to happen to him and all these other threads. Where it counts most, of course, Veronica Mars resolves rather than promulgates its mysteries.

Finally, we find out who killed Lilly Kane. And I was right!


Before we get there, "Leave It to Beaver" burns through a number of suspects. Duncan's own parents tell him he did it, and - momentarily at least - the devastated son seems to believe them. After all, he can't remember that day, his soccer uniform was in the washing machine when Keith showed up at the house, and a new flashback reveals that he was discovered over Lilly's body with her blood all over him. Veronica, however, suspects someone else: her current (recent ex-?)boyfriend. Logan's busted alibi, his undeniable motivation, and the surveillance equipment discovered in his room all point to a spurned lover slaying the young woman who broke his heart. Devastated once again when he realizes Veronica was the one who turned him in, Logan denies killing Lilly - the shot glass that served as crucial evidence, he says, was left in Lilly's car alongside a personal note accepting that their romance had ended. Veronica, disguised as a waitress, attends a political fundraiser at the Kane estate and sneaks into Lilly's bedroom to retrieve that note from her friend's hiding place. She and Duncan find something else in the air vent: small video cassettes. On the first tape, from the day of Lilly's murder, the soon-to-be victim discover her own surveillance just as Veronica did in the previous episode. On the second tape, from an earlier date, Lilly is making love with an Echoll but it isn't Logan. It's Aaron.

Veronica flees the party, tapes in hand...and a murderous movie star in her backseat. A chase ensues, with Aaron eventually locking Veronica inside a fridge (!) as he threatens her not just with suffocation but fire. Keith shows up to battle Aaron while his usually very active daughter in distress remains fridged (a trope, perhaps meant to be subtly tongue-in-cheek, that pissed off many fans  - this was one of the first things I ever read about Veronica Mars, although I'd completely forgotten it until now). Aaron is wounded, but Keith is badly burned while rescuing Veronica, and the killer is able to slip away. Veronica's protective dog and then a random flower delivery truck finish the job of incapacitating the desperate man, with a gun-wielding Veronica finally able to assert her dominance over her assailant. Back home, having sent Alicia to accompany Keith at the hospital (Veronica finally accepts that her family can't simply be glued back together), the exhausted, accomplished detective dreams that she's lounging on an inflatable raft in a giant pool alongside Lilly. The head wound that haunted various dreams and visions is finally gone, as is Lilly herself a moment later. "Don't forget me," she murmurs, before leaving Veronica to float alone.


My Response: I was definitely a latecomer to the "Aaron did it" conclusion, reaching it at the end of the previous episode. I refrained from making an open prediction for two reasons. First of all, in a Twin Peaks podcast I heard several years ago, the hosts casually mentioned that a certain actor (whose name I definitely didn't remember) played a character's father and was the killer. For much of the season, I wondered if they were referring to Jake. This did seem a bit too obvious as well as derivative of other "dead girl" procedurals; had I misheard/misunderstood the hosts? Somehow, I never put two and two together: who is another prominent character's father, important enough to the series to justify his culpability but below the radar enough not to ring alarm bells? In retrospect, it was all so perfectly planned. Aaron didn't appear in the pilot as far as I can recall (suggesting that perhaps Rob Thomas was not yet sure who the killer would be), but he was planted early enough in the series not to seem like an afterthought. He remained a constant presence, usually (and cleverly) because of his involvement with other characters' storylines - Logan's, Lynn's, Trina's. And his ability for violence was demonstrated early, and repeatedly, albeit in its most recent example with ostensible justification. Even his infidelity - and dishonesty about those affairs - established itself long ago, the one time he was the primary feature of an episode. Meanwhile, the show encouraged us to think Aaron's storyline carried its own weight and didn't need to intersect with Lilly Kane. It even attempted to build complicated sympathy in the wake of Lynn's suicide, and deflected suspicion to his son. Well done.

The second reason I was hesitant to air my suspicion was because Logan had been my prime suspect...until I read a Wikipedia article on the episode where he kisses Veronica, whose language indicated that any upcoming arcs were not going to involve him sitting in a jail cell or mouldering in a grave. Well, damn. In a way this was a bigger spoiler than what I heard on the podcast. I wonder if I would have continued to suspect him or if the show's subsequent desire to telegraph his guilt would have raised some red flags and encouraged me to look elsewhere. If I learned anything this season, I learned that Veronica Mars is fond of last-minute twists; trying to foresee them eventually became something of a pastime. Still, even identifying Aaron slightly ahead of time, there were some surprises in store. I wondered if Aaron killed Lilly out of concern for his son, or jealousy that he couldn't be with Lilly himself, but somehow - even after all these years in Twin Peaks! - I never considered that a narcissistic middle-aged man might have been carrying on an affair with a teenager himself. Aaron's hidden camera also seemed an obviously incriminating detial, but I didn't expect Lilly herself to discover this secret, triggering her own death. And I knew that Aaron would be following Veronica from the party, but I figured he would chase her in his own car; when he showed up inside her own vehicle, reflection caught in the rear-view mirror, I was genuinely caught off-guard. I'm not sure if I'm just slow on the uptake or if the series is that good at deflecting attention, but I probably wouldn't change a thing either way - I relish these unforeseen, but totally earned, shocks to the system.

Where do we go from here? Finding a mystery as compelling as Lilly Kane will be difficult - she perfectly tied together the class divides of Neptune, Veronica's tenuous position in the community, the personal relationships of the high school's student body, and even the Mars family's tumultuous melodrama, plus she was a charismatic figure in her own right. There are still elements related to this investigation that need to be resolved - Jake's and Abel's situations, the Kane family fallout following Jake's arrest - so the Lilly Kane case may not be totally closed yet, even if we do know the killer. However, as her murder does recede as the central device, new opportunities can arise. I've mentioned previously that I'd like to see Veronica Mars devote as much attention to the struggling denizens of Neptune in season two as it did the more privileged enclaves in season one (is it just my imagination, or did this season strike a closer balance in its first half than its second?). I really hope that Weevil, who feels underutilized after his one-two punch early on, will get to play a more prominent role.

What about Veronica's personal life? One big revelation in episode 22, which I haven't mentioned until now, is that Keith is Veronica's biological father, and thus Duncan is not her brother. Will they resume a relationship? Will she stick with Logan? Will other lovers intervene? I doubt we've seen the last of Lianne, but wherever that plot goes next, Veronica will be a hell of lot less trusting ("I bet on you," she says matter-of-factly, "and I lost"). Will Veronica and Wallace become step-siblings? And what of the Mars family business? Keith's disgrace is now his vindication but he and Jake remain on opposite sides; will this continue to impact his reputation (not to mention his daughters?) among the 09er elite? Will he return to his former career, or stick with the more rugged, independent private eye work that suits him so well? If he does become sheriff again, where does that leave Veronica? Does she take over as head P.I., and does she end up butting heads with her old man as a professional rival? How does she balance this with schoolwork, or is she ready to graduate? If so, does she head to college or take (at least) a year off so she can focus on work, a situation her father would no doubt be uncomfortable with?

There's a lot to go with here, but the biggest question remains, "What will take the Lilly Kane murder's place as the linchpin of a Veronica Mars season?" Well, that and, "Who's that knocking at your door?"

Next: (season 2) "Normal is the Watchword" • Previous: "A Trip to the Dentist"

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