Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Mars vs. Mars" (season 1, episode 14)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Veronica Mars - "Mars vs. Mars" (season 1, episode 14)


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 February 15, 2005/written by Jed Seidel & Diane Ruggiero, story by Rob Thomas; directed by Marcos Siega): As is often the case, Veronica and Keith Mars are working on the same case: popular history teacher Mr. Rooks (Adam Scott, later of Parks and Rec) has been publicly denounced by student Carrie Bishop (Leighten Meestor, later of Gossip Girl - this show really was a springboard for the following decade of hit television). She says he seduced, impregnated, and abandoned her. This time, however, there's a twist - father and daughter are working for opposite sides. Keith has been hired by the girl's parents to take down the teacher so that they can file a lawsuit. Veronica, on the other hands, believes Mr. Rooks, Neptune High's resident "cool" instructor (who leads finger-snapping trivia sessions in class and presents U.S. history from a leftist perspective) when he says that he's never had the slightest romantic or sexual contact with Carrie. Perhaps just as importantly, she doesn't believe Carrie, whose reputation as a self-centered scandalmonger precedes her - not just from others' lips to Veronica's ears but through Veronica's own experience. A flashback reveals Carrie and fellow gossip-hound Susan Knight (Christine Lakin) snickering about Duncan's mental breakdown and trashing Veronica herself as she listens from a bathroom stall.

While Keith warns Veronica that Carrie's documentation is sound and Veronica begins to successfully poke holes in Carrie's story (she saves the teacher's job at a school board hearing by proving that it's easy to fake text messages and convincingly confronts Carrie with the fact that she was winning a track meet at the time of one of her supposed rendezvous with Rooks), there are other ongoing investigations. Veronica sneaks into the office of Duncan's doctor to pull his medical records, discovering that he takes medication prescribed for violent epileptic episodes featuring blackuots. In the same file cabinet, she serendipitously comes across Abel Koontz's diagnosis and returns to the prison at episode's end to confront him with the fact that he's dying and is serving as someone else's patsy. And she's also fulfilling her duty for Logan, tracing down every hint that Lynn may have faked her own death: discrediting a supposed witness who claims to have seen the jump, discovering that someone who supposedly saw her shoved into a van is actually just a megafan indulging in wishful delusions, and finally turning up a freshman who accidentally caught Lynn's suicide on video. Then, in a shocking twist - just as Logan's hope seems completely crushed - Veronica learns that Lynn's credit card has just been used.

There's a less welcome breakthrough in the Rooks case. A visit to the recklessly horny teacher's home reveals that his bedsheets and music choices are exactly as Carrie describes, and Veronica's keen eye for detail determines that another student was at an event the night he allegedly hit on Carrie. The "S.K." who received the text messages shown on the disciplinary hearing wasn't "Sweet Knees," Carrie's supposed nickname, but...good old Susan Knight from the restroom gossip squad (the flashback makes sure to drop her name, in a plant reminiscent of the Triton leader's otherwise random appearance a few episodes earlier). Veronica tracks Susan down and discovers she's pregnant, disowned by her parents, and still hesitant to pin statutory rape on Mr. Rooks even though her diary and anecdotes inspired Carrie, who was attempting to do a good deed for a friend (hence the discrepancies in her story). Rooks is fired, Veronica apologizes to Carrie, and Keith, humbled by his daughter's prowess and perhaps contrite that he was so hesitant to share information with her, pays his respects.

My Response:
This is an interesting episode to view in the post-"Me Too" era. Rooks' guilt seems obvious from a mile away, while Veronica's instincts are alarmingly victim-blamey. In fact, the episode pulls off a subversion of expectations that's even more dramatic in 2018 than 2005, with Veronica's ex-cop dad making the woke, "she deserves to be heard" anti-creeper case while his daughter leans hard on a "but he does good work" defense of the accused and a dismissive, quasi-sexist dismissal of the accuser. This being Veronica Mars there must be a twist somewhere, but rather than vindicating Veronica's long-shot witch hunt thesis, the show finds its turnaround in a surprise that still holds the powerful abuser's feet to the fire and redeems the disrespected whistleblower. It even gives Veronica room for growth (which alone justifies her starting point - this is a helpful reminder, if needed, that current narratives about sexual exploitation were long disregarded by many, including women). Nonetheless, I did find myself wondering if "Mars vs. Mars" could have gone further to make Mr. Rooks' guilt unexpected. When I saw the opening scene, I assumed that everyone would buy Carrie's accusation - we only find out about her reputation afterwards, at which point an initial impression of plausibility has already settled in. But perhaps that just demonstrates we've come a long way in a decade.

Duncan is looking increasingly likely as a prime suspect if not, ultimately, the actual killer (among other factors, I just don't think the series would broadcast its intentions this far in advance of the finale). We can be fairly certain that Abel didn't murder Lilly by now, unless there's a dramatic "gotcha" reversal in store, and I don't see what the point of that would be. And Logan is so involved with his mother's disappearance that it just seems like too much of a gear-shift to re-entangle him in Lilly's murder, though I wouldn't be totally surprised if the show goes there. The Lynn "suicide" may also be the first multi-episode (but not full-season) arc that Veronica Mars has introduced since the Troy relationship/scam - and, by the way, after a single stretch it's looking like Veronica may have found another potential partner in Leo (who's back on the job after a Veronica-fueled suspension). I am curious to see where Logan's quest will land. Somebody fell from that bridge, but who? If it wasn't Lynn, did she witness someone else's suicide and decide to use this opportunity to flee town? Is the obsessive fan actually telling the truth about the mysterious van? Or is she actually dead, and her card has merely been stolen? There are many possibilities and whether or not Lynn Echolls lives, this storyline certainly does.

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