Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Silence of the Lamb" (season 1, episode 11)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Veronica Mars - "Silence of the Lamb" (season 1, episode 11)


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 5, 2005/written by Jed Seidel & Dayna Lynne North; directed by John Kretchmer): The E-String Strangler strikes again! An old case brings Keith (temporarily) back to the Neptune police force when a dead body washes up on shore. The guitar chord wrapped around her neck suggests the work of a serial killer who had supposedly been captured; in need of Keith's expertise in the area, Sheriff Lamb swallows hard and partners up with his nemesis to track several suspects. They seem particularly close when they detain an amateur pornographer (Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad's Jesse making a second appearance in my spring viewing diaries), but Keith - constantly butting heads with the arrogant but insecure sheriff - has doubts about all the circumstantial evidence. Sure enough, just in time to save a suffocating victim locked inside a safe, Keith discovers the real murderer: a jovial guitar store owner (Steven Monroe) who was right there in front of them all along.

Veronica uses her dad's return to the sheriff's station, and young desk officer Leo D'Amato's (Max Greenfield's) flirtatious overtures, as an opportunity to sneak into the evidence room and retrieve a CD with the anonymous tip about Lilly Kane. With the help of techie friend Mac, she figures out who left the distorted phone call that identified Abel Koontz - it was Kane employee Clarence Wiedman (Christopher B. Duncan), who took those threatening photos of her (and whom she implicitly threatens with photos as well by episode's end). Mac is returning a favor for Veronica, who looked up her parents (part of a thriving side business which Mac would like to launch as a global web service), discovering that Mac was accidentally switched at birth with spoiled rich girl Madison Sinclair (Amanda Noret). Crashing the 09ers' birthday party, Mac discovers a family as interested in art and literature as she is, and a little sister who looks and acts like a junior doppelganger. She makes her peace with the painful truth, but before leaving on a family trip with her adopted parents (who have no idea what she knows), Mac finds her biological mother (Carlie Westerman) watching her from a parked car. The melancholy teenager places her hand on the window longingly, and the teary-eyed Lauren returns the gesture, both of them wishing for something that never was but should have been.

My Response:
Veronica Mars often juggles several stories, but rarely has it centered a non-Veronica plotline so prominently, as it does with the serial killer case here. Of course there's some precedent in the previous episode, in which both Mars detectives investigate separate branches of the Echolls family but at least those two cases had something in common. Here, Keith and Veronica truly branch off into separate worlds. Apparently, teaming up for private eye assignments is one thing, while professional police work - in pursuit of a dangerous murderer - is something else. And so Keith carries the "E-String Strangler" manhunt on his own. The series definitely seems interested in building up Veronica's dad as a crack sleuth in his own right. I can think of several reasons for this: not just compensating for his secondary role in the early episodes (in which at times he seems almost like a Nickelodeon parent, caring but kind of clueless, a bit of a bumbler in comparison to his wise kid), but also instigating our personal investment as his parentage comes into question and building to a point where he might partner with his daughter to re-open the Lilly Kane murder mystery. It will be fun to eventually look back over the season and see how the various threads wound together - as well as how seemingly enclosed episodes contributed to the whole.

Another interesting touch is Mac's return. If I'm not mistaken, she's the first high schooler to reappear outside of the core Wallace-Logan-Duncan group (aside from the temporary Troy and the marginal Dick). Mac is certainly the most prominent recurring teen. Last time, she was intriguing asset for Veronica, but now she emerges as a figure with her own poignant background. She's also yet another figure to span the two social worlds of Neptune, in her case the humble, ordinary middle-class Mackenzies (who won a million-dollar lawsuit against the hospital, but blew the money on a failed dealership) and the lofty, luxurious Sinclairs. Veronica Mars does a great job amplifying its protagonist's crises and contradictions in varied, imaginative fashion while also fleshing out a larger world, and I'm sure Mac will return to serve these functions again. At the halfway point of its debut season, the series has deftly assembled a sprawling ensemble with sporadic appearances, but it's also attempting to keep pace with larger arcs. Will the show devote a small arc almost exclusively to the Kane case (or Veronica's mother, for that matter) any time soon, or will it wait until the end of the season to substantially divert from its mystery-of-the-week format? For now at least, the balance is working.

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