Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "A Trip to the Dentist" (season 1, episode 21)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Veronica Mars - "A Trip to the Dentist" (season 1, episode 21)


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 3, 2005/written by Diane Ruggiero; directed by Marcos Siega): From a Rashomon roundelay of self-serving accounts, Veronica finally pieces together what happened at that party a year ago. The cringingly nicknamed Casablancas brothers, Dick and Beaver (Kyle Gallner), brought the GHB from Tijuana and were ostensibly using it for their own amusement. Dick surreptitiously spiked the drink of his girlfriend Madison (the switched-at-birth child raised by Mac's biological family). Madison gave Veronica "a trip to the dentist" by spitting in her own cup and then handing it to Veronica as she passed by, neither one of them knowing that there was more than spit inside. A drugged Veronica began making out with various partygoers before Duncan pulled her away and then Logan spiked Duncan's drink, ostensibly to help him loosen up and have a good time. When Veronica and Duncan became separated again, Dick tried to get Beaver to rape Veronica but the little brother ran away to throw up before anything happened. Then Duncan found Veronica in the bedroom where the others had left her, she woke up, and they began having sex, which Duncan describes, and Veronica accepts, as consensual. Most of the other partygoers share some responsibility and yet Veronica concludes that what she thought happened isn't exactly what did happen...for better, or for worse.

Duncan, retrieved from Havana by a diligent Keith, is back home. When Veronica confronts him, asking why he left her alone that morning, he screams that he already knew she was his sister. Later, fleeing a party at the Echolls, Duncan attacks own car in a furious rage as poor, clueless Meg tries to stop him. He's just learned that Logan and Veronica are a couple. Logan begins the episode as suspect #1 and is eventually redeemed in Veronica's eyes, even after he admits that he drugged Duncan. But when he leaves the room to find a spare key for the liquor cabinet, Veronica discovers something newly disconcerting: the master of surveillance is herself being watched, as was - presumably - every girl whom Logan ever went to bed with. The giveaway is a ceiling fan (nod to Twin Peaks?) with a hidden camera, running a wire to a secret deck of monitors. The fact that this is Logan's room suggests the equipment is his...but is it possible another Echolls family member has been spying on his trysts unbeknownst to him? And what does this mean for the girl who probably spent more time in this room than any other - Lilly Kane?

Speaking of Lilly, Keith goes to Vegas to track down a call girl who can provide Abel's alibi. While he's out of town, Veronica apologizes to Alicia for the plant-bugging incident and promises her that Keith will stick with her. Episode 21 ends, however, with a possible hitch in that promise. Lianne Mars is home, sitting in the living room with Keith, waiting for Veronica when she walks in the door.

My Response:
This is a riveting penultimate chapter, maintaining a fast pace and avoiding any lighter high school A-story: Veronica Mars herself is the one who asks Veronica Mars to solve a mystery. Packing in many of the characters we've met throughout the season, the episode devotes itself to resolving one of the key points of the pilot. But the ethical takeaway here is muddy. The basic scenario is not terribly far afield from the infamous Steubenville case from a few years ago, in which dozens of students knew about, witnessed, and/or participated in the assault of an unconscious girl. However, the uproar surrounding that case dismantled pre-existing standards of acceptability, whereas Veronica Mars feels like it's moving in the opposite direction - spreading the guilt around comes closer to diluting rather than amplifying the search for who hurt Veronica, even as it tries to split the difference. Having initially positioned Veronica as a clear-cut rape victim, the show now sighs, "Well, it's complicated." If the upshot of the Steubenville party was collective guilt, the upshot of the Veronica Mars party may be collective immunity. This is unfortunate as, in some ways, "Everyone did it" is the perfect conclusion for a show that views Veronica as a victim of the whole community. In retrospect, I may even conclude that the episode fully delivers on this theme but something about the arc this season has taken makes it feel, at least slightly, like a cop-out.

On the other hand, even if the episode isn't willing to unflinchingly hold accountable everyone who contributed to Veronica's trauma, it's certainly willing to critically observe their action, inaction, and excuses - and, importantly, to avoid victim-blaming Veronica herself. The only characters who truly come off clean are Weevil and Wallace, non-participants not just in that particular event, but in the broader 09er culture. At the same time, their distance reinforces the supporting role they've played for much of the season; they are there to back up Veronica while standing apart from the wealthy (and white) world where most of the action has been taking place. I hope the show counterbalances this tilt in its second season. The premiere was so deeply rooted in the class divides of Neptune and these later episodes have been so preoccupied with 09er drama that I'm reminded of an anecdote about the series Freaks and Geeks. At a certain point, the actors playing the freaks began grumbling that the show should be called Geeks and Freaks since the writers were clearly more interested in the former than the latter. Likewise it's difficult for Veronica Mars, however broad-minded and well-intentioned, to avoid the siren song of decadent mid-00s celeb/elite culture while more marginal Neptunions drown beneath the waves.

With all its ducks in order - Veronica's mom is back, Keith can prove Abel is a patsy, Veronica's parentage is openly articulated by Duncan - Veronica Mars is gearing up for a hell of a finale on all fronts. Who killed Lilly Kane? I made a prediction a few episodes ago - Logan did it - and now I have an even stronger suspicion about the murderer's identity. I won't say if that suspect is still Logan because my speculation entails a couple details I wish I hadn't stumbled across, contributing to a process of elimination and/or highlighting certain individuals. In case you're reading along with your own first-time viewing, I'll let you know tomorrow if I had the right idea.

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