Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Weapons of Class Destruction" (season 1, episode 18)

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Veronica Mars - "Weapons of Class Destruction" (season 1, episode 18)


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 April 12, 2005/written by Jed Seidel; directed by John Kretchmer): Veronica's new, if temporary (and ultimately, more temporary than planned) journalism teacher Geena Stafford (Joey Lauren Adams) encourages the student's pursuit of a hot story: why is the school holding so many fire drills? Sneaking into the hallways when she's supposed to be outside, Veronica witnesses officers with dogs patrolling the halls but they curiously pass by a kid who's just nervously stuffed drugs in his pants. Clearly they're looking for something else. With a little digging, Veronica finds out what's going on: there have been multiple bomb threats against the school and the web domain "KillThemAll.Net," etched into various tables and lockers, reveals a countdown doomsday clock. The prime suspect is Ben (Jonathan Taylor Thomas), a new kid who hangs out with Norris Clayton (Theo Rossi), a jr. high bully and social outlier whom Veronica nonetheless harbors some sympathy for - he once defended her from an obnoxious jock.

Surprise: Ben is an undercover ATF agent looking to bust Norris after coming across his website. Logan, on the phone with Veronica when Ben essentially hijacks her car, tracks them to the Camelot Motel and beats Ben up before the "student" reveals his federal status. Veronica is convinced to visit Norris' house (he has a crush on her) and she suspects he isn't actually planning to bomb the school. Moreover, she discovers that Pete Kaminski (Michael McMillan), who initially warned her about Norris and Ben, is Norris' next-door neighbor and able to access, and set up a hoax website, via his address. I turns out Pete was viciously bullied by Norris in middle school and wants revenge, while Ben - who reveals damning, but planted, evidence inside Norris' car - is looking to maintain his record by busting (and setting up) the suspect even if he's innocent. Veronica and Geena break the story in the newspaper, resulting in Norris' vindication but also, it seems, Geena's firing.

Veronica also stirs up trouble for Duncan when he's told by Logan that she has a file on him. He flips out about her judgements and storms out of the classroom, eventually withdrawing $10,000 from a bank account and going missing. Did he kill Lilly? Does he think he may have killed Lilly, whether or not he did? Veronica also encounters trouble at home, as Keith reveals that he's begun dating Alicia. Veronica tells Wallace that her mom is coming back home soon, and Wallace nearly tells his own mother, but she doesn't want to know ("This is the first time I've felt at home in Neptune," she insists), so he backs off. And Veronica has romantic turmoil of her own. Despite her pleasant rapport with Leo, it's Logan's kiss that lights her world on fire; a totally unexpected embrace outside of the motel room where she's been talking with Leo, it potentially sets the both of them on an entirely new course.

My Response:
I was wrong about the Lilly murder dominating the remaining episodes - although Duncan's crack-up and runaway is a pretty important development in "Weapons of Class Destructions," it's far from the dominant narrative. The episode's A-story is one of the best so far, continuing the trademark Veronica Mars tradition of subverting stereotypical expectations with fully-earned twists. And as always the show fosters humanity on all sides - not only do we learn that Norris is a harmless, awkward weapons enthusiast rather than a killer, but we even find room to pity the neighbor who set him up. In fact, the only person who inspires utter, unmitigated contempt in this storyline is the most powerful: the arrogant ATF agent looking to maintain his arrest record. Admittedly, there's a bit of a hole here...didn't Ben discover her spying on him at the place where he bought the fertilizer? Therefore, wouldn't he know that he couldn't get away with planting it in Norris' trunk? By the way, JTT was my most delightful "Holy shit it's them!" epiphany since Paris Hilton.

This is a really stellar episode overall. The newspaper bit is good, with Adams turning in an endearing portrayal. (Has any network show even had so many noteworthy guest stars? Maybe I just don't watch enough of them.) I was a bit nervous when I saw her take over the classroom, initially without comment, and relieved with the transparent "Why did Ms. Dent ever let herself become pregnant?" hint that she'll return eventually. Nonetheless, Ms. Stafford was a welcome addition to the Neptune staff, and now I'm hoping they find a way to bring her back. The Keith/Alicia romance is a brilliant move, with plenty of room for fireworks and another welcome contribution to Wallace's character growth. It also features a cute moment as Veronica is touched when Wallace refers to her as his best friend. This, plus the moment I'm about to return to, resolves my ambivalent about the buddies maybe becoming romantically involved at some future point - I think they'll remain platonic. How their parents end up is another question.

But perhaps the most effective turn of all - and I didn't see it coming a mile away (a recurring theme with me and Veronica Mars) - is Veronica's love connection with Logan. According to Wikipedia, "Series creator Rob Thomas did not originally envision this relationship, but he changed his mind when he saw the chemistry between the two actors and characters. The episode received positive reviews, with discussion focusing on Veronica and Logan's first kiss." It also says more than that, which I won't expand upon. If you're watching the show for the first time, stay away from Wiki! Interestingly, and this I can reveal, the caption for the episode photo reads, "Series creator Rob Thomas was not pleased with the moment, stating that it should have been 'hungry, or a release, or mixed with some self-loathing and confusion. Instead, it came off as singularly romantic.'" Fair enough, but it's still pretty effective.

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