Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Blast from the Past" (season 2, episode 5)

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Blast from the Past" (season 2, episode 5)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. I will cover each TV episode (and eventually the film), several days a week; this will conclude just as the revival (which I will also cover) premieres on Hulu. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on October 26, 2005/written by Phil Klemmer, Cathy Belben; directed by Harry Winer): Picking up where we left off, Wallace goes straight to his mother to tell her he met Hank and wants answers. The answers she provides are initially reassuring, at least as reassuring as they can be in context. No, he's not lying, but he is misleading; a narc who went in way too far, he was not a reliable person to have in their lives and she considers Wallace's stepfather - the man he grew up thinking was his biological father - to be the real parent. But then Wallace is whipped back again when Hank comes to his workplace and delivers a huge stack of letters, written over many years but always returned to sender. Here Wallace and Alicia reach an impasse; he's deeply hurt that she lied to him and prevented any possibility of a relationship with this man and she's furious that he is disobeying her demand not to talk to him. Wallace tries to share this crisis with Veronica, but her mind is mostly elsewhere, and it seems like he's not ready to include Jackie into his circle of secrets, much to her annoyance. Surprisingly, though, Jackie and Veronica begin to bond when Jackie's credit card is "kidnapped" and racks up mysterious expenses; after Jackie reluctantly comes to her for help, Veronica proves it wasn't Jackie's pal Cora (Dana Davis) - whose recent income influx is due to a weekend job in a giant chicken suit - and traces the charges to the psychic Madame Sophie (Christine Estabrook), a palm reader who also runs a popular live show on a local access channel. Disgusted with Madame Sophie's exploitation of grieving classmate Michelle Thompson (Samantha Klein), Veronica conspires with Jackie to cause the charlatan's comeuppance.

Meanwhile her dad goes from heavily favored frontrunner to neck-in-neck in the sheriff's race, when Lamb pulls up an old bungled DUI stop from 1989 in which the then-Officer Mars ruined a chance to keep the future school bus driver off the road. Determined to get some dirt on the no-doubt corrupt current sheriff, Veronica plants a literal bug in Lamb's office in the guise of an encased beetle that's ostensibly a gift from Duncan's out-of-town father (it's a cheeky reference not just to surveillance but to Lamb's frequent campaign trail rhetoric about an infestation of crime in Neptune). And get dirt she does, in a development that begins to draw the various subplots together. She discovers that Jackie's dad, a retired baseball star and compulsive gambler, has bet on baseball; Lamb blackmails him in order to secure a massive campaign contribution and endorsement. At first, Veronica is hesitant to use this juicy evidence for Jackie's sake, but that changes when she goes on Madame Sophie's show and the table is turned: the psychic reveals an embarrassing personal secret that she confessed only to Jackie and it becomes clear that this entire investigation was an elaborate prank Jackie designed to humiliate someone she considers a rival for Wallace's affections. The stunt backfires when Wallace - who has been nominated for homecoming king thanks to Veronica's attempt at at a pick-him-up - refuses to take Jackie to the dance. Meanwhile Veronica, not knowing they didn't go together, yells at Jackie when she catches her drunkenly dancing with Logan and only makes things worse.

Wallace is just as mad at Veronica as he is at Jackie, accusing her of not caring about his own personal needs and desires; he's sick of being her second fiddle, always offering her emotional support she doesn't reciprocate, and so he begs her not to take whatever revenge she's planning to take on Jackie. As a result, she leaves a CD - featuring the burned audio of Lamb exposing Jackie's dad - on the kitchen table instead of taking it to the DJ at homecoming. Will Keith discover the "music mix" and blow the whistle? He's demonstrated reticence on another front already; when Veronica speaks to Michelle about the psychic show she discovers the girl has a voicemail from her deceased friend moments before the bus went off the cliff, revealing that there was an explosion before the bus hit the guardrail. Keith doesn't want to exploit this for his own gain so he takes the recording to Lamb instead of the press (and almost immediately regrets his dutifulness). Anyway, Keith and his daughter soon have another problem on their hands: Alicia calls up, frantically looking for Wallace, and Veronica knows it's because he watched her make a scene with Jackie at the dance. "Blast from the Past" (multitude of meanings in that title) ends with Wallace's dad driving him into the desert as he refuses to pick up his best friend's call.

My Response:
This is a surprisingly elegant episode, in which the seemingly very disparate stories converge neatly in the end. I say surprisingly not just because this isn't as high-profile an entry as some others but also because it starts off on shaky ground. I found some of the early scenes, as the students banter about the homecoming dance, to be annoyingly directed (this is Winer's second episode after the video store/transgender parent episode of season 1, which I enjoyed) and none of the plots seemed particularly compelling at first. But as the episode moved along, I began enjoying the character dynamics and appreciating the way they moved the story along. Jackie's manipulation of Veronica is quite the sophisticated con; it utterly fooled both Veronica (a high bar) and me (not so much). At this point there's not much sympathy left in the tank for her character, who's been walking a tightrope all along, although she still isn't quite being presented as a cold-hearted monster - at least not exactly. Her frustration with Veronica is justified, at least from her perspective, and her regret following Wallace's reaction looks sincere. But from another perspective she's also a mess, needy and selfish and spoiled, and I'm not sure if the season will be able to redeem her although I'd guess it's going to try. Pairing her with Logan, another occasionally diabolical character whose sympathetic qualities shade into self-pity, would be a great move: not only exploiting her potential to mess things up but restoring some of his edge that was softened back around mid-season 1.

Aside from that potentially exciting development, I'm most keen to see the Mars-Lamb war intensify and to watch Veronica attempt to track Wallace down (you know she's gonna) and earn back his friendship. In the first case, I wonder which episode the election is scheduled for - considering how well-executed the student election was in "Return of the Kane," we could be in for a treat on a bigger scale, with greater consequences. I'd also be curious to see how the 09er vs. non-09er tensions, which were so pronounced in the premiere and have been kind of dormant since, might flare up around Mars vs. Lamb. Could her dad's campaign re-establish her credibility with the community that turned its back on her when she stood by Logan in the homicide case and dated Duncan, son of the town billionaire? Fingers crossed for a renewal of class warfare in Veronica Mars. and a re-emphasis on Veronica's fraught place within that dynamic. But closer at hand, I imagine, is her reconciliation with Wallace. They've always had an interesting relationship, seemingly platonic but with occasional, very fleeting hints of a potential for more - something that Jackie's presence has made more explicit. Is that going to go anywhere? Whether it does or not, Wallace is right to protest the frustrating limitations imposed upon him. Obviously this storyline is the creator's self-conscious attempt to rectify that; quite soon we'll be seeing how far that goes.

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