Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Cheatty Cheatty Bang Bang" (season 2, episode 3)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Cheatty Cheatty Bang Bang" (season 2, episode 3)


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 12, 2005/written by Phil Klemmer & John Enbom; directed by John Kretchmer): Once again, Veronica's "minor" high school investigation spills out into other storylines, with implications for her as well as other major characters. Beaver Casablancas hires her to find out who his new stepmother is having an affair with; Veronica's surveillance reveals not only that Logan is the culprit (revealed to Beaver before she has a chance to find out herself) but that Dick Casablancas, Sr. is engaging in real estate fraud. While Veronica ensnares her classmates' parent in an SEC raid (the episode ends with Dick racing through the office and shredding files before leaping into a rooftop helicopter), her dad heads out of town for a relaxing weekend with Alicia. However, as they attempt to enjoy their vacation a strange man (Cress Williams), whom Alicia acts as if she doesn't recognize, follows them around. He flashes a badge at the hotel concierge and later makes a phone call, confirming that he's located Alicia. Back in Neptune, another Mars has her eye on another Fennell; Veronica is not taking to Wallace's new girlfriend Jackie and suffers through several viewings of Pride and Prejudice in which the showoff-y new girl boasts about all of her adventures.

The real drama of the episode is elsewhere, hinted at the end of episode 2. That corpse that washed up on shore wasn't the bus driver after all - although the dead man is (at first just loosely) connected to the bus accident. After being told that her name was written on his palm, and shown a photo of the late Curly Moran (Adam Bitterman), Veronica recognizes him as someone she encountered at the makeshift memorial on that cliff. When she gathers his belongings from the mechanic shop where he worked, she discovers a photo signed by Aaron Echolls and at Logan's house - we'll get to why she's there in a moment - she spots a poster with Moran's name on it: he was the stunt coordinator on an Echolls action classic from the eighties in which he helped set up a legendary sequence...featuring a school bus. With horror, Veronica realizes that she was the intended target of a mass murder; Aaron must have hired Curly from prison to kill Veronica.

My Response:
The Aaron Echolls angle is a fascinating twist, really our first indication that Veronica Mars may entail not only episodic, multi-episode, and seasonal arcs, but also storylines that sweep over the entire series. Apparently, we've not seen the end of the Lilly Kane murder mystery as we now know her killer is seeking revenge on the sleuth who brought him down. Or is he? Rigging an entire school bus and murdering a dozen schoolchildren (including the possibility of his own son, which may or may not concern him) is a hell of a way to assassinate one teenage girl. If that was the goal, wouldn't there be a more convenient way to take her out? If the case against him is as airtight as it seems, so that it doesn't matter if he wracks up the body count, why even bother attempting to make it look like an accident at all - why not just go for the easy kill? There are a lot of questions here, and there are a few possible answers.

One is that the show isn't that concerned with logic, which would be unfortunate; season one did such a good job threading the various clues and contexts together. Another possibility is that Aaron has bigger, more complicated reasons to set up Veronica's death this way, which we just don't understand yet. Or this could all be a red herring; the stuntman really was hired to fix the bus but not by Aaron, and maybe not even to kill Veronica - or not solely anyway, given that he did write down her name. I find myself hoping for the third option not just because it seems like the best explanation but also because the other possibilities worry me. If three episodes into the season we already know whodunit, that suggest to me that - whatever other complications will arise - this narrative engine may not make it for ten episodes, let alone over twenty. And I like the idea of a season-long mystery, particularly one which opens up new avenues (as tying everything back to the fallout from Aaron's affair with Lilly would not). Most of all, I like the idea that the season premiere suggested, of setting the crime against the backdrop of social tensions in Neptune. So I'm holding out hope that we've only seen a glimpse of what's really going on, and maybe a false one at that.

Regardless of how it plays out, the Echolls twist is a fun, exciting development; elseewhere this episode falters somewhat - it's certainly the weakest of the season so far and maybe one of the weaker episodes overall. I particularly was not keen on the winking Dandy Warhols cameo, in which the band's lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor (who performs the show's theme song) shows up at a karaoke bar for a labored joke that's held for way too long. The series feels a little too young for that type of self-referential/promotional gimmick and along with the characters' increasingly comfortable milieu, it's a tad foreboding. I hope early success hasn't gone to either Veronica's or Veronica's head and that both the show and heroine can preserve their scrappy charms.

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