Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Donut Run" (season 2, episode 11)

Friday, June 21, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Donut Run" (season 2, episode 11)


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 January 25, 2006/written & directed by Rob Thomas): Veronica has been engaged in some...conspicuous activity lately. Logan and Kendall witnessed her explode in rage when the Casablancas ex emerged from the hotel room shower. Many students were present as Duncan dramatically dumped her, and both her dad and Wallace couldn't help but notice her wallowing in angst (Virgin Suicides soundtrack at all) in the aftermath of the break-up. It's almost as if she's providing a cover story, isn't it? But no, it couldn't be, because we've been watching all of this unfold too, and we always see everything through her eyes, right? Right?? We may like to snicker along with Veronica as she outsmarts law enforcement and rival private eyes, but how does it feel when she outsmarts the audience (especially when she may be outsmarting us with a particularly dim-witted rival private eye)? As it turns out, Veronica IS a secret accomplice in a kidnapping, as Duncan snatches his own child and disappears into thin air. We don't find out until near the end of the episode, when she sneaks into a secret room and meets with Duncan one last time, where they tearfully, lovingly break up in a more final but far more figurative sense.

Until this moment, Veronica seems to be as lost as we are, offended and insulted by attacks on her honor (although there are subtle clues along the way). Ultimately, the duo succeed in a particularly ingenious fashion, hitching a ride to safety with the top cop himself. Sheriff Lamb gets a tip-off that Duncan made it to Mexico, and decides to outsmart the Feds he jealously wants to prove himself too. Of course, he is quickly waved through the border crossing without having his car inspected, but not quickly enough to catch up with Duncan. Or so it seems until his trunk pops up to reveal empty water battles and snack packs and the suggestion that a hidden passenger was with him all along. Back at a rest stop, disguised as a hitchhiker, Duncan jumps in with his mother's assistant and Vinnie Van Lowe, the dopey Neptune detective hired by Celeste Kane to find her son but happy to switch sides for a buck (or two or three, or...). This isn't all that happens in the episode - Logan and Weevil attempt to work out which PCH gang member is connected to the Fitzpatricks (turns out that Felix, the dead guy himself, was dating a woman from their family), and Wallace hides and then reveals to Veronica that he left Chicago not because his new high school didn't have a basketball team (they did, and he was a star player) but because he is plagued by a guilty conscience after a hit-and-run. But even these dramatic turns are completely drowned out by Meg's legacy, the central plot (for now).

My Response:
Well, this was unexpected. Yesterday I mentioned Meg's funeral, envisioning a slow-burn build-up to a climactic confrontation with her parents. I should have known better! By the end of this frenzied hour, the drama has escalated from Veronica breaking up with Duncan (already a pretty big deal) to Duncan being implicated in a federally-investigated kidnapping case to Veronica engaging in extremely serious criminal conspiracy herself to Duncan possibly disappearing from the show altogether. Oh, and Wallace may have helped cover up a crime too. About ten minutes from the end I found myself wondering if the whole episode would be one big dream gimmick. But no, it's just - for better or worse - Veronica Mars season two. This is the exact halfway point of the season (and represented the show's return in '06 after a month and a half hiatus), and I'm both fascinated to see where this crazy season can go next and frustrated by its desire to careen from plotline to plotline, forgetting (or to be generous, bookmarking) half of them as it concocts new ones from thin air. If this smells a bit like desperation today, it apparently did at the time too: this episode, which wants so badly to be one of Veronica Mars' most significant, was apparently its lowest-rated.

This sounds pretty tough, but I can't say I disliked the episode even if I'm not entirely thrilled the show chose this flamboyant route. The decision to hide Veronica's complicity not just from Keith but from us in the audience is admirably bold and I like the conflicted emotions it evokes; on the one hand, we can't help but agree with their decision to rescue the child from a horrible fate, on the other this seems extremely reckless and potentially a deviation from the delicate dance Veronica plays between doing the right thing and doing the thing right (even if she's always been much more interested in justice than law and order). If parts of the episode race by fast, the writers and director make sure to give Veronica and her dad some space to address the fallout; indeed, Keith's willingness to cover for his daughter is as much a silent rebuke of her sneakiness (why didn't you trust me as much as I trust you?) and a sharp turning point for his character, a by-the-book sheriff effortlessly playing interference for the daughter he raised to do the same. As one of the FBI agents (Lucy Lawless) notes, "kidnapping cases don't go away," so this isn't just a matter of conscience/ethos for Keith. He may be entangled in something so heavy it could drag him down even after the Lilly Kane case redemption.

There were some aspects of "Donut Run" that got on my nerves. This season is often reminding me that I'm not the biggest fan of Veronica Mars' broad strokes. I can take Vinnie, with an eyeroll or two, but the cheerfully hammy rapartee of the FBI agents was a bit much for me. The kidnapping plot at times feels too clever by half (how confident could Duncan really be that a local sheriff could get through the border without having his car checked?) and not quite clever enough (diapers behind your stash of toilet paper, Veronica? Really?). That said Lamb's comeuppance is still pretty beautiful; not only is it a hilariously character-revealing twist, it's a pretty solid insurance policy too. Although circumstances will probably force his hand, the last thing this sheriff wants to do is expose his utter haplessness to the FBI. Just as I was warming up to the idea of the Mannings as the season's big bads, "Donut Run"'s resolution may kick them out of the spotlight. However, I suppose that's premature. Unless I've forgotten something, they're never even onscreen this episode so there's still a lot of fallout to brace for, and if anything could keep this seemingly concluded storyline going it would be a connection between them and the crash.

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