Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "My Mother, the Fiend" (season 2, episode 9)

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Veronica Mars - "My Mother, the Fiend" (season 2, episode 9)


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 November 30, 2005/written by Phil Klemmer, Dayna Lynne North; directed by Nick Marck): Veronica has a baby! Not really. Her sex ed teacher asks the students to assign themselves a partner and prepare to take home an electronic infant doll; as Veronica chuckles about the prospect with Duncan, he's not quite as into the comedy of it all. Babies, real or otherwise, are all over the episode after she discovers a secret about her mother. While reorganizing permanent records as part of a detention - her infiltration of office records has been belatedly unearthed and weaponized against her - Veronica finds out that Liann Reynolds (the maiden name of the future Mrs. Mars) was suspended for spreading rumors about another student in 1980. Veronica, as much as she'd like to think she's moved past any attachment to her mother, is crushed to think that the woman she considered a good person, at least once upon a time, might never have been very good. This is seemingly confirmed by a deaf cafeteria worker who knew her and signs that she was a "fiend" - of course Veronica's sign language isn't very good, and she missed the "r"). That rumor was about the ostensible pregnancy of Celeste Carnathan, later of the Kane clan, which suspiciously coincides with a baby found in the girls' bathroom on prom night.

What Veronica discovers is that that baby grew up to be...the perfectly-aged housekeeper whose grad school tuition Celeste is paying! Oh no wait, that's not it, because when Veronica contacts the adoption agency she discovers that the girl found in the bathroom was adopted...into the Echolls family! It's Trina, who has conveniently returned to produce a hammy Shakespearean production at Neptune High. So Trina is Celeste's long-lost daughter, and after Veronica initially takes advantage of Trina's hospitalization for a minor injury to set up Celeste, she (sort of) more honestly joins forces with the eager Trina to manipulate Celeste to come forward, revealing the truth. But wait...that's not quite it either: when the fake story about Trina needing bone marrow hits the tabloids, it's Mary who comes forward, weeping and embracing her long-abandoned child. And she didn't leave Trina in the bathroom back in '80, she left her at the father's house and he panicked, staging the prom abandonment to cover himself. That father was now-Principal Alan Moorehead (John Bennett Perry). Veronica's mother is cleared as it becomes clear that this was the scandal she was trying to expose, and Veronica deduces that this entire investigation was the devious brainchild of soon-to-be-promoted (thanks to her) Vice Principal Van Clemmons. He's the one who assigned her apparently arbitrary detention early in the episode, and his smirking replacement of the nameplate on his desk is both a great punchline and a nice visual callback to Veronica at the Mars office.

This story dominates the episode, although Keith also comes clean about the rat he's been keeping in a plastic baggie in the office freezer (apparently it was actually duct-taped to the bottom of a bus seat, not naturally there as I originally thought) and Beaver approaches Mac to help him set up a fake business he'll use to set up his despised stepmother (who's still trying to seduce an uncomfortable Duncan). But the most crucial aside comes in the end when Veronica, at the hospital for other reasons, decides to drop in on Meg's room. Surprised to see two EKGs hooked up to Meg, she pushes aside the tray covering her belly and discovers...that the lone survivor of the bus accident is quite pregnant. Meg has a baby! For real this time. And as if that wasn't enough, after Veronica leaves the room, the patient opens her eyes.

My Response:
From episode to episode, but also within episodes, the second season has taken me on a roller coaster. I was fairly certain I didn't like "My Mother, the Fiend" about halfway through; the titular A-story mystery was uninvolving, the attempt to call back to Veronica's mother forced and stale, the Logan/Weevil feud disappointingly small-minded, and the endless banter surrounding both Logan's sister and Ms. Casablancas exhausting in its snark (Kendall is becoming maybe my least favorite new character). And then, yet again, the show surprised me - repeatedly. From the moment Celeste Kane whirls back into Veronica's world, yanking open the closet to release all those skeletons, episode 9 yields one twist after another and I was delighted not to see any of them coming until a minute or two before the onscreen revelation (i.e. exactly when a good mystery wants these things to dawn on its spectators).

More surprising yet was the degree to which I found myself caring about the characters affected by these curveballs: moved by the generosity of secret mother Mary (I see what you did there, writing staff), relieved with Veronica when she establishes the goodness of the absentee parent, and even charmed by the who'd-have-thunk-it chemistry of Beaver and Mac. And Celeste's reappearance, dredging up the rich interfamily dynamics of season one, reminded me why I'm supposed to have any interest at all in the mostly flat Veronica/Duncan romance. Then there's that last moment. After insisting that Veronica Mars follow up on the tease from episode 8, I actually forgot all about this. Now that we know Meg is pregnant - presumably what Duncan discovered in her message - and apparently not even comatose (something even Duncan can't know yet), will the season once again race off into a different storyline instead of following through on this dramatic gamechanger? The title of episode 10 suggests otherwise.

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