Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner" (season 2, episode 7)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner" (season 2, episode 7)


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 16, 2005/written by Diane Ruggiero; directed by Nick Marck): Veronica has several cases to juggle, literally ricocheting between her ex-boyfriend and current boyfriend within a few seconds. Logan pleads for her to look into the plastic surgeon Dr. Griffith (Rick Peters), who has come forward as a witness in the supposed murder he committed, and then Duncan admits to stealing some files from Meg's laptop and asks Veronica to get to the bottom of the emails Meg sent to Child Protective Services. Meg was a prolific babysitter so Veronica spends the week hopping amongst the various demented spawns of the either psychopathically controlling or criminally negligent 09er social set, but nobody's handwriting matches the journal found when Veronica and Duncan break into Meg's home. Then it dawns on them: Meg wasn't actually reporting one of the families she babysat for. She was reporting her own. Sure enough, when the black-clad duo sneak into Meg's little sister's room, they discover dozens of journals all filled with the same horrific sentence - "That path to God is paved with righteousness" - and even worse, Meg's little sister herself locked into a closet. The parents arrive with a baseball bat and call Sheriff Lamb to arrest Veronica and Duncan, but after putting them in handcuffs, he returns to the home to confirm Veronica's claim about the room in the closet, lets the culprits out of the car around the corner, and then hovers outside the Manning house as a watchful presence.

Elsewhere, Veronica follows the surgeon into a cigar shop which Keith later reveals as a notorious drug den (is Logan being set up by a rogue element within the PCH gang?) and the Casablancas stepmother tries to figure out what her role in this family and community (and show) can be after her sugar daddy fled the country and had his assets frozen. Dick, Beaver, and their actual mother Betina (Kate McNeil) all have access to trust funds but Kendall has nothing - other than her wits. ("Why don't you get a job?" Logan sneers, to which she responds, "This is my job.") Disconcertingly, she exposes herself to Duncan in the hotel room that she, Logan, and Duncan all share now, and when Logan confronts him about this he's evasive. What is he hiding not just from Logan, but from Veronica? We cut away before we see how he reacts to his overtures, but he's already made it clear to Veronica that he finds his friend's girlfriend highly attractive. Finally, in a scene that qualifies less as a subplot than the seed for one, Keith golfs with the town's new (quasi-)mayor Woody, who proposes a plan to incorporate the wealthiest sliver of Neptune into an independent city, and invites Keith to become its new police chief. But when Veronica visits the Goodman household, ostensibly for a sleepover with airheaded Gia but actually to keep an eye on her little brother Rodney (Ian Ward), she detects a domineering, abusive strain in their mother (GiGi Erneta). Sure, the Mannings turn out to be the big bads but her - and our - eyes are still on the Goodmans as well.

My Response:
The season two resurgence continues - while this isn't quite as dynamic as the previous episode, it has a lot going for it - particularly the central investigation into the child abuse that Meg has been trying to expose. I'm not sure what to make of that ending. A few thoughts, which could be individual or interconnected, come to mind. Lamb, who has never been anything other than narcissistic, amoral dick, may have a certain threshold in terms of what he can tolerate perhaps because he himself was abused by a domineering father as a little kid. Alternately (although it doesn't have to be contradictory at all), he may be conspiring with the Mannings on some sort of cover-up - more on this in a moment. The most obvious explanation, of course, is that there's no way in hell Lamb is going to arrest the son of one of the wealthiest men in town, indeed in the entire country; occasionally such elitist games work in Veronica's favor instead of against her. The middle option seems the most unlikely but I like the idea that all three of these ideas are working together, with Lamb emerging for the first time as a conflicted individual. This storyline is admittedly a bit out of left field; there was no indication whatsoever that Meg came from an abusive family in season one, and even the early season two episodes, with their unfavorable portrait of the Mannings, don't offer much of a hint (did we ever even get a whiff of Grace's existence before?). However, it's such strong material that I can't complain - the journals are unsettling, the image of the girl in the hidden room is disturbing, and the Air needledrop is evocative.

That said, there is one slight concern with the strength of the last couple episodes. The second season is...kind of all over the place, isn't it? It's not a bad thing for a show to have too much going for it, but if anything has ever fit that bill Veronica Mars certainly does. Events will burst forth boldly and then disappear as the writers race to catch up with something they've let lapse for too many hours, and each new episode seems to introduce an ostensibly standalone mystery which branches off into something more tangled and ominous. It feels churlish to complain but this does make a contrast to the more tightly-managed first season, which had a few perpetual, overarching arcs alongside a well-disciplined output of episodic mysteries. Can the series manage these demands? Well, season two has been described to be as a wonderfully noirish affair and if the pulp fiction of, say, Raymond Chandler is known for anything, it's biting off more than it can chew and then devouring another massive bite before it's even attempted to swallow the first. One more thought: what if, in fact, the Mannings engineered the bus crash to punish a daughter they felt had gone astray? I know, I know, that's over the top, but I love the fact that the show is even making me think this way.

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