Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Rat Saw God" (season 2, episode 6)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Rat Saw God" (season 2, episode 6)


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 9, 2005/written by John Enbom, Phil Klemmer; directed by Kevin Bray): In a dramatic, unforeseen gear shift, "Rat Saw God" races past the sheriff's election (Keith gets 49% of the vote but there are no prizes for second place) and postpones Wallace's paternal denouement (Veronica sends unanswered emails keeping him in the loop of Neptune's events). There are currently bigger fish to fry. Logan is re-arrested when a new witness comes forward to claim he stood over the dead PCH gang member's body with a bloody knife, screaming racial epithets and swearing his father's money would save him. Never passing up an opportunity to play the churlish, caustic jester, he makes a mockery of the line-up and will only accept a public defender (the marvelous Cliff McCormack who gets some of the best lines in an already very well-written episode). But he can't ride this out: his cellmate turns out to be his father, who insists - despite the obvious facts that he slept with Lilly and tried to kill the Mars family - that he didn't actually murder his lover, and when he finally makes bail he returns home to a burning mansion.

Aaron also gets a visit from Keith, who threatens him less with his words than the realization that he can get access to him whenever he wants (Aaron encounters him in an interrogation room, escorted by a deputy who will swear that Keith was never there). Keith is fuming because Lamb has informed him about Veronica's name appearing on a corpse's hand, and Veronica is forced to tell him about the whole (possible) Echolls conspiracy to kill her by destroying the bus. But if Veronica comes clean on this, she's keeping him in the dark about everything else going on - at the exact moment he calls her up. She's in a small Californian town, at a dingy motel (clerked by the fantastically grungy Tracey Walter in one of my favorite Mars cameos ever) trying to find where Amelia DeLongpre currently resides - yes, that Amelia DeLongpre, paid-off Abel Koontz's daughter whom Veronica tried to leverage in the first season. As it turns out, this is her final resting place - Veronica traces her phone (and body) to a nearby ice box - and it looks like a Spanish boyfriend (as yet uncredited) might be the culprit. Abel hired Veronica to trace her and bring her to his deathbed, but she kindly lies to him instead. "Rat Saw God" ends with Keith hiding inside the decrepit school bus, dredged up from its watery grave thanks to the evidence his daughter brought forward, shining his flashlight on the titular rodent encased on the bottom of a seat. I have no idea what it means yet, but it's a vivid visual to end one of the strongest episodes of the entire series, and easily the most exciting of this season.

My Response:
Sometimes it's such a delight to be totally, utterly wrong. In my review of the last episode, I predicted we'd deal right away with Wallace's disappearance, and then move on (eventually, no rush) to the sheriff's election a few episodes later. There's no Wallace to be found in episode 6 - and why did I even think Veronica would have to track him down anyway, given that his father is a prominent Chicago cop and everyone knows exactly the destination of his son, who is eighteen and can go where he pleases? In fact, his disappearance, which I took to be the writers' valiant attempt to further develop his character and give him a prominent place in season two, now looks much like one of those "big dramatic developments" necessitated by a scheduling conflict behind the scenes. I don't know if that's the case but it's clear that, for now at least, the last thing on the creative crew's mind was elevating Wallace's profile at this precise moment. Meanwhile, the much-anticipated election? It's resolved not just before the opening credits but more or less in the very first scene. There's no more campaign to witness, it's already the big night, it's neck-and-neck and within minutes the bad guy wins.

This makes the past three or four episodes, which were already causing me to worry that Veronica Mars was descending into a sophomore slump, feel even more like a cul-de-sac. Suddenly Wallace's parentage, the sheriff's blackmail, and Jackie's jealousy (not to mention her overtures toward Logan, who's very present in this episode while she's nowhere to be found) evaporate into thin air. I'm sure at least some of these plot points will return but for now they couldn't seem more irrelevant. One of this episode's achievements is to confirm all of my doubts about how season two has proceeded. Why, then, am I so delighted? Because "Rat Saw God" is spectacular, a tremendous return to form that resuscitates many of the most exciting elements of season one and manages not to seem desperate or cheap while doing so. As much as I enjoyed the premiere, this is probably the best episode of the season so far and though I don't know the production history of the series it feels almost as if the team was struggling with some sort of challenge but staged a comeback just in time for November sweeps.

In fact, this show now has me wondering something I would have considered inconceivable: did Aaron Echolls really murdered Lilly Kane? Aaron's return is wonderful; I wasn't really aware of how much he was missed until he showed up in that jail cell with Logan. And frankly, Logan feels like he's returning too - gone is the quietly surly, extremely sidelined character of early season two, as the sneering, snarky brat rears his head again. And if the decadent privilege of the 09er crew has been foregrounded, so too has the fuming resentment of the PCH gang, target of many racist jabs and cruel economic exploitation when Logan buys the home Weevill's family is renting (retribution for their likely act of arson against the Echolls estate - I have my doubts and suspect, for whatever currency that retains, that Veronica will be on the case soon). Cliff McCormack, Clarence Wiedman, and Amelia DeLongpre (RIP) are all back in action too, and we didn't know how much we missed them. Best of all, Keith takes the loss of his shot at sheriff in stride by returning to what he does best: weaponizing the loyalty of connections against the corrupt system that excludes him. Why did I ever think he would or should get back on the inside?

Aside from all these markers, the episode is just marvelously executed, stuffed with juicy dialogue, clever plot developments, and startling images. Even the title is striking: apparently it's drawn from creator Rob Thomas' own 1996 young adult novel although its surreal, apocalyptic flavor suggests a concept out of Dostoevsky - whom Aaron hints he's been reading in jail. Ok, so...is Aaron full of shit? Is he a psychopathic asshole who nonetheless didn't do it, and is Weidman and the sketchy-as-hell Kane operation covering something else up? Are we actually going to find out that Duncan is more dangerous than he currently seems (part of me hopes so, given how limp he's been this season)? Is it possible that in fact Jake Kane killed Lilly for some reason, and has opportunistically used his son's disorder and his daughter's lover's villainy as cover? Is Jake the one who set up the bus accident, even going so far as to engage an associate of Aaron's as a second cover story in case the first one fell through? Whether this is an elaborate retcon of season one to keep the show going or a red herring to re-engage us in the most interesting mystery Veronica Mars conceived, I don't really care: this is all a very welcome addition to a season that needed a boost.

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