Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Entering a World of Pain" (season 4, episode 6)

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Entering a World of Pain" (season 4, episode 6)


Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Each day, I am covering every episode (and the film) including the brand new Hulu revival. I am watching this series for the first time, so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (premiered on July 19, 2019/written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Raymond Obstfeld; directed by Tessa Blake): And just like that, Logan's gone. A phone call from the Navy and he turns in his resignation as the congressman's bodyguard, effective immediately, and says goodbye to his girlfriend via voicemail (she can't answer her phone because she's in a strip club, natch). Before he departs - who knows for how long - he's already made an important contribution to the investigation(s), dressing in uniform to visit Daniel's blackmailer...17-year-old white nationalist Barton Netherfield, Jr. (Cyrus Arnold). Playing the part of a fellow traveler, Logan congratulates the teenager for "neuter[ing] that Muslim cuck...a Manchurian candidate taking his orders from the mullahs." Getting him to open up, Logan then forces him to delete all the video files, apologize to the congressman, and withdraw his threats. But the surly alt-right troll fires one departing shot: he has recorded a not-so-cryptocurrency transfer from Daniel into the accounts of two Mexican cartel members. This leads Keith and Veronica to sneak into Alonzo's and Dodie's hotel room, where Veronica snaps photos of the Carr brothers' IDs and Keith fakes a heart attack to distract the cleaning lady while Veronica sneaks away. But they aren't as clever as they think; the cleaning lady is, of course, Claudia, and when she returns home she tells both brother Weevil and boyfriend Alonzo that Veronica was snooping around (she also reveals that she's been fired for unrelated reasons; yet another small business is folding under the pressure of Casablancas' onslaught). Weevil, who predictably explodes at Veronica when he discovers what she did with Juan, is nonetheless clearly uncomfortable with the prospect of Alonzo paying her a visit.

There's another reason to be concerned about Alonzo's intentions: by episode's end, Veronica has a new houseguest. Matty skips out on her family's trip to Paris, decides to stay at her late father's now-defunct hotel, and is forced to temporarily move in with Veronica when the electricity gets cut. The season's closing narration haunts this and other sequences in classic noir fashion and it's hard not to worry about the fate of Veronica's "protegee." Incidentally, it turns out Matty's - and Penn's - suspicions are correct: in private conversation Big Dick and Clyde openly acknowledge that they hired Perry to plant the bomb at the Sea Sprite. It was supposed to go off in the middle of the night but that wi-fi disruption ruined the plan. It achieved its aim regardless ("shit happens," as Mr. Casablancas puts it). Yet notably the two don't claim any knowledge of the other bombs, and Dick apparently wasn't involved in killing Perry, though he presumes (it's never quite confirmed) that Clyde was. This suggests that, as I speculated a few entries ago, copycats are all attacking Neptune for varied reasons (looks like Nicole is probably guilty of the neck-bomb after all, without any potential ethical discrepancies, and I'll bet one of the murderheads planted the volleyball bomb to make things more interesting and/or extend the shelf life of their theories).

Certainly, Keith and Veronica are casting their net wider. An open file subtly (but eventually overtly) left by Leo on his desk leads the Mars family to look into some old "accidents" that occurred during spring break, to determine if there's a pattern. A boiler explosion, a potential hazing-gone-wrong (Veronica's return visit to Pi Sigma goes as swimmingly as you'd expect)...are these all somehow connected? The show is simultaneously opening up new mysteries, getting its detectives up to speed on various subplots (leading us to realize how far ahead we are in some areas), and resolving questions we thought might be reserved for the finale. And then, of course, there's the ending. Following a tension-relieving (and, it's hinted, nearly infidelity-inducing) party session with Veronica, Leo, and Nicole, good old Clarence Wiedman shows up at the Maloofs' door to offer his services but Daniel tells him he no longer needs a bodyguard. Clarence, however, isn't just here as a cute cameo; his timing is impeccable. The elevator doors open to spit out Tyler Carr, who opens fire on the congressman. Clarence takes him down and we're left with the image of Daniel bleeding out in shock, wondering if not just his life but his reputation has been saved by Clarence's good aim (dead men don't talk), or if both have been assassinated at the same time.

My Response: Abdul-Jabbar is certainly the most famous writer (albeit not so much famous for his writing) to work on Veronica Mars. The show has been dropping a number of not-so-oblique political references all along (most notably, in the premiere Dick Casablancas inspires Veronica to ask her dad, "How the hell did we let a crooked real estate tycoon come in here and seduce us into longing for a bygone era?"). And for all I know long-time mystery writer Obstfeld maybe have been chomping at the bit to get in some anti-Republican digs. However, I strongly suspect that "Entering a World of Pain"'s politics-on-its-sleeve approach is due primarily to the former NBA star (who also served as a cultural ambassador during the Obama administration). The most delightful, if perhaps most gratuitous, of these moments involves an anecdote about Paul Ryan, a zipper, and the acoustics of the congressional restroom. And notably, in a season in which xenophobia is at the forefront, this episode focuses on Islamophobia and racism more than any other. Based on his review of La La Land, Abdul-Jabbar is also well-suited to tackle the complicated dynamics of Logan's and Veronica's relationship in which each of them make self-defeating choices and have trouble being honest about this with themselves, let alone each other.

Personal writerly quirks aside, this episode's place in the bigger picture is most readily defined by a rather startling reveal. About two-thirds of the way through the season, Veronica Mars chooses to tell us - but not Keith or Veronica! - that Dick and Clyde did indeed plant the first bomb. I'm not sure how I feel about this yet; obviously it's not the most important story element or it wouldn't have been revealed so early (and so, so casually) but this was still our opening premise and the teleplay dumps it in our lap in transparently expositional dialogue (why would Dick need to explain to his assistant the motivation behind something they planned together??). Blake directs the scene as if the two are discussing their stock portfolios, and I find myself wondering why Thomas and the staff felt so comfortable brushing this aside. Yes, the Mars' careful clue-gathering was pointing pretty heavily in this direction but I can't quite wrap my head around the notion that it's no big deal. We'll see how I feel at the end of the season but even as I mull this over in print it already feels like the show's clumsiest move - an attempt to be Hitchcockian and switch our point of view which lost itself in translation somewhere along the route from concept to execution. (Could there be some twist I'm not foreseeing? Were they practicing their lines for the Neptune Players' reboot of If I Did It?) That it doesn't annoy me more, that indeed I'd almost forgotten about it when I opened this window to write my review, is testament to the series' success with characterization and thematic exploration; intriguing as the bomb plot is at times, it isn't really Veronica Mars' primary appeal.

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