Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Keep Calm and Party On" (season 4, episode 3)

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Keep Calm and Party On" (season 4, episode 3)


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 Joaquin Sedillo; directed by Heather V. Regnier): Case closed. Matty is now ready to bring her troubles to the Mars family; they've been vouched for by Penn and Matty's physics teacher - Wallace as it turns out. She identifies a man with a mole as the guy from the Fitzpatricks' business who delivered the deadly vending machine to her father and a little surveillance work follows, during which Veronica begins to take the broken bird under her own wing (Matty asks her if she was angry after Lilly was murdered, and Veronica answers, "I'm still angry"). And Perry Walsh is soon identified as the culprit, his information turned over to Chief Langdon who leads a SWAT team on his house. Blowing himself up before he can be captured, Perry leaves a misogynist manifesto on his computer; the Mars collect their checks from the Maloofs, shrug as Langdon refuses to credit them for the tip, and tell each other not to indulge in their mutual history of "tilting at windmills." But when Alex asks Veronica if she really believes they got their man, she says, flatly, no. As she asks in the closing narration, gawking at a massive fireball on the beachfront while everyone runs away in slow motion, "Why do I always have to be right?"

Moving toward the halfway mark of the series, we reach a number of turning points. The bomb plot and Matty have already been noted, but we also meet Penn's murderhead crew who pester Veronica and Logan with prying questions about the legendary Lilly. Keith bonds with Clyde, who sends him to a lavish health service run by Dick, as he takes the Casablancas assistant's missing-girlfriend case and swats down Veronica's suspicions that they're behind the bombs. Daniel's stressful life has the most twists and turns; he asks Mars Investigations to find out who's blackmailing him over a masturbation video, gets kidnapped and tortured by the Carr brothers, and is rescued and nearly killed by Alonzo and Dodie before a radio report of Perry's death vindicates him. This wild ride ends with the congressman hiring his would-be murderers to kill the Carrs on his behalf. Alonzo meanwhile has been seeing hotel employee Claudia (Onahoua Rodriguez) who invites him to a family barbecue where he's introduced to her brother: Weevil! Recognizing Alonzo's tattoo he wonders if the Mexican's business in Neptune is related to the bombings, and when Alonzo assures him he didn't set any bombs, a savvy Weevil mutters, "That's not what I asked..."

A Chino connection between many of these disparate players is discovered; Dick Sr., Clyde, Perry, and even the random disgruntled customer Keith found planting rats at Hu's store all did time in the state prison. This as much as anything encourages Veronica to believe there's a larger conspiracy at work - well, this and that whisper of a feeling. She's also mugged by an incompetent young PCHer (Tyler Alvarez) before turning the tables on him. Inside his own wallet, she discovers six crisp C-notes. This same teenager, incidentally (or not) was photographed taking a dump in the ice machine outside the Sea Sprite. Is whoever he's working for a Chino alumnus too? (We see the boy, rather ominously, wandering around Weevil's barbecue.) Despite these shadowy connections and dark subjects, there are a few moments of fun and games onscreen (and not all of them involve poop). They usually star the younger Dick. He strips in Nicole's nightclub before taking ecstasy with her, Veronica, and Logan, and later he plays a promotional volleyball match on the beach with Logan as his partner. But even that later moment, one of the lightest and least consequential we've lingered over, ends with the second bomb. Going forward, there probably isn't going to be room for either half of the episode's title.

My Response:
Although the self-contained episodic element of Veronica Mars is gone, that doesn't mean each chapter in the ongoing story can't have its own internal structure. "Keep Calm and Party On" opens with a minor, bungled crime on an empty street and closes with a large-scale disaster on a crowded beach. The implications of the second bombing are even broader than those of the first because now we know that the police did not get their man, and that none of the victims was (likely) a particular target so much as collateral damage in a war for a much larger reason. The stakes appear to be radically changed. Or are they just reinforced? The Casablancas arguably look more suspicious than ever, especially given the Chino connection, but something doesn't add up there (my guess is Clyde is involved but Big Dick is clueless). Whoever set up Perry couldn't have been the bomber trying to cover their own tracks - because they planned to bomb again. Was someone else trying to cover for the bomber, against the bomber's will, hoping they wouldn't strike again only to be disappointed within twenty-four hours? Various elements must be working at cross-purposes within a larger organization. Hell, perhaps the highly distracted El Despiadado didn't realize his distant nephew was a casualty of his own operation, thus inadvertently ordered a hit on himself! (If anyone would carry that through to its inevitable if illogical conclusion, it would be Alonzo.)

Another possibility that looks like both a big stretch and a too obvious "twist," without enough rich thematic implications, is Penn planting bombs himself so that he'll have big mysteries to solve. I doubt the show will go there (and don't want it too). Maybe there are various, disconnected bombers feeding off each other for different reasons, like autonomous splinter cells linked only by a hunger for destruction? And what about Daniel, Penn's prime suspect? His obsession with smoking (or rather not smoking) is played mostly as a personal quirk and plot device; it gets him out of the hotel room and into the kidnappers' van, for example. But is Daniel's fixation a kind of tell, a mental association with fire and smoke, or maybe even a more direct connection to whatever happened either with the bombing or the blackmail incident? I don't quite believe his blackmail story - it seems like it's either made up or there's much more there than he's admitting. And if there was a cam girl, who is she and/or who does she work for? As the first act of this narrative draws to a close, the show has offered many disparate pieces - and perhaps now it will very slowly begin testing and disposing of them, while drawing the more promising ones together.

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