Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Losing Streak" (season 4, episode 5)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Losing Streak" (season 4, episode 5)


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 David Walpert; directed by Scott Winant): To hear Calvin Linden (Mather Zickel) tell it, his despised dead son was a prince. No, literally. "Prince Bryce Linden" was apparently heir to the throne of an island kingdom Calvin purchased on the back of his "gambling empire" built from a credit card with a $500 limit. Told off by Chief Langdon (who savors the opportunity to finally give it back to one of these pricks), Calvin offers a $250,000 reward for anyone who can catch his son's killer. Soon after Langdon's satisfying dismissal of this jerk, she has another rare opportunity to relish her job: a strange, sloppy anonymous letter threatens another bombing unless its absurd demand is met. Mayor Dobbins must run through the entire town, in broad daylight... completely naked. (His wife, played by Mim Drew, concurs that sneakers are probably okay.) If meant to humiliate the mayor, the stunt backfires: his courage and even his physique earn public admiration and soon dozens of equally naked men are jogging behind him. This results in a humorous moment as Alonzo and Dodie toast their brief sojourn in the land of "Normal," just before that flock of streakers passes by the coffee shop window.

Alongside these farcical elements, the strain of Veronica's personal life begins to wear her down (Logan compares her, to his mind, self-imposed suffering to the character in The Crucible who demands an ever-greater pile of stones on his chest rather than give in to his accusers). Her father's memory issues are now unavoidable and when she presses him to take a vacation after this case, he reveals that he'd rather close up shop altogether and free her to do something else, somewhere else. Logan concurs, even broaching the sensitive matter of a breakup if she thinks she'd be happier elsewhere. She wouldn't; asked where she'd be without Logan or Keith weighing her down, she embraces Logan and tells him her head would be in an oven because she would have lost the two people she cared about the most. This moment is worth keeping in mind when both Veronica and Keith struggle to trust newfound friends. Keith is tempted to excuse Clyde's suspicious activities even as Veronica digs up mountains of dirt. Veronica, meanwhile, is alarmed by the fervor with which Nicole shoots bottles during some stoned target practice (she proclaims the names of men she hates as she fires at each one). But she denies that the club owner could play any role in the bombings, even if they do link up to incidents at Comrade Quack's - a business, Veronica learns, that Nicole won in a lawsuit against its former owner, whose lax safety policies got her raped. Even if she was capable of building and setting off bombs, Veronica reasons, why would she harm her own pocketbook? This seems even more pertinent when another bomb goes off right inside the bar itself; but then Veronica learns that Nicole is just biding her time until the end of the season - the business has already been sold...to Nicole's supposed archenemy Big Dick.

Tensions emerge with an older friend as well; Weevil and Veronica fight over young Juan Diego, her mugger, whom Veronica decides to use as a pawn, getting Weevil (or, failing that, Juan himself) to identify Clyde as the liaison who orders and pays off the biker gang to disrupt life in Neptune. (Meanwhile, Penn and fellow murderhead Carol, played by Dannah Feinglass Phirman, make their own discovery: identify Big Dick as the author of the mayor-threatening letter based on how he words his tweets. They make love in celebration - or at least they would if they didn't discover a dead duck planted under their sheets.) Weevil, already unhappy with Veronica, is going to be pissed about Juan. And in a long, tumultuous relationship, this may be the point of no return, a risk Veronica runs to prevent future bombings and save lives. Veronica's other old pal fares better in "Losing Streak," even if just for the span of a line and a gesture. Wallace, still barely a featured character (his house party is an important early setpiece but we don't see much of him there either) earns an amusing moment on a school bus. There he watches his student Matty bat her eyelashes to melt brainy, standoffish Owen (Nick Alvarez) and get him to hack some secret documents. Chuckling as he recognizes who's encouraging this behavior, Wallace mumbles knowingly, with a big grin, "It's a slippery slope, Owen."

My Response:
Two prime suspects swim into focus. Both are quite compelling - even complementary, although not without problems. As soon as the bombing victims were connected to misogynist incidents in Nicole's bar, the possibility of Nicole being the killer presented itself. I dismissed it for a few reasons: the show has already gone the "vengeful feminist" route once and was rightfully criticized for how this was handled the first time. If anything, having heard some of Rob Thomas' post-hoc defenses and/or mea culpas of the campus rape storyline, I'd assume he wants to "fix" rather than repeat that direction. On a plot level, the problem with Nicole's culpability - aside from being a bit too carelessly telegraphed ("Maybe he'll get hit by a car" she gripes about one of the guys the night before his head is blown off) - is that while all of the attacks have included misogynists, they haven't only included misogynists. Three other people were murdered in the first bombing alone, and dozens have been injured. If Nicole is cleansing Neptune of toxic masculinity, creating new innocent victims of violence - including female ones - is an odd way to go about it. And if she has some other, more cynical goal in mind then her backstory becomes fairly superfluous.

While I'd take some convincing to accept Nicole as the season's big bad, treating her as a suspect is much more intriguing, especially in relation to Clyde. He is in many ways Nicole's polar opposite: good old boy swagger, his all-American voice as gravely as a country road vs. a her punkish persona topped by an accent soaked in British sophistication. Clyde's world is rife with symbols of old-fashioned white patriarchal power (golf, duck-hunting, decanters of rye), even if he came at this status sideways, while Nicole, especially in this episode, loathes male chauvinism in all its forms with the rage of someone forced to dwell in its underbelly. Both are quite charismatic and ingratiating from these opposite directions, with Nicole enmeshing herself in Veronica's life while Clyde pals around with Keith. And "Losing Streak" explicitly articulates this juxtaposition as the two characters note their parallel situations and begin to wonder if they're more susceptible to the appeals of camaraderie than they want to believe. Of course despite their disparate auras of cool and control, both characters, it's revealed, have sold out to the elder Casablancas: Clyde publicly and Nicole in secret. There are eerie, discomfiting moments when the garrulous companion is offscreen, maybe just for a moment, and the high of particularly coded male or female solidarity fades to leave an embarrassed, slightly hungover distrust lingering in its wake.

But if Clyde is the killer (in which case he'd probably be manipulating Dick just as he did in the joint), we're robbed of the sense of shock most prior Veronica Mars mysteries have reveled in. When, in twenty-one episodes, did suspicion ever explicitly settle on Aaron Echolls or Cassidy Casablancas? In season three, Mercer Hayes is even prematurely exculpated at great pains just to deflect our attention while Tim Foyle is disguised as a fellow detective as a decoy. Clyde is an intriguing figure and there must be more to him than meets Keith's eye; I wouldn't even be surprised if he has a hand in at least one of the bombings (his real estate schemes already appear to be pretty well-established). But I think the show will eventually settle on someone else. For now, I'm happy to spend time with suspects who will turn out to be red herrings - sometimes those are the biggest catches of all, if you don't just have your eye on the whodunit.

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