Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Mars, Bars" (season 3, episode 14)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Mars, Bars" (season 3, episode 14)


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 February 20, 2007/written by Phil Klemmer & John Enbom, story by Phil Klemmer, John Enbom & Joe Voci; directed by Harry Winer): What a reversal! The Dean's supposed suicide is more clearly than ever a murder, while the Coach's murder turns out to be a suicide. Thanks to a peanut allergy, Josh escaped from jail and kidnapped Mason, whom he shows Veronica gagged and bound in the back of his car. But Mason's gun does not match the "murder" weapon, Mason is freed, and Veronica convinces Josh to meet with her again in twenty-four hours so she can help him flee the country. Cashing in his rare coin collection, he finds a DVD in a safety deposit box that he wasn't supposed to access until he was 21. On it, Coach Barry movingly tells his son that he's suffering from a fatal illness (information Keith tracked down earlier earlier in the episode) and that he's going to make his suicide look like a murder so that the family will be able to get his insurance payout. And so Veronica, initially unsure if she would set a trap and turn Josh in, helps another fugitive with a desperate family situation cross the Mexican border. It's a good thing her father finds out when he does because a few minutes later he might be professionally bound to turn her in or be complicit in a police cover-up: he's about to become sheriff again.

One of the biggest plot developments in the entire series occurs as part of of the Dean O'Dell case. Veronica realizes that the time of death was wrong: a gunshot was heard after Mindy's car had returned to the hotel, not while she was out. However, Weevil finds a shirt with Hank's initials stitched onto them in an old, non-working incinerator, pointing suspicion back in her and her lover's direction. Nor does her ex Steve come off clean; Lamb picks him up after his fingerprints are found on the Dean's keyboard, Cliff gets him out on a technicality, and then he breaks into the O'Dell house. Lamb, ever incompentent - tragically rather than comically this time - fires at his own reflection and then is blindsided by Steve before a deputy shoots him down. Lamb bleeds out as Keith arrives to call in medical care, and when the county commisioner delivers the news that Lamb has died in the hospital, Keith is assigned to be acting sheriff. In that capacity, with the full weight of the law behind him now, he confronts Mindy with the monogrammed piece of clothing and demands answers.

My Response:
So that's it - after fifty-eight episodes, all sorts of ups and downs and back-and-forths, including a nailbiter of a sheriff's race, Keith Mars is back in the saddle. The moment of recognition is beautifully played. Both he and Veronica have long awaited this moment of restoration, not only for Keith's redemption but for Lamb's comeuppance, but neither hoped nor imagined it like this. And there is something surreal about seeing Keith in his official uniform, a topsy-turvy sight reserved thus far for flashbacks, dreams, and one inappropriate (indeed, illegal) impersonation. The transition is so abrupt that it almost feels like it could be a jump-the-shark moment although I'm rolling with it for now. I've written about this before: the Mars' outsider status is ingrained in the show's DNA. Not only does it foster a different form of audience sympathy but it also allows them to bend the rules when needed, as they do even into this episode. And Lamb a goner, just like that? I felt as ambivalent about his death as his onscreen rivals do. The show disrespects him enough even in death to send him out in humiliating fashion, but at the same time the scene isn't played as black comedy. As an amusing foil, he'll be missed, and narratively this feels like one more marker of the show's post-high school adjustment, made all the more poignant by the fact that only six episodes remain before its cancellation takes effect. Where will they take the show, and where were they hoping to?

That also leaves just six episodes for Logan and Veronica to work out - or not - their own relationship's future. In a hardhitting episode (full of tense action and suspense sequences and a disorienting bevy of Dutch angle shots for some reason), Logan gets to relax with a goofy, pleasant little subplot - he, Parker, Mac, and Bronson go on a Valentine's Day scavenger hunt (the latter two proceeding to bed as Mac finally gets to shake the ghost of Beaver). It's clear that the lighthearted Parker and the jockish, sardonic Logan hit it off. Both are stereotypical Californian popular kids, Logan by birth, Parker by choice, a seemingly shallow stereotype - but both have also experienced recent trauma. Veronica is of course startled to see them together and we, and she, realize that maybe what started as a form of punishment (however emphatically she stated its finality) may end up settling into a more permanent rift. Without even realizing the anchor was lifted, this ship may have sailed. Or, you know, they'll hook up and break up again within a couple episodes. It wouldn't be the first (or second, or third) time. One last note before closing the review and moving on to find out how Mindy can slither her way out of this one - and if our star-crossed lovers can get uncrossed again: Veronica behind bars is as delightful as we'd imagine, playing it to the hilt via one-armed push-ups, fake tattoos, and ample big house tough talk. Is this really her first time? She's been arrested by Lamb in the past, but I guess she wasn't locked up back then (orchestrating a murderer's escape is a bit more serious than faking IDs). Again, what a reversal! From Mars behind bars to a Mars in charge all in one episode.

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