Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Not Pictured" (season 2, episode 22)

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Not Pictured" (season 2, episode 22)


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 May 9, 2006/written by Rob Thomas, John Enbom from a story by Rob Thomas; directed by John Kretchmer): Veronica wakes up bright and early the morning of her graduation. She's headed for San Diego State, a reasonable, affordable, and relatively local option. Not too upsetting, not too exciting, just right...like everything else in her life, it seems. She has a pleasant breakfast with Mom and Dad (already in his sheriff's outfit for the day, chuckling about Deputy Lamb's degrading duties at the office). At school where she hangs out with her 09er crew - Duncan, Logan, and Dick, all smiles in their unworried lives - the only crisis she faces is a mix-up with her cap and gown. It seems the officials switched her outfit with another student's, so she meets up with this stranger Wallace Fennell to trade packages, their paths crossing ever so briefly before they carry on with their very different lives. And then Veronica sees one more friend, standing beside a fountain. It's Lilly, back from college! Laughing about her escapades, neither seems to have a care in the world. Well, maybe one or two. Why is this fountain called the "Lilly Kane Memorial Fountain"?! And why does it smell like bacon?

And with that, Veronica actually wakes up on the morning of graduation.

I love these alternate-universe scenarios and God knows several of my favorite shows feature them (most obviously Twin Peaks and The Prisoner, although this particular dream sequence seems has the most in common with Shinji's fantasy near the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion). I would have enjoyed watching glimpses of this scattered throughout the finale, maybe even a sustained Sopranos-esque sequence, but God knows "Not Pictured" hasn't the time for that sort of indulgence. There are mysteries to solve, character arcs to close off, and terrifying possibilities to dangle before the audience's eyes before we're reassured that, if things aren't quite as peachy keen as they could've been had Lilly lived, they aren't as rotten as they could be - or as, on occasion, it looks like they're about to be.

Veronica does graduate, to gratifying applause from the community, but the moment is fleeting and bookended by more troubling situations. Poor Weevil, having made it this far, is approached by Sheriff Lamb as he sits in the gymnasium just minutes away from giving his grandmother what she's waited all her life to see. A hopeful "2006" dangling from his tassel as the cuffs are slapped on, he curses the insufferable cop but it's no good. I was wrong in my previous episode description, thinking that the mother and her two young sons were pointing to a picture of Felix in the paper. They weren't: these are the boys we saw peeping out the van window as Weevil beat up Thumper the night before he died. And so Weevil is being arrested for a crime he actually did commit (sort of) and it's left to season three to deal with this new disaster. Psychologically at least, the damage is already done.

Another matter is also left for season three - in fact it's treated as the cliffhanger. "What is in Kendall's briefcase?" is the new "Who is at Veronica's door?" Of course, it may just be a whole lot of cash in that briefcase - Beaver's suicide leaves their real estate earnings to her - but if so that only points to the bigger question: what is she hiring Keith for? We can probably guess. Aaron was with Kendall the night before and she must be a prime suspect for what went down moments after she left his suite: Clarence Weidman, fulfilling orders from Duncan (whom we see picking up his cell phone on an Australian beach, baby daughter in the sand by his side) shoots Aaron in the back of the head as he watches himself on TV. Duncan's sister is finally avenged, but if Keith does what Kendall hopes he will, Duncan himself may end up implicated.

Finally lingering as a not-entirely-fulfilled thread for season three is the Manning family. Perhaps that's all there is - zealous, abusive clan that coveted their daughter's baby - but other possibilities, some even contradictory, have been teased at various points. Why did Mr. Manning offer the bounty on Woody? What was their connection to Lucky, whom Meg's father tried to set up with their daughter and bailed out when he threatened Gia and Veronica? All of these dangling threads leave a lot more for a follow-up than season one did; plus, of course, Veronica is off to college (where to?) and, more short term, a trip to New York with her father who's late to the airport because of Kendall's surprise visit. In fact I expected to see Keith at that airport when we visit two other characters, whose conclusion is also (sort of) open-ended.

Wallace decides to fly to Paris in pursuit of Jackie only to discover she's in New York and has no plans to head to France. Tipped off by Veronica, who figured out her secret, Jackie meets Wallace during a four-hour layover and confesses the truth. She's the product of a one-night stand who barely knew her father before her mother struck a deal with him to ship her out west for a fresh start. In fact, Jackie grew up poor and troubled. She's not headed to the Sorbonne, she's a waitress - and teen mom. "Your life is in Neptune," she tells him, "You have to go." And while this may be a final farewell, it also may not: Wallace offers no answer.

In the biggest matter, however, we do finally get our resolution. And, well, it's a doozy.

Woody is captured in Reno by Keith (who has agreed to split the reward with good old Vinnie in exchange for information), but he refuses to take responsibility for the bus. This would of course be too easy and as in season one, Veronica Mars has a much bigger twist in store. Beaver, sorry, Cassidy (among his dying requests) Casabalancas was one of three Little League teammates, along with Marcos and Peter, whom Woody molested. The other two boys wanted to expose him but the always-anxious Beaver did not want his secret out. Having learned about explosives from friend of the family Curly Moran (whom he later killed and whose hand he wrote "Veronica Mars" on), the Casablancas brat set up the bus bomb and detonated it from the safety of the limo - conveniently taking out Veronica too, or so he thought. After all, she was his very first victim, raped at that infamous house party a year earlier (Veronica deduces this when she realizes that Woody passed chlamydia onto Beaver, so she must have gotten it from him that night when he returned to her bed, alone, after failing the first time).

As if all of this horror was not enough, Dick reveals that he placed a bomb not just on the school bus and in Woody's car but on his private plane, which Keith is supposedly flying on that very moment. A terrified Veronica, standing atop a hotel roof with a gun-wielding Beaver, tries to call her dad but an explosion in the sky just behind her (what timing!) reveals that she's too late (fortunately, as it turns out, Keith had other travel plans). Only when she forwards a text message to Logan, bringing him up to the roof as well, is she able to escape a taser-wielding Beaver's attempt to force her off the roof, hoping to frame the conveniently nearby Aaron for her murder. When Beaver stands on the edge of the abyss and Logan tells him not to do it, the anguished, defeated Cassidy asks for one good reason not to leap. Logan can't think of any, and neither can we, so down he goes.


My Response: All the pieces were there, waiting to be assembled, but if I didn't catch on to Aaron until the penultimate episode of season one, this season kept me in the dark until the very moment it wanted to illuminate us all. This works like gangbusters as a plot twist, unveiling its logic impeccably, although it leave some mixed feelings when the shock dissipates. First of all, there's something a bit icky about hinging the mass murder on a molestation victim who doesn't want people to know about his violation. And even this level of complexity - the victim/perpatrator whose fear compels him to hurt others (symbolized most direclty by the sexually transmitted disease) - is compromised by the evil supervillain persona Beaver takes on in his final scene, practically cackling as Veronica describes his evil deeds and cracking dark, mocking jokes with a ferocious sneer. The whole scenario is pretty boldly over-the-top - the hotel roof, the exploding airplane, the taser attacks, and the rape retcon - and the effect comes on so strong that we may feel reeled in and repelled simultaneously.

The show also asks us to quickly turn on a character we'd been encouraged to pity and root for throughout the season. But with clear eyes, we can recognize the potential for a turn was there all along (his snapped-shut romance with Mac, at the mere mention of Veronica, was probably the best evidence of this). Veronica Mars initially asked us to put aside our instinctive reservations about a wormy, uncharismatic loser only to confirm in the end that he deserved our scorn after all. On the one hand, this is a prescient forerunner of the whole murderous incel phenomenon (not the only way in which "Not Pictured" is predictive, given its momentarily disorienting "mace Donald Trump" joke). On the other hand, it marks a contrast with season one which identified the smooth, arrogant winner, not the awkward, victimized loser, as the big bad. Is it subverting a variety of patriarchal tropes (both Chad AND the Virgin are douches), picking an easier target this time, or a bit of both? Meanwhile, I thought for sure that the writers returned to the Casablancas party to correct one of the more questionable aspects of season one: having established Veronica as a rape victim in the pilot, they offered up an unsettling "Well, no, not actually" in "A Trip to the Dentist." Are they restoring the original premise after a backlash from some viewers and critics? A bit of research indicates otherwise: apparently they decided on Beaver's responsibility for the assault from his very first appearance on the show.

By making the bus crash into the direct deed of a lone killer, springing ultimately from the actions of another powerful, secretive individual, Veronica Mars skirts more sprawling and socially-minded possibilities, but also leaves that material open to tease out in another season. We opened on a vision of the town enmeshed in a simmering class war and twenty-two episodes later we're still there, aren't we? Sure, incorporation has been stopped and Weevil and Logan are no longer at each other's throats. But the underlying conditions remain and until now, the underclass has merely struggled to survive rather than fight back and challenge the elite's power directly. Will that change in the third season or the feature film - or, perhaps, will it be more apropos for the forthcoming 2019 series (rather than the Bush or Obama era iterations) to tackle that possibility? For now, of course, Veronica is off to college but even that route opens up all sorts of questions.

Will Veronica return to Neptune following freshman year and dive into a summer-spanning mystery? Will she discover new investigations to pursue in Stanford, crosscut with the lives of the rest of our ensemble back home? Or will she linger in town, choosing a local option or even taking the year off so she can stay by her father's side after coming so close to losing him (that, at least, I KNEW wasn't going to happen, fiery ball or no fiery ball)? I think she must head to Hearst - the writers went out of their way to plant their flag on that hill in "The Rapes of Graff." This school opens up a new base of activity while retaining the show's roots in Neptune. The community is as much a character as any of the people - and there are so many corners left to explore.

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