Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Papa's Cabin" (season 3, episode 15)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Papa's Cabin" (season 3, episode 15)


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 27, 2007/written by John Enbom; directed by Michael Fields): Just six episodes later, we have another climax: the Dean's true murderer is found. And then found again. And again. When Keith turns the screws, Hank and Mindy turn on each other, declaring that it was the other one who killed the Dean. Veronica and Tim team up to vindicate their professor, and a very femme fatale shot of Mindy coldly donning shades as she collects her insurance payout leads us to suspect they're on the right path. They track down a woman (Dendrie Taylor) whom he encountered outside a convenience store at the time of the Dean's death. But his alibi falls through when they learn that Hank called her from a burner phone to set this up. By then Hank has been released and, like Mindy, he vanishes, but Tim's and Veronica's sleuthing, now turned against their professor, reveals that they fled to Mexico. And there Keith finds the shaken Hank on Mindy's boat, confessing not the murder of the Dean - Hank still firmly believes Mindy killed her husband - but to the accidental slaying of Mindy herself. Hank, of course, is arrested and charged with both crimes. And Tim, who learns from Hank's phone (ostensibly bugged by Steve Batando) that the professor had declined to recommend him to a colleague, is now promoted to teaching the prestigiuos criminology course with Veronica as his de facto T.A. It's almost heartwarming to see the two rivals come together like this, bonding over an investigation into their mutual mentor. Almost.

As Tim lays out the case against Hank for the hyper-curious class, something starts to dawn on Veronica. When she pulls apart her phone in her seat, she discovers a bug and realizes that Tim knew some key information he could have only learned by spying on her. It was all a set-up, every last bit: the initial suicide cover story, the incriminating evidence, the reliance on the two suspects turning on each other and clumsily trying to cover their own trails (it's actually Hank who switched the Dean's and Steven's keyboards), even the stumbling into Veronica's office at night and begging for her help. Veronica openly confronts Tim in the middle of his lecture, offering only one cold comfort for the perfect murder-plotter. At least the professor won't disrespect his intelligence ever again.

My Response:
This was a clever, quite Hitchcockian twist - Hitchcockian not only its elaborate construction and dramatic reveal, but also in our perverse chagrin when the calculating murderer doesn't get away with it. This was all the more true for me as I was pretty sure of Tim's guilt throughout - not because I'm so clever but because, unfortunately, I learned a while ago that this character would be arrested for the Dean's murder (curious about the double-casting of James Jordan, I went a little too far in my research). As the investigation unfolded, I kept expecting him to become a suspect but when he never did it, it became obvious that his eventual arrest would conclude, not prolong, this mystery. It's a pity, as I always enjoy being surprised by Veronica Mars mysteries and this is the first one I was really spoiled on beforehand (even if I didn't realize I was spoiled until late in the game). At least going forward - if I can avoid any more spoilers - the rest of the season is about as open as it can get. I really have no idea where the series can go now that it's closed the book on a second multi-episode arc without offering any indication of its successor. And with Keith as sheriff, the Mars team has to contend with an entirely new dynamic (I enjoyed the scenes where Veronica dropped in on the station, a weird mix of her comfortable rapport from the investigative office and her tormenting visits to Lamb). There's the possibility that the creators saw the writing on the wall and crafted a fitting conclusion, that they were rushed into ending with a whimper, or that they were abruptly cut off and had to wrap things up prematurely - or leave them hanging until the feature film seven years later. But two plot elements still need to be addressed. The first is the Fitzpatricks/Kendall plot which dropped off the face of the earth aside from one Vinnie-induced blip. The second, of course, is Logan and Veronica. I'm with Wallace: sorry, but I'm not buying how casually she's ready to move on and I suspect his request for permission to date Parker was as much a cynical ploy as a sincere inquiry.

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