Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Postgame Mortem" (season 3, episode 13)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Postgame Mortem" (season 3, episode 13)


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 13, 2007/written by Joe Voci; directed by John Kretchmer): Despite dipping even further into death, the heart of the episode is with Logan and Heather Button (Juliette Goglia), a bright-eyed, hyperactive 11-year-old whom he's forced to babysit. They make quite an amusing odd couple, the college student (who's on the verge of failing his classes) barely able to get up from the couch, unshaven and perpetually clad in his bathrobe, peppered with questions and offered unsolicited advice by the cheerful, chatty little girl. She's there because Dick invited her big sister Melinda (Lisa Jay) to a party, which turns into a trip to Vegas, which turns into into a drunken marriage, which turns into a honeymoon, which turns into a miserable ride back to California. Heather seems unconcerned, maybe even relieved to have nowhere to be and nothing to do, and she quickly preoccupies herself with teasing out and attempting to resolve Logan's love life. When Veronica, looking into the Dean's case at the Grande, finds herself in the same space as Logan and Heather (how many awkward trips has she taken in that elevator?) the pint-size matchmaker can barely contain herself. Finally Logan snaps and makes her cry, before learning from Melinda's sister that Heather - who seems so infinitely delighted by life, thrilled with Logan's taken-for-granted luxuries and convinced that he's living the dream - is actually on Prozac and has experienced wild mood swings since her father left the family. Logan and Heather reconcile over ice cream and the next day he's sufficiently recovered enough to show up for school.

That school, by the way, has become murder central over the past few months. The students are safe now that the serial rapists have been apprehended but two prominent staff members have died: Dean Cyrus O'Dell and, now, Coach Tom Barry. And in both cases, the very family members who ask Mars Investigations to look into the case are prime suspects. Keith's investigation of the Dean's "suicide" proves definitively that Mindy's car left the Grande and that two men were arguing in her room that night (as we already know, given what we saw of an armed Cyrus approaching). Mindy resists his initial request to end the investigation, even chuckling about his suspicions of her, but he keeps pressing and she keeps insisting that she and Hank, and no one else, were in the room together all night (save for a few minutes when she went down to get a toothbrush, which Hank convincingly verifies). Finally she gets fed up and fires Keith but it's too late; after reading the Dean's heartfet recommendation letter for Veronica, he is committed to finding the real killer even if it's free of charge and unwanted by the fickle, evasive widow. Keith's other clients are Kathleen and Josh Barry (Tracey Needham and Jonathan Chase), desperate to prove that Josh didn't murder his dad after quitting the basketball team in rage. Veronica - who suspects Wallace's friend Mason of killing the coach and trying to pin it on Josh - sympathizes with the coach's son, even delivering concealed cookies when he's locked away in the sheriff's cell. Somehow she ends up handcuffed in Professor Landry's classroom, informed by Lamb that she helped Josh escape. Does Josh, or his cellmate, have allergies (the cookies look like peanut butter) that helped him stage a jailbreak?

My Response:
Veronica Mars keeps finding interesting directions or distractions for Logan, who - despite not having as solid a narrative purpose as some others - has easily become the third most important character after the two Mars sleuths. Tossing Heather into the mix results in an occasionally (and purposefully) grating but mostly delightful two-hander - the sort of dynamic we haven't seen since Keith took Terrence's case in season two. Precocious smart-mouth children who offer wise advice or a spiritual boost to morose older characters were a 00s cinema/TV speciality - think Chloe Grace Moretz in (500) Days of Summer or Sierra Pitkin in Juno. This works better for me than some of those did, firstly because it provides a variation on a routine with a familiar character, and secondly because Heather doesn't simply serve Logan's story purpose...eventually we discover she has her own issues (which in turn shakes Logan out of his personal pity party). Very rarely does the series develop a whole self-contained episodic plot line that isn't a mystery, but it not only attempts but pulls it off here. I'm also struck by the extent to which the Neptune Grande has become one of the central locations for Veronica Mars, right up there with the sheriff's station and Mars office or apartment - easily supassing all three in this episode at least. In fact, there are episodes (again, including this one) in which the Grande seems like more an official hub of action than Hearst, as if Neptune High passed its torch to the hotel rather than the college. Although present in season one - remember Logan tracking his mom's credit cards to his sister? - it really began to emerge as a crucial nexus in season two;  in fact, it's a bit surprising that Veronica is so comfortable here after her traumatizing showdown on the rooftop in the season finale.

We're now about two-thirds of the way through this season, leading me to wonder what this finale will bring. Of course this season is structured quite differently than the others but a prisoner/guard game follow-up in the dean's murder could create a throughline (a few episodes ago, Veronica did ask Logan how Mercer made it back from Mexico so quickly the night they were together). And Fitzpatrick involvement in both deaths - there could easily be a gambling debt aspect to both - could also bring us back to the completely dead-ended Kendall situation in the premiere. For now, though, both of those narrative elements are dormant. It's also the case that season three was destined to be the show's last. Why are there only twenty episodes instead of the usual twenty-two? Was the plug pulled before everything could be resolved? As much as I've been enjoying this exploration in the dark, one exciting aspect of wrapping it up will be to turn on the lights by digging into the production history. Aside from fleeting, accidental glimpses I've caught when looking up plot or cast details on Wikipedia, so much of the behind-the-scenes process is a mystery to me. I'm also only dimly aware of how various parts of the series were received, how the fan culture evolved alongside it, and what the network's (from UPN to the CW) relationship was like with the creators. When one investigation ends, a whole new one can begin.

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