Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Poughkeepsie, Tramps and Thieves" (season 3, episode 11)

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Poughkeepsie, Tramps and Thieves" (season 3, episode 11)


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 January 30, 2007/written by Diane Ruggiero; directed by John Kretchmer): Taking a break from selling cheat aids to Neptune's desperate students, Max (Adam Rose) has a strange case for Veronica. A while ago, he fell in love with a beautiful woman at ComicCon - they established a deep connection without ever sleeping together, and she left her contact information in his hotel room but when he returned the cleaning service had already come through. He never heard from her again, and then he received a text from a random number saying she'd given up trying to reach him and was about to get married. Veronica gets to the bottom of this quickly: Max's friends (Nathan Frizzell and Richard Keith) hired a prostitute to take his virginity and felt bad when he took it too seriously, so they sent the text themselves (from a co-worker's New York area code). Max is still determined to track her down and when Chelsea, actually Fiona, actually Wendy (Brianne Davis) shows up, to Veronica's surprise she really does seem to be truly in love with the nerdy young man. They spend the following night together but when she's forced to leave abruptly the next day (another sex worker shows up with a fake black eye, demanding she return) and Max forks over some money to help her, Veronica asserts that he's been scammed. They decide to blackmail a prominent judge, one of her top clients, but her madame (Jackie Debatin) intervenes to inform them that no, Wendy really did love him but really is deep in debt. Max pays the $10,000 she needs, but the spell is broken and he can't look at her the same way. So Wendy leaves him again, this time with a note and payment for Veronica's service - in folded cash notes she got from returning to her old strip club job.

Veronica's own love life becomes complicated again when she and Logan share secrets in bed: he admits to sleeping with the surfer girl, and denies ever visiting a prostitute. Later Veronica runs into good old Madison Sinclair - with a brand new hairdo and look - at Victoria's Secret. It turns out when she showed up at Logan's door for a booty call earlier in the episode, she did not expect to find Dick there, as Veronica assumed. No, she was looking for Logan, whom she'd hooked up with during the brief break-up. As Veronica frets about sex and lies, Keith explores possible suspects in the O'Dell investigation, focusing on the Lilith House members who egged the Dean's office and car the night before. Except it turns out his car shouldn't have been there; either Nish is lying about egging a Volvo or Mindy (who traded cars with her husband earlier in the day) chose not to mention paying the Dean a visit...right around the time he was killed. Maybe she found him dead (or even saw the killer), freaked out, and came to Keith hoping he could discover who really did it without exposing that she was there? No picture is forming yet - too many missing pieces.

My Response:
Perhaps because the writers found this particular storyline so fascinating, or maybe just because they needed a lull in the more ongoing story of Dean O'Dell's death, this is one of the more concentrated episodes of Veronica Mars. Only a relative handful of scenes are unconnected to the Max/Wendy case, with these evenly split between Keith's investigation and Veronica's renewal of both romance and distrust. The way the episode plays with its tropes - "hooker with a heart of gold" vs. "just another scheming ho" - is at times sympathetic and at times judgmental. It's not only the characters onscreen who seem uncertain of what Wendy's place in this world should be. Probably the strongest element is Davis as Wendy, bring a level of nuance and sincerity (but also self-awareness) to the largely comical, broadly-drawn character; if the show regards her curiously but warily, the performer offers the viewer a closer look. I've noticed a similar phenomenon with Chastity Dotson as Nish: on page the character is purely shrill and bullheaded but in line delivery and moments of reaction she presents a more subtle take. At any rate, the show's - particularly this season's - sexual politics always tend to lag a bit behind its class politics although its aims in both are ambitious. For the ongoing narrative, Max's extended storyline suggests his character may have a bigger role to play as the show continues: whenever the series introduces a character as a recurring background figure before giving them a standalone story, it usually means grander plans. And considering what those plans often entail, maybe we should keep as close an eye on Hearst's resident black marketeer as we should have on its gambler-in-chief.

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