Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "President Evil" (season 3, episode 5)

Monday, July 8, 2019

Veronica Mars - "President Evil" (season 3, episode 5)


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 October 31, 2006/written by Jonathan Moskin & David Mulei; directed by Nick Marck): The off-campus culture of Neptune bleeds into Veronica's Hearst case of the week, while a prominent character from the college becomes the focus of Keith's work in "President Evil." Having helped Weevil get a job at her school, Veronica also uses him as part of a class project to analyze how socioeconomic factors can draw someone into a life of crime. He mentions that the gang life still appeals to him, although he's trying to live straight; walking out together after the bell, he and Veronica discuss the dorm room "casino" she's accompanying Logan to on Halloween and he notices that Veronica is wearing Lilly's necklace. So when the casino is robbed and Veronica's necklace is stolen by two masked, gun-wielding men, one of whom shares Weevil's stature and has drywall dust on his shoulders (signifying that he's spent time in the area where Weevil is working)...who is she going to suspect? Lamb arrests Weevil based on his own evidence - he received a pizza delivery ordered on one of the stolen cards - and Weevil is stung by Veronica's distrust. Eventually she discovers the real culprits are campus police (Blake Shields and David J. Lee), who stole props and costumes from the film department and tried to frame the new employee with a criminal record. Veronica even discovers her necklace on the cop's smart-mouthed little daughter (Rachel Rogers), and she rips it off of her in a hilariously abrupt and wonderfully played gesture.

Keith is preoccupied with the Hearst Dean's request for help; he even converts his investigative office into a faux-casting studio to lure Steven Batando (Richard Grieco), a voice actor, into a meeting with Dean O'Dell and his wife Mindy (Jaime Ray Newman), whose son (Sean Rose) needs bone marrow that only his deadbeat birth father can provide. Steven refuses and so the O'Dells kidnap him, leading Keith on a wild goose chase to Mexico and back, buying time for the operation to proceed. Steven is paid off handsomely for enduring their violation and Keith is convinced to keep quiet so the boy can live ("What would you do if it was Veronica?" the Dean pleads). Wallace gets his own fairly minor side story, in which he struggles in his mechanical engineering class. His new buddy Mason (Robert Ri'chard) convinces him to cheat by buying a copy of the test, only to get "Busted" as the Isley Brothers croon on the soundtrack (juxtaposing various comeuppances across the episode climax). As for Veronica's primary investigation, it stalls as she waits to identify the Asian man standing behind Claire in the ATM photo, even looking into the summer camp logo on his shirt. Claire says she doesn't recognize him, but when Veronica tracks down his house at the end of the episode she's told that he's Claire's boyfriend. The plot thickens but we won't know how or why until next time.

My Response:
There's a funny, meta moment in "President Evil" when the show acknowledges how much it has thrown at us in two seasons. Danny Rossow (Ryan Pinkston), a pizza place employee whom Veronica questions as part of an investigation, is starstruck; though she doesn't remember him, he attended Neptune High and remembers all the times that she saved fellow students, or even the school as a whole. It's a cute bit and well-suited to an episode that consciously recalls earlier stories and characters: Weevil's reminiscences of gang life, Logan - as always - with the albatross of Aaron around his neck, and Lilly via the necklace - as well as the tease that there might have been another dark dimension to her and Logan's relationship ("You're dating Logan Echolls?" Weevil asks Veronica, incredulous, "after what he did to Lilly?"). Even Lamb's banter with Veronica is borderline...affectionate in its familiarity. In a season that is often eager to break new ground, the show wants to assure us that it hasn't forgotten its roots even as it expands its new elements on several fronts (getting the Dean involved with Keith is a great example of Veronica Mars' penchant for cross-pollination although it's crazy that the Dean would so readily expose, to a student's parent no less, his willingness to kidnap and harvest organs from an unwilling subject). Nor are these features simply nostalgic callbacks, as they often re-contextualize or flesh out what we've already seen.

The dynamic between Veronica and Weevil as student and research subject, for example, complicates their already-complex friendship and I think it colors the testy distrust between them later because it's no longer a clash between relative equals (despite their many differences in earlier episodes, they were both high school students). Weevil gets a kick out of being put on display as her audiovisual aid but the implicit element of condescension in her social study becomes explicit when she treats him as inherenty suspicious. Frankly, Veronica's knee-jerk assumption of Weevil's guilt is one of her lowest moments on the series; he may be no angel but when has he ever been as flagrantly dishonest as that, and when has he ever done something to hurt her? That she nonetheless didn't turn him in, and that she gets him out (admittedly as much to find her necklace as to help a friend) redeems her somewhat, but she owes him an apology. I even wonder if some of her hostility stems less from a real belief that he stole the necklace than her unconscious recoiling from his suggestion that her romance with Logan is a betrayal of Lilly. Is she displacing her own guilt? In that sense, Lilly's necklace becomes a kind of psychoanalytically-charged object. As such the conjuring of robbers to take it away and its placement on the sarcastic little girl become borderline surrealist gestures, as if Veronica is projecting her insecurities out into the world and manifesting them as external mysteries to solve - very meta indeed.

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