Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Spit & Eggs" (season 3, episode 9)

Friday, July 12, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Spit & Eggs" (season 3, episode 9)


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 November 28, 2006/written & directed by Rob Thomas): Where to begin? "Spit & Eggs" reveals the result of Veronica's serial rape investigation, sets up an entirely new mystery arc, dives into the fraught tension between the Greek system and its opponents on campus, centers the simultaneous collapse of Dean O'Dell's personal and professional lives, and resolves - if that's the right word - Logan's and Veronica's relationship crisis. Let's take the last first; after a few days of tension, Logan tells Veronica he's been doing a lot of thinking. Things aren't going well between them because they have such different needs and neither one is going to change. Veronica always needs to be the star of her own show (literal or otherwise) and Logan doesn't want to be on the sidelines. Logan is distressed to be delivering this recognition but understands that sharp, immediate pain is better than something far more devastating if they cling to each other for longer. Veronica is stunned but seems, initially, unflustered. It takes hours for the full weight of the break-up to make her break down. From here on, for now, she'll be going it alone. Sort of.


Actually, when she attends Pi Sigma's big bash to celebrate their restoration, she's accompanied by her loyal (if grumbling) support squad: Mac, Wallace, and new recruit Piz who proves himself ably helpful and humorous in this entry, earning a place among the regulars. Armed with coasters which will change color if dipped in a drugged drink, they eventually discover a dosed cup with an absent girl's name. Logan insists chivalrously that Veronica let him handle this one time and races off to the girl's dorm before Veronica realizes that in fact it was the little girl's sister using her name and ID - so she must go off in another direction. And as she leaves the party she hears Mercer's voice over the speakers and realizes that he does actually pre-record his call-in programs. The young man cleared by her when he was in police custody IS actually the Heart serial rapist - or at least, one of them.

In the next victim's room, Mercer monologues about his desire to shut women up before he uses them for sex and then he discovers Veronica lying under the covers, waiting for him. There's a violent confrontation - he's stabbed in the leg with a unicorn horn of all weapons - and Veronica races through the hallways (a sequence we already witnessed in this episode's brief cold open) only to be rescued by mild-mannered RA Moe Slater (Andrew McClain), who participates in the Take Back the Night safety patrol. He hides Veronica safely away in his room and gives her some water, but as she drinks it she looks at his bulletin board and sees something horrifying: a photo of Mercer and Moe together, one wearing the "prisoner" shirt, the other the "guard" t-shirt from that sociology experiment. And then the GHB hits. Mercer forcefully orders a subservient Moe around as they chase Veronica, who is helped by a hammer, a whistle, Parker's yell, a phone tracker, and Keith's pursuit. Logan, sent down the wrong path at the party, couldn't be there for the capture. But he decides to make up for this later by smashing a police car with a baseball bat. This lands in the sheriff's jail cell...the same cell where Mercer and Moe are currently lodged. Logan grins ear to ear as the cell door closes him inside with the two people he would most like to physically destroy.

Through this all, Dean O'Dell is caught in the middle of Hearst's emerging civil war at the same time his own marriage comes apart. The episode opens with a float commissioned by Lilith House, featuring a giant pig as their image of the frat boys they're about to kick off campus. Then the tide turns when wealthy Pi Sigma alum Mel Stoltz (Jeremy Roberts) threatens to withdraw funding if the Dean doesn't reinstate Greek life. Based on an alleged conflict of interest among one of the trustees who voted to ban the system at Hearst, plus a technicality in the bylaws, the Dean announces that fraternities and sororities will, indeed, stay on campus. Now it's the bros parading around campus - possibly naked (network censorship demands a certain coyness on these matters) - while the angry feminists egg the Dean's car and rock it back and forth threateningly. But this is not what upsets Cyrus the most. (I never mentioned his first name before by the way, but it's one of the show's many clever touches - considering the looming threat he poses to the "Greeks.") As all of this is unfolding, the worried middle-aged man is also having his young, attractive wife investigated.

Initially Keith is happy to deliver good news for once: when he follows Mindy up to Sacramento on a business trip with a suspiciously handsome colleague, he discovers that she was in her room alone, while the co-worker is gay. But when Veronica realizes who her father's latest client is, she feels duty-bound to paint a full picture for Mars Investigations (presumably - her rationale is not made explicit). Cyrus gets drunk with Keith, although he refuses to open a bottle of aged Scotch he's been waiting years to savor; tonight's not the night for that (a detail that might come in handy later). He pretends to pass out but when Keith is gone he packs a gun and heads to the hotel to see "Rory Finch" for himself. We don't witness the outcome of that encounter but eventually Cyrus is back at his office as more eggs splatter against his window. And then someone opens his door and enters the room. The next morning, Weevil comes in early to find his boss lying face down on his desk, a bullet hole in the side of his head.

Who killed Dean O'Dell? The cigar-wielding frat fan, for some other reason (now that he got his wish)? The professor? The wife? The son we haven't met yet? Mercer, angry that the Dean hasn't paid his gambling debts? Or if Mercer is actually already entangled in the other storyline - I can't recall what point in Veronica's investigation this is intercut with - one of Mercer's "prisoners" (it wouldn't be the first time Mercer had a job carried out by a minion while he was preoccupied)? Could it be Patty Hearst??? The possibilities are endless and with just eleven episodes ago, the series has a full plate of spit and eggs to digest.


My Response: I guess I should have mentioned Moe before now, huh? As suspected, nearly halfway through the season, this mini-finale (of sorts) brings the rape investigation to a close. There are still some details to further explore but it's pretty clear now what happened. To my surprise - and relief - my memory of what I read about the Lilith House (that they were staging all of the rapes) misled me. Claire's situation may have been a hoax, but it looks like the rest of the assaults were orchestrated by the team of Mercer and Moe. This is a far more effective scenario for several reasons. Parts of it do border on the hokey (Mercer's Talky Rapist shtick is a bit hard to take) but it's dramatically much more compelling than the alternative, especially since it incorporates the seemingly throwaway prisoner/guard experiment from early in the season. I suspect this element also offers narrative potential going forward...more on that in a moment. There's also a degree of mystery and surprise here, consistent with how the earlier seasons resolved their mysteries. Characters who had been carefully established with a narrative role to play, so that we knew them but they didn't stick out *too* much, suddenly reveal themselves in the climax - and in retrospect it all makes perfect sense even if the show effectively concealed their culpability until the final moment.

And unlike the Lilith House possibility, the Mercer/Moe reveal doesn't erase the underlying crimes themselves, trivializing both our investment in the story and, more importantly, the social implications of the premise. Even as it stands, the show flirts too readily with the right-wing tropes which in 2006 were more readily accepted as "reasonable centrism," but wholeheartedly embracing the "feminist conspiracy to fake rape" as a catch-all solution would have been even worse: a complete disaster. This reminds me of Roger Ebert reviewing a film which featured death penalty opponents staging an elaborate hoax in an effort to make a political point; in the interest of a clever plot twist, it embraces the most fevered imaginings of the right wing. Ebert wrote, disgusted, "You can make movies that support capital punishment ('The Executioner's Song') or oppose it ('Dead Man Walking') or are conflicted ('In Cold Blood'). But while Texas continues to warehouse condemned men with a system involving lawyers who are drunk, asleep, or absent; confessions that are beaten out of the helpless, and juries that overwhelmingly prefer to execute black defenders instead of white ones, you can't make this movie. Not in Texas."

This being Veronica Mars, the show has something to say about a toxic sexual culture and the danger of dismissing those who confront it head-on (pointedly, Veronica is rescued by a girl literally screaming "Rape!") but it also wants to tell a gripping story in heightened thriller fashion with twists and turns, grand reveals, and jump scares. In season one, a bad guy popped up in the back of Veronica's car and literally locked her in a fridge before setting a fire around her. In season two, a plane exploded in the night sky as the killer tried to force Veronica off the high-rise roof of a luxury hotel. And in season three, Veronica races through hallways in jagged slow-motion, grabbing at any potential weapons as she cornered by her pursuers in the tight quarters of a dormitory (Wikipedia cites twenty-eight different camera set-ups for a single brief scene). It's not quite as dramatic as those earlier examples but still effectively tense and gripping. Of course one big difference here is that we aren't actually witnessing a season finale. And so as Veronica Mars ends one mystery, it immediately initiates another.

Begley, who's been absolutely wonderful this season, will be missed, but his death offers rich potential going forward. I'll plant my flag right now on the possibility that the killer is the sociology professor and/or students that he is controlling via his weird prison mind-control experiments. Maybe former students have formed a rogue cult springing from the game (can Veronica Mars really spend a full season on a college campus without dipping into secret societies?). If there's going to be a continuous thread tying both mysteries together, it could be that. Or I could be making too much of something just meant to establish the beginning of Moe's and Mercer's peculiar alliance; it wouldn't be the first time I read something portentous into a relatively minor subplot (hell, maybe the good old Manning family killed O'Dell!). Anyway, I strongly suspect that Mrs. O'Dell's affair is a misdirect; not only is it too obvious, but the Dean looks like he's seeing someone more unexpected enter his office. They've certainly done a good job cultivating many potential suspects.

Finally, solo writer/director/creator Thomas is perhaps at his strongest when grappling with Veronica and Logan. This is, I believe, their third breakup - did she ever actually dump him during the confusion of late season one, when she thought he was probably the killer and gave her GHB? By now they know each other well enough to handle it maturely and soberly but we can see how badly it's eating up Logan (this is some of Dohring's best, subtlest work for the show). Veronica on the other hand looks calmer, even to the point of seeming like perhaps she was ready for or even wanted this, before breaking down in the shower an extremely affecting, authentic delayed reaction. Amidst all the larger-than-life drama and action, moments like this anchor the series and remind us that in three years and sixty-four episodes, the show doesn't just effectively deliver mystery beats - it crafts compelling, intricate characters who breathe life into everything else onscreen.

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