Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Veronica Mars - "Welcome Wagon" (season 3, episode 1)

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Veronica Mars - "Welcome Wagon" (season 3, episode 1)


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 3, 2006/written by Rob Thomas; directed by John Kretchmer): Veronica's college career kicks off satisfactorily: by resolving a mystery game in a record six minutes, she impresses her criminology Professor Hank Landry (Patrick Fabian) and stumps his pompous TA Tim Foyle (James Jordan, who - bizarrely - also played Lucky); she fools around with Logan, now her serious boyfriend once again; and she helps Wallace's roommate Piz (Chris Lowell), who clearly has a crush on the young sleuth, recover lost gear. His worldly possessions were stolen by a "Welcoming Committee" scam involving another criminology major - appropriately dubbed Donald Fagan (Josh Harto) - and the band of young ne'er-do-wells he was supposed to be mentoring. Some of the other incoming students don't fare quite as well. Mac is exhausted by the libidnal escapades of her roommate Parker Lee (Julie Gonzalo), Dick is a disaster veering between hitting on and getting beaten up by everyone in sight, and a women's movement on campus is protesting a rapist who shaves the heads of his victims, as well as the administration that isn't doing enough to stem the attacks or discover the perpetrator. The episode ends with Mac and Veronica being shocked by screams emanating from Mac's room: Parker, head shaven, appears to be the latest target. Does this particular incident have anything to do with Dick, whom we saw knocking on Parker's door a few nights ago and collapsing, weeping, in best friend/bitter enemy Logan's arms just last night?

Keith finds himself on the other side of the law as he assists a bail-jumper: Cormac is out of prison and reuniting with Kendall. The two lovers are planning a future on some tropical island with Kendall's millions and Keith has been happy to help them along the way thanks to the former Casablancas' generous payments. Before Keith left Neptune, Vinnie dropped by to annoy his erstwhile rival and occasional collaborator and only in the middle of the night, checking his car outside the lonely desert hideaway, does Keith realize he fell for the oldest trick in the book: Vinnie planted a pen-bug in his bag. Does this mean Vinnie is working for Liam and they are about to be attacked? In a whiplash-causing instant reversal, though, Keith races back inside to warn the runaway duo only to witness Cormac ruthlessly shooting down Kendall and turning the gun on Keith. Hiding behind a rock in the freezing cold night, it looks like Keith may have made as fatal a miscalculation as Kendall. Whether for his own greedy purposes, or on behalf of the Fitzpatrick family, Keith's passenger is determined to become his dispatcher. Will Vinnie come to the rescue in time?

My Response:
Hearst it is. I don't think there was ever a particular moment where Veronica made her decision in season two but she always had to go with the local school, didn't she? Even if she's still in Neptune, the slight shift in perspective makes a big difference - no longer the savvy hometown girl deeply embedded in the community's social web, she's now a freshman navigating the strange new world of college life. Somehow she feels more like a small fish in a big pond; even if the pond is technicaly smaller, I suppose it has more tributaries. (Wait, do ponds have tributaries?) Anyway, I enjoyed the challenges and bemusements of the new setting, undergraduate cliches and all, while admittedly feeling a little nostalgic already for the richer social texture of the broader Neptune. Hopefuly we get to dip into both this season. For now, the emphasis is almost entirely on the kids who continued on to Hearst, with Keith's sojourn in the desert providing the sole exception. The credits sequence - a mellow remix of the Dandy Warhols title track with a redesigned, sepia montage - contains some new names as well as some notable absences. Weevil appears in the opening credits while Duncan doesn't, but we don't actually get to see either of them in the episode itself.

Aside from the environmental shift, fresh credits, and restructured cast, the most notable alteration to Veronica Mars' DNA is the narrative approach. We are presented with our usual case-of-the-week, a relatively low-key peer group mystery (in this case a robbery scheme), and some longer arcs are either seeded or developed from the previous season. But there is no Lilly Kane murder or school bus tragedy to overshadow the entire season. Only two contenders pop up, both with significant qualifications. The serial rapist investigation could certainly be a thread Veronica follows all season, with Parker's shaved head as the equivalent of Lilly's corpse or (structurally closer) the mangled bus sinking beneath the waves at the end of the season two premiere. However, aside from the fact that it's not a murder mystery like the others (despite the seriousness of the crime, assault presents a very different premise for a detective - most notably because the victim is able to contribute to the investigation), this is also a storyline established back in season two and running through the whole episode from the very first shot in a more background manner. I also can't help but suspect that if this episode wanted to plant this as THE central througline of season three, the victim would have been someone closer to Veronica as was the case with Lilly in season one or Meg in season two.

The second possibility is Kendall's death. This IS a murder (unless the episode has really pulled a fast one on us; we don't see the body) but it isn't much of a mystery. Cormac is the killer and his motive seems pretty clear - the only real question here is how Keith escapes with his life. And I don't see that taking twenty episodes to unravel. Instead, I get the sense that the third season will be more of a pure social portrait and character study, using episodic mysteries and slightly longer arcs to pull us along but relying on our prior investment in the world to keep us watching. That's fine by me; the sprawling, multifaceted mystery of season two already feels like a bridge between the grander "one big mystery" approach of the Lilly Kane murder and this looser schematic. By now even sidekicks like Mac and one-note comic relief stooges like Dick have developed many shades and complexities (in both of their cases, due largely to Beaver - who is haunting this season like Aaron haunted the previous one). Indeed, the trio of untouchable 09ers we met several years earlier have all seen their gilded cocoons shattered to pieces: they're now loners severed (sometimes permanently) from their family members, traumatized by violent crimes involving their loved ones. Veronica, by contrast, is a reassuring presence, guiding the newbies of Neptune and providing support for the traumatized townies. In a complete reversal from the pilot of the series, she's now the primary source of stability onscreen.

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