Lost in the Movies: Veronica Mars - "An Echolls Family Christmas" (season 1, episode 10)

Veronica Mars - "An Echolls Family Christmas" (season 1, episode 10)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Veronica Mars. Every day, except Saturday, I will offer a short review of another episode until I finish the first season. I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on December 14, 2004/written by Aury Wallington; directed by Guy Bee): The Echolls estate anchors both big storylines this week. Weevil joins an elite poker game at the 09 mansion and wins, only to discover the pot has been mysteriously stolen. The other players strip down to demonstrate their innocence, but the money’s gone somewhere, so Weevil vows to terrorize them until the culprit is revealed. Veronica's on that case, while her father is hired by the elder Echolls to identify a stalker - first he's mostly in touch with Aaron's wife Lynn (Lisa Rinna), and then with the movie star himself, once Aaron realizes the gravity of the threats (and the possible scandals intertwined with it). Reluctantly admitting that he's had multiple affairs, including a fling on the night of the family's Halloween party, Aaron insists that none of his mistresses is the jealous type. Both Keith and Veronica must narrow the culprit down from a small but convincing stable of suspects, while keeping their eyes open for personal motivations and visual evidence.

Keith realizes who the stalker is at the last minute - a server whom Aaron had fired when she came across him and another woman making love at the party - and he attempts to crash the family's Christmas party, only arriving in time to tackle the woman (Alexandra Fatovich) after she's already stabbed Aaron in a rage. Most of the guests miss the violent altercation, as they've already filed outside to enjoy carolers under an expensive fake snow shower - a Hollywood touch from a Hollywood star (or, one could say, a phony gesture from a phony guy). Veronica's investigation has a less bloody but no less clever conclusion; she is able to identify specific reasons why each player didn't steal the money before revealing that "the butler's son did it" by stuffing the cash in a recyclable bottle and picking it out of the trash the next morning. The surprise isn't just his guilt but the fact that he's a butler's son at all...he pretended that his family owned the house his father worked at. There’s a racial component to all of this (highlighted when Logan continuously slurs Weevil) - the Latino player isn’t the only one at the table from the wrong sides of the track, but the white guy is able to pretend otherwise and use his appearance to both fool his peers and rob from Weevil.

Finally, before the "Echolls Family Christmas" climax, Veronica confronts Jake, asking why he hired someone to take photos of her (a confrontation Keith witnesses on his way to rescue Aaron). Jake denies any knowledge, but Veronica sees him angrily demand answers from his wife a minute later - it looks like perhaps the Kane behind Veronica's many woes (and perhaps more, besides) may actually be the wife, not the husband.

My Response:
Christmas episodes are always fun, and Veronica Mars has a good time with the "holidays in paradise" concept, especially during the final image of carolers, fake snow, and blissfully ignorant partygoers, accompanied by wry narration: "No, Veronica, there is no Santa Claus." This episode has a lot of cutesy dialogue, sometimes gratingly so, but it's also a pleasure to witness Veronica's snappy denouement of the poker mystery. Something I'd eventually like to take a closer look at is the way Veronica Mars riffs on various forms of detective fiction, and how they relate to the different milieus she works with. In this case, she's clearly been plunked down in a drawing-room thriller, attempting to solve a crime that occurred in an enclosed, and opulent, space. Her minute perceptions (for example, Logan's room is messy, meaning he was looking for the money when no one else was there, meaning he didn't steal it) fit this form of Holmesian detection perfectly, as does her careful comparison of the various stories to suss out how they form a coherent picture she can work within. This is investigation as puzzle-solving, with high financial stakes but little of deep importance, taking a lofty setting as a given. I love that Veronica Mars can slip into this mode sometimes, while also pursuing sleazier noir scenarios and socio-political muckraking, sometimes all three at once.

Episode 10 also leans heavily on a fascination with, and cynicism toward, Hollywood celebrity, not only through Aaron but one of the poker players, Conner Larkin (Travis Schuldt), a young star whose relationship to Logan is antagonistic. Once again, Logan himself is a dick but, ultimately, not fully in the devil's camp, while his father looks worse and worse every time we encounter him. My guess is the Echolls are headed for a divorce, with Logan's arc gradually redemptive (morally, while his social status declines) as the series continues. As he falls from grace, is Veronica headed in the opposite direction? Her replacement of a pretender to the 09 brigade at the poker table (she is bought into the poker game as reward for identifying the thief) seems significant, and when she shows up at the party later, Weevil flatters her by observing how much she seems to belong there. And this is flattery - despite previously disparaging her ties to Neptune's elite ("You still think like them") his tone this time is more complimentary, and Veronica's reaction seems complimented.

Of course, this identification with the wealthy and powerful has a dark side - many, in fact, but one in particular having to do with the Kanes. Veronica never asks Jake if he's her father, but the question haunts their entire encounter. Here, at least, the personal stakes are quite high.

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