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Veronica Mars: “M.A.D.”/“A Trip To The Dentist”

Illustration for article titled Veronica Mars: “M.A.D.”/“A Trip To The Dentist”
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“M.A.D.” (Season 1, Episode 20, originally aired April 26, 2005)

In which a girl with a popsicle is caught on video, Duncan Kane is smarter than everyone thinks, and Logan and Veronica are forced to be serious…

At the end of last week’s reviews, I mentioned that I thought Veronica’s willingness to work in a legal gray area was ready to cause her issues, as well as her favor-based economy being something else with potential difficulties. The latter did come up again this week, with Weevil, following Wallace, brushing aside Veronica’s “You used me” complaint about his Kane break-in with “Yeah, well, we’re all owing each other favors.”

Some years ago, I read a description of the connection between gangsta rap and Mafia movies which explained that mob and gang activity could be explained as the result of a discriminated-against group within capitalism wanting the benefits of capitalism, and so they used pseudo-legal and illegal mechanisms in order to achieve those benefits: fancy cars, expensive dinners, nice clothes, etc. The idea of “favors” is also an intrinsic part of these gray/black markets, as the iconic opening scene of The Godfather demonstrates to magnificent effect. So I think the idea of Veronica using a favor-based economy to counter the class-based economy of the ’09ers is fascinating, and something I may want to explore further at a less intense point of the show’s run.

It’s the illegality of Veronica’s actions that are getting her in trouble at the end of “M.A.D.” As Keith and Alicia’s romance progresses, with ballroom dancing lessons, their relationship has come to the attention of Clarence Wiedman, who calls Alicia in for a meeting ordering her to break off her relationship with Keith or lose her job, since he found Veronica’s bug. Veronica’s actions here threaten the well-being of three people she cares about: her father, Alicia, and Wallace, who planted the bug. Veronica’s the good guy, of course, so we’re willing to excuse her behavior. But she’s also a loose cannon.

It’s also interesting to note that Wiedman believes that Keith is behind the bug, not Veronica. Veronica is a few steps ahead of everyone in the investigation. Going into the show, I figured that Veronica would be fairly active as a character—you’d have to be to investigate mysteries—but I am a bit surprised by how much she is the driving force of the main plot.


The advantages and disadvantages of Veronica’s approach are shown in the case-of-the-week, in which a fellow student named Carmen is being blackmailed by her boyfriend Ted thanks to an incriminating video. Veronica’s response is to proactively blackmail him right back, in order to reach a point of mutually assured destruction. Ted launches anyway, but Carmen, as sad and angry as she is, refuses to take the probably bigger revenge that Veronica has prepared for her.

There is no moral judgment attached by the show to Carmen’s inaction, unlike Mandy last week. Carmen does what she does because she wants to, instead of Mandy being paralyzed by fear. Veronica obviously would have fired back. But if she had, she might not have been able to bargain with Ted at the end of the episode, as she discovers that Carmen was drugged on the same night that Veronica was drugged and raped. With that ability to bargain, she discovers that the person who supplied the date-rape drugs that night was new beau, bad boy Logan Echolls.


“A Trip To The Dentist” (Season 1, Episode 21, originally aired May 3, 2005)

In which Veronica Mars has a really bad day…

Back in the pilot, we had two central mysteries. First, the Lilly Kane murder, which provides the overarching plot for the season. And second, Veronica’s rape—which might or might not have been directly connected to the Lilly Kane case, but it did provide a major emotional sucker punch at a crucial moment in the pilot.


The Lilly Kane murder investigation has been the driving force of the season, with very few episodes not including some advance in the case, and virtually every one of them having a mention. On the other hand, Veronica’s rape has usually been downplayed, with many episodes not even mentioning it. Still, we had to know that it would come back in a big way, and as the last episode indicated, it was building up to this penultimate ep of the season.

Even still, I was a little bit surprised by how much the rape investigation dominated the episode. Apart from Duncan’s discovery at the start of the episode, continued indication of his violent rages, and Keith with the escort, there was very little directly connected to the Kane case (at least on the surface). Instead, the episode focuses almost entirely on Veronica’s investigation of her rape, and her not unrelated relationship with Logan.


Up until this point, the generality of the rape, as explained by Veronica, has served as an example of the vengeance of the rich against the Mars family. They had gotten out of their place—Keith with the Kane investigation and Veronica socially—and had to be punished. So Veronica was. It’s an elegant narrative, and it worked well for Veronica for as long as it was a generality. As soon as it seemed Logan was involved, well, it wasn’t general anymore. It was specific, personal, and painful.

And, in plot terms, it also led inexorably to one of the few answers that made relative sense: Duncan did it, and it wasn’t rape (kind of). Veronica’s initial focus on random ’09ers brings back some familiar faces, but by personalizing the rape, it makes any resolution difficult, on multiple levels. Dick may be aptly named, but if it was him—and he was the prime suspect for most of the episode—then what does that mean?


It’s difficult to talk about something like rape in such terms, but it goes along with what I said earlier about Veronica constructing the rape-as-social-punishment narrative. That’s an effective narrative, and one which creates a “satisfying” resolution for the viewer as well as the character. Veronica Mars has done a good job of subverting expectations on a regular basis, but it’s still a TV show, with requirements for satisfying resolutions.

So here I am, vaguely creeped out by the fact that I’m trying to write about a “satisfying resolution” to a rape story line. But it goes along with the narrative construction I mentioned above. Veronica Mars is not a naturalistic show. Tension between realism and narrative needs is always present in TV shows, and it’s no different here, even when dealing with touchy subjects like rape.


Which is my roundabout way of saying that while I wasn’t surprised by the reveal that it was Duncan Kane, I was impressed by how well it worked up to that point. It had to be Duncan or someone totally irrelevant and shocking. It’s meaningless without a specific character with more going on than Dick or Shaun or Beaver. It’s almost certainly not Logan, since so much work has been put into redeeming him that an irredeemable act wouldn’t work. Anyone else would be too contrived without a brilliant explanation. And Duncan works perfectly with the Lilly Kane murder case and everything else that’s gone on this season. Even the reveal that Logan slipped Duncan the ecstasy is nicely foreshadowed when Duncan mentioned that he was so wasted he doesn’t remember that night.

Veronica is put through a wild ride of emotions in this episode, and Kristen Bell is up to the task for every one of them. It’s a stellar performance, switching from vulnerable to angry to vindictive to crushed to apologetic to defensive to adorable and ending up at scared. Other than the too-easy shortcut to vulnerable at the start of the episode when Veronica was in the shower, it never feels anything other than honest. Nor does Logan’s reaction. Jason Dohring doesn’t have quite as much to do as Kristen Bell, but his anger, sarcasm, concern, and protectiveness toward Veronica all work marvelously.


I had a few people tell me that this episode was wild and stunning, setting up the finale in grand fashion. I do not disagree with this, but I was expecting something more directly working up to solving the Lilly Kane case. And maybe that was here—Keith’s discovery of Abel Koontz’s escort may be the trigger to an explosive finale—but instead of plot fireworks, we had emotional fireworks. “A Trip To The Dentist” indicated that Veronica Mars recognizes that it’s about its characters, not its mysteries. When I wanted to start watching Veronica Mars, my primary worry was that its mysteries would end up too contrived and get in the way of my enjoyment. That hasn’t been the case, and this episode makes that marvelously explicit.

Which is not to say that I’m not excited to reach the Lilly Kane murder conclusion. Indeed, as soon as I finish this review, I’m going to prepare to watch the finale. So if you’ll excuse me, I have to see whether Duncan did it or not. If Lianne really is better now that she’s out of rehab. What Lilly’s secret was. What Weevil’s secret is. Whether Logan really is such a cad. And how on earth this can all be resolved in a single episode…


Stray Observations:

  • “Guys, come on, you can’t put a car up on blocks in the yard if you don’t have a yard.”
  • “I’ll be a national joke, like Paris Hilton or that Star Wars kid.” Revenge against network casting!
  • “There are cheerleaders with low self-esteem available domestically?”
  • Wonderfully awkward scene between Aaron Echolls and Veronica Mars when he’s driving her home to get away from Logan’s friends.
  • “Screw you, pig!” “Like a big girl this time…”
  • The episode title is drawn directly from the Carmen plot, but it also works for the overarching plot: Wiedman and the Kanes are willing to start attacking the Mars family—do the Mars’s have enough ammo to fight back?
  • “Are you sure?” “It was in my day planner, under ‘Goals.’” Weevil, Logan, spinoff please!
  • “You didn’t forget. You never knew.” Was Aaron REALLY such a cad as to invite Veronica and Logan to a small dinner/surprise party?
  • “No, I feel better. Of course, you feel worse.” Nice to see Wallace and Veronica as friends instead of just business partners.
  • “Oh my God, I spit in your drink. You are like so scarred for life!” Ah, Madison…
  • IMPORTANT NOTE: Next week I’ll just be covering the Season 1 finale. We'll start the second season at some point after that.