Fake IDs are a proud tradition of teenagers looking to buy alcohol, see their favorite band, or—for the more civic-minded lawbreakers—voting before you turn 18. Unfortunately, the legal system doesn’t look upon false federal identification with the same lighthearted sense of whimsy as pop culture in general. It’s a second-class offense that can carry up to a decade-long prison sentence and $150,000 fine. So when teenage gumshoe Veronica Mars is accused of making fake IDs and arrested, she’s understandably a little put out. But when she’s told a mysterious secret society of the town’s elite youth are the ones responsible for putting her in this potentially incarcerated position, well, then it becomes more than a threat. It turns into a challenge worthy of her talents.
“Clash Of The Tritons” kicks off the back half of Veronica Mars season one, a self-contained detective story that still manages to delve into the larger yearlong question of who killed Lily Kane. The CW series, starring Kristen Bell as the world’s most precocious young detective (sorry, Encyclopedia Brown), spent its first season detailing the convoluted goings-on at Neptune High in the fictional California oceanside town of Jupiter. The show’s big mystery was the death of Veronica’s best friend, Lily, but on a week-to-week basis, the bulk of each installment deals with a rotating series of cases in which Veronica, along with her professional detective father (Enrico Colantoni) and buddy Wallace (Percy Daggs III), tries to solve the mystery. And in this episode, after a kid is hospitalized in a coma from alcohol poisoning, his friend claims our protagonist supplied the fake IDs. However, when Veronica confronts her accuser, he breaks, telling her he was blackmailed into his “j’accuse” by Neptune’s very own adolescent Skull And Bones society—the Tritons.
The gravity of Veronica’s plight makes the group seem nefarious and menacing, but the show quickly shines a light on the Tritons, and the results get at the sad truth of most clandestine organizations. Groups that maintain secrecy, despite any possible reputation for clever machinations or power, more often than not are simply excuses to engage in silly and stupid practices. Goofy rituals, frat-style pranks, and excessive partying are all the hallmarks of secret societies, not Illuminati-style world-building. And as Veronica uncovers the actions of the Tritons, she learns a similar truth: The Tritons weren’t blackmailing her, for the simple reason they were too busy—singing karaoke, putting on robes and enacting absurd late-night ceremonies, and generally being big nerds—to wish her harm. The episode is fleet and funny, and even if you’re unfamiliar with the larger arcs of Veronica Mars’ freshman season, “Clash Of The Tritons” is a sharp and clever takedown of the idea that secret societies hold some unknown power. Mostly, they’re just holding the tap for the keg.
Availability: Veronica Mars is available to stream in its entirety on Amazon (free if you have Amazon Prime) or YouTube, and also on DVD and Blu-ray.