"‘Veronica Mars’ Television Club: Bad Reputations"
This post discusses the seventh and eighth episodes of the first season of Veronica Mars.
As I’m watching my way through Veronica Mars, I’m learning how to watch the show, which is a good thing—good television doesn’t just figure out what it’s doing for its own self, it finds ways to communicate to viewers what they ought to be looking for in an episode. And what I’ve learned so far is to look for theme in the cases of the week, rather than plot in particular. These two episodes do a nice job of fleshing out the theme of reputation, while also playing with the way that Veronica, Logan, and Weevil are perceived—and perceive each other.
In the first case, Jessica Chastain plays Sarah, a neighbor of Veronica and Keith’s who turns out to have been raped by her mother’s boyfriend, and is pregnant as a result of that sexual assault. The case itself isn’t deeply concerned with that larger theme, though it touches on it in two ways. First, is the idea that while Sarah’s boyfriend Andre may be a cheat and a jerk, those two things don’t necessarily make him a murderer. And then there’s Keith’s perspective on the case: “Young attractive girls who take up with troubled men and disappear without warning?” Keith warns Veronica. “I’ve handled a hundred of these cases in my life and they often end badly. Prepare yourself.” It’s true that Sarah is troubled, but not in a garden-variety way. And while things end badly—Keith ends up having to shoot Sarah’s attacker to protect her—they don’t end up badly because she’s a mess, but because something terrible’s been done to her.
The second case deals much more directly with the question of reputation, as Veronica takes the case of Meg, a popular—but kind—cheerleader who finds herself devastated when a new purity test becomes the school craze, and when a website begins selling test results that purport to reveal the deepest secrets of Neptune High students. The results that are being sold as Meg’s suggest that, contrary to her squeaky-clean image (in contrast to that of her sister’s), as Duncan puts it, “Meg was one of those Britney Spears virgins. And you were her noble Justin, keeping it all on the down low.” But while other students are all too ready to believe the worst of Meg, Veronica, who’s been the subject of unpleasant rumors herself, and who has direct experience of Meg’s decency after her clothes are stole when she’s in the showers at gym, isn’t so easily duped. “Meg, you’re the last good person at this school,” she reminds her friend. “I believe cartoon birds braided your hair this morning.” What she discovers, though, is how willing Meg’s purported friends were willing to tear down her sexual reputation in the hopes that losing that would make it harder for Meg to achieve in other areas, whether she’s winning parts in the school play or anchoring Neptune High’s student news show. It’s a canny recognition of a screwed-up hierarchy that sets up Meg’s virginity as the most valuable part of her, far above her goodness as a person, her skills as a singer, or her abilities on television.
And the episode pivots in an interesting way Meg seeks out Veronica not just for her expertise as a private eye, but for advice on how to handle being widely and publicly slandered. “I don’t see how you do it…Deal. The way people talk about you. Does it bother you the things they say?” Meg asks her. “No,” Veronica tells her. “Here’s what you do. You get tough. You get even.” But how is she supposed to get even with someone like Wallace’s mom, who tells her son “I thought we talked about you hanging out with that girl…We have a chance of making a fresh start in Neptune. There have to be some respectable kids in your school.” Keith’s intervention with her difficult tenant might help her estimation of the Mars family name as a whole, but it may not fix the perception that Veronica’s promiscuous. And Veronica has to cope with her father’s desires for her and the ways in which they contrast with her desire to stay close to him by staying in private eye work. “I think you’ve got a future as a highly paid, Ivy-leage educated executive of some sort who never thinks about private investigation again in her normal life,” Keith tells her. Whether she hears is another question.
Two people who do seem to be getting on the same page are Logan and Weevil, who after getting zeros on a test from a rigid English teacher, discover that the reputations that work for them in different ways can also be very effectively against them. “The glow of your father’s wealth and celebrity may be enough to get you through high school, but do you know what it will get you in the real world?” their teacher tells them. “Mr. Navarro, you find Mr. Ecchols amusing enough now, but I wonder if you’ll find him so entertaining in ten years when you’re pumping his gas.” They jab back and forth at each other in detention that turns into a poker game. “How do you people not make yourselves sick?” Weevil jabs at Logan, who asks him in return, “If I donate to the United Latino Pain In The Ass Fund, will you shut up?” “You’re almost as bad an actor as your father,” Weevil tells Logan. “You know you don’t need a diploma to steal hubcaps?” Logan aks again. These two are clearly meant to be friends, and it’s a minor delight when Logan bails Weevil out of his expulsion. The next best thing to a good friend is a good enemy. And your bad reputation can be an enormous source of strength.