‘Veronica Mars’ Television Club: APs and Newspaper Class

This post discusses episodes 17 and 18 of the first season of Veronica Mars.

I’ve really come to believe that Veronica Mars is at its best when it’s a show about Neptune, and “Kanes and Abel’s” and “Weapons of Class Destruction,” both separately but particularly when they’re taken together, get at two important aspects of the town. In throw-away exchanges, we learn more about the extent to which Neptune, which also has Hollywood kids like Logan, has been shaped by the tech boom, as personified by Jake Kane. And in both episodes, we see the effect that the parental pressure to achieve has at kids at Neptune High, for good and for ill.

Amelia DeLongpre, Abel Koontz’s daughter, provides Veronica with an important piece of context when she explains that “Jake Kane cheated him out of his streaming video project,” a disagreement between those families that embittered Koontz, and that provided a cover for something more sinister. What Amelia believes is a legal settlement between her father and Jake Kane over the allegations that Kane stole Koontz’s streaming video technology, Veronica is coming to think of as a payoff for Koontz, who is terminally ill, to take the blame for Lilly Kane’s death.

And in the next episode, Norris (Theo Rossi), a former bully who becomes the target of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms sting after web chatter suggests he might be planning a school bombing, explains why his family has access to things that aren’t widespread in Neptune. “My dad’s a programmer over at Kane software, so we get all the latest technology,” he tells Veronica, who came over to his house on behalf of the ATF to try to search it for a pipe bomb. “We were one of the first households in the country to have wifi.” That technology is part of what makes Norris a suspect, first by giving him an online life that made him an easy setup, and second by giving his family access to the finances that let him pursue things like a weapons collection or a trip to Japan, harmless preoccupations that were made to seem suspicious.

If tech money made Neptune prosperous, these two episodes make it clear that Neptune’s parents expect their children to continue to achieve. Sabrina’s mother, the president of the school board, drills her relentlessly in preparation for exams and Advanced Placement tests–she can’t even admit that she has a problem like the harassment that she’s hired Veronica to solve, telling her mother instead that Veronica has come over to be tutored.

But where Sabrina’s mother is obsessed with outcomes, the father of Hamilton, Sabrina’s academic rival, who works in the family pizza business, is preoccupied with opportunities. “She got AP credit for a school-sponsored trip to Rome. Her mother is the president of the school board. I work 20 hours a week,” Hamilton tells Veronica. “You know what I’m talking about.” And his father, who turns out to have hired a private eye to harass Sabrina, distracting her from schoolwork so Hamilton will have a better shot at a scholarship the Kanes are offering that would help him pay to go to Oxford. “My son never had a fair chance. He never had the same advantages as the kids he needs to compete with,” the man says plaintively. The Kanes are wiling to split the scholarship between Sabrina, who doesn’t need the money, and Hamilton, who needs it badly, but Sabrina’s mother still needs her daughter to be first, simply for the ranking, rather than for what it might mean for her to be first. And Hamilton, to save his father embarrassment, agrees to drop out of the competition. But when he explains to Veronica why he made what must have been a devastating choice, it’s clear that a focus on opportunity, and learning as something to be savored, rather than a means to a ranking, is healthier for him. Hamilton tells Veronica that he’ll “Work two jobs, take out loans, state school. twenty years from now, she’ll be working for me. Proust is still Proust, even at UCLA.”

In the next episode, when Veronica is pulled into the ATF case, and spurred to investigate a spike in fire drills by a former pep squad adviser turned journalism teacher (Joey Lauren Adams), that same kind of creative thinking helps her get at the truth. It turns out that Norris is being set up by Ben, his former bullying victim, in part as a way to prove to his own father that he’s genuinely a man, rather than weak. And the ATF is all too willing to believe Ben’s setup, because they need the arrest. Veronica also learns that even teachers have their expected places when she sees her journalism instructor get put in hers by the principal, who is rattled that she encouraged Veronica to investigate the fire drills. “I may have made a mistake in allowing a pep squad adviser to substitute for a journalism teacher,” he tells the woman cruelly, and later she is fired. But as the woman leaves her classroom, she hears Veronica telling her classmates “Okay, Buckaroos! We’re burning daylight here. Who’s got stories?” Adults in Neptune may want a lot of things for their town, but it’s their blessing and curse that sometimes, it turns out their children want something else.

And it turns out in this episode that what Veronica and Logan want is each other. It’s been awfully sweet to watch them find their way to each other, and it’s not clear to me how this relationship, forged in their mutual pain at Lilly’s loss, will work out. But when Veronica tears up Logan’s check, telling him “Your mom was always nice to me,” even though she needs the money, and when Logan decks the man who turns out to be an ATF agent, and informs him “Dream on, Jump Street. I’m not leaving you alone with her,” it’s clear they’ve become much more protective of each other than they may have consciously realized, and created a new, two-person Neptune in the midst of their very messy town.