‘Veronica Mars’ Television Club: Neptune Meets Steubenville

This post discusses episodes nineteen and twenty of the first season of Veronica Mars.

One of the things I like a great deal about Veronica Mars is how well, even in the midst of its mannered noir storytelling, it captures what it means to be a teenager, and specifically what it means to be variable as a teenager, without being light or inconsequential. And this pair of episodes, whether through Weevil’s break-in at the Kane house, Veronica’s burgeoning relationship with Logan, or the sexual harassment of Carmen gets at something frightening about being in high school. It’s possible for teenagers to be genuinely different people than who they were when they did things that were criminal, but they have the resources to take actions with truly lingering consequences.

When Weevil breaks into the Kanes’ house, he initially tells Veronica a lie that’s based in teenage changeableness, saying he wanted to retrieve a diamond ring. “I was trying to get it back,” he tells Veronica. “It was my mothers and she was saving it for me for an engagement ring. Once upon a time, I was dumb enough to think I wanted Lilly to have it.” What he’s really after is a spy pen that holds secret messages, a toy Lilly got out of a cereal box and bragged to Veronica–before Veronica knew about Weevil–that she’d use to communicate with her conquests. Whatever message too or from Weevil that was in that pen may have been written in a moment of passion and total sincerity. But he’s changed enough, and circumstances have changed enough, for him to need it back. Being the bad boy Lilly used to make her parents angry is no longer such an innocent occupation.

In the next episode, Veronica gets caught up in helping Carmen, a girl whose boyfriend is blackmailing her into staying with him with a tape of her suggestively sucking a popsicle in a hot tub that turns out to have been made under the influence of GHB. The boy is revoltingly self-regarding and self-justifying. When Carmen sticks to her guns and breaks up with him, he distributes it, believing that no one will want Carmen once they’ve seen the video, telling Veronica “She forced me to. She left me.” It’s utterly pathetic, nasty behavior that ignores the fact that both he and Carmen are headed off to college, a world where people won’t know to track down a video of Carmen in a sexually compromising situation, and where even those who do might understand that she was drugged, that the video doesn’t represent her whole personality, or even that sexual voraciousness (if Carmen had made it consentingly) is hardly the whole of her personality, or a crime. The boy, hopefully, will have to live not just with being taped to a flagpole and an unfortunate tattoo, but with the moral knowledge of what he’s done. Carmen, by contrast, may suffer the short-term consequences of the video, but in refusing to retaliate, even though Veronica cooks up the material that would allow her to do it, reveals herself to be the more grown-up person. She knows what she’ll be able to handle after high school.

And finally, there’s Veronica herself. As she and Logan kiss more, she’s surprised at every turn. Logan’s father Aaron, who turns out to have had some unprocessed experiences of abuse of his own to deal with, tells Veronica that he likes who is son is when Logan is with her. Logan blows off his friends for a week of chasing girls and surfing to invite Veronica on what would have been their first public date, leveling them up beyond stolen makeouts. It seems like it might all become real until Veronica finds out from Carmen’s ex that Logan supplied the GHB that he used on Carmen–at the same party where Veronica was drugged and raped.

It’s a realization that feels especially striking as elements of the Steubenville, Ohio rape case continue to unfurl. In that case, it’s easy to sympathize with the survivor and to be outraged over both the privilege granted to her convicted attackers by virtue of their membership in the town’s football team roster, and the relatively light sentences they received, because we didn’t know any of the teenagers involved personally. But at this point in Veronica Mars, we’ve spent hours in Logan’s head. The show has urged us to fall for him as Veronica has fallen for him. And now we find out that he’s complicit in one girl’s humiliation, and that he may be involved in Veronica’s rape, too. And if he provided those drugs to whoever raped Veronica, Logan is evenmore involved than the Steubenville teenagers who took and circulated pictures of the survivor and rather than intervening, circulated them: he may have directly facilitated a crime, rather than just exhibiting astonishing callousness.

Watching these episodes feels like a test, of both viewers and the show. If Logan isn’t the same person now than he was then, how do we as viewers and Veronica Mars as a show hold him accountable? Do we have the courage to judge someone we’ve come to care about, and to hold him to the same moral standards we hold boys who are essentially anonymous to us? To care for Logan might be to excuse him on the basis of the abuse he’s suffered, the lax moral environment of his upbringing, the way he’s grown. But to respect him is to demand the truth and to accept its consequences.