This post discusses the ninth and tenth episodes of the second season of Veronica Mars.
I’ve mentioned before that I like Veronica Mars most when it’s a show that uses the specific details of its hard-boiled stories not to prove what badass little replicas of real adults its characters are, but to get at the emotional realities of being a teenager. That’s a state in which you vacillate back and forth from being held back from exercising your full moral and intellectual capacities, and being catapulted into situations for which you’re entirely ill-equipped to deal with either the material or emotional repercussions of what’s happening to you, or what you’re doing to yourself. I wasn’t blown away by this pair of episodes, but I did think that at critical junctures, they nailed that truth in ways that continue to be impressive.
Take Veronica’s adventures in (plastic) babysitting, which she at first doesn’t take particularly seriously. “Aren’t we supposed to get a shot of tequila first?” she asks her health teacher before she and Duncan take custody of their little robot. Later, she jokes to the fake infant “Thanks to your grandmother, I’ve got a 50-50 shot of becoming an alkie…And there’s this latent mean girl gene. Good thing you’re plastic.” Motherhood feels safely far away to Veronica, so she can afford to make light of it.
But as it turns out, teenaged decisions have consequences, something Veronica discovers when she uncovers her mother’s permanent record in the Neptune High archives while she’s working off a detention, and finds out her mother go tin trouble for spreading rumors about another student’s abandoned pregnancy. “I always liked to imagine that I would have gotten along with Lianne the teenager, even long after Lianne the adult repeatedly failed to meet or exceed expectations,” Veronica reflects of her mother. But the long-ago brouhaha has real resonance today. Veronica’s snooping uncovers the fact that Trina Echolls was adopted after being abandoned, though not, as Veronica initially thinks, by Celeste Kane, a revelation that first raises Trina’s greedy hopes for her future, and then leaves her profoundly disoriented when it turns out she had a humble background, the product of an affair between Neptune’s current principal and the deaf lunch lady.
And that sad story didn’t only have an impact on Trina and Mary, her biological mother. The rumors Lianne spread obviously had a real impact on Celeste, who, in a moment of real cruelty tells Veronica “When I look at your face, all I see is your drunk slut of a mother.” That’s a nasty, profoundly unfair thing to say to Veronica, but it also raises a possibility that Veronica clearly isn’t quite ready to consider: that her mother didn’t just carry “alkie” and “mean girl” genes, but that she’s a genuinely bad person. When you’re a teenager, your right to judge your own parents is often a dear one, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve extended it to other people, including ones who may have been just as badly hurt by your parents’ actions as you have. Lianne’s probably done worse to Veronica than she ever did to Celeste–stealing your daughter’s college fund and the replacement for that college fund on the way to abandoning her so you can drink yourself to death is pretty unattractive–but Lianne clearly did a number on Celeste twice. If someone in high school convinced other people that you’d abandoned your newborn infant at prom, and then cast doubt on the parentage of your daughter’s girlfriend, you’d have good right to hate her. It’s horrible of Celeste to let that hatred color her impression of Veronica as well, but Veronica is learning that as you grow up, childhood stops protecting you from those kinds of unfairnesses.
She’s about to face one of those unfairnesses directly rather than indirectly, when it turns out that Meg is pregnant. Duncan proposes a neat breaking point between his past with Meg and his present with Veronica, but it’s as much of a fantasy as the idea that Celeste and Veronica could have a relationship unaffected by Lianne and Celeste’s history. “Your secret illegitimate child gestating in the womb of your comatose ex-girlfriend affects neither you nor me,” Veronica tells Duncan sarcastically. And when they talk to Meg, it’s clear this isn’t a cut and dried issue for Duncan, either, who wants to know “Don’t I have any say?” when he finds out Meg plans to give the baby up for adoption so the child can grow up free of the religious influences of her abusive parents.
They aren’t alone in their collision with the adult world. When the sex tapes of Aaron Echolls and Lilly Kane go missing from Neptune’s evidence storage room, it turns out Logan purchased them, and is torturing himself by watching them. “For that experience you paid 50 grand?” Keith asks him, rather kindly. “All that matters is that the world wide web won’t be hosting mpegs of my old man defiling the love of my life,” Logan, who has destroyed the tapes by the time Keith arrives, explains. “For a guy who hates his father, you sure did him a huge favor,” Keith tells him, recognizing that for all of his flaws, Logan’s done a surprisingly decent–if totally illegal–thing.
And to come full circle, Keith comes home to deliver the bad news to Veronica that Meg has died as a result of complications from the bus crash, but that her baby survived. When he tells her, Veronica cries hysterically in his arms, in that moment, his daughter rather than his partner or his co-conspirator. Just as becoming a teenager is recognizing that the age that allowed you to claim protection on the grounds of your youth is gone, it’s also a moment when good parents–and in Neptune, Keith is by far the best–have to recognize that respecting their children can mean causing them real pain, but that teenagers are still young enough to need someone to hold them while the pain is at its worst.