This post discusses the fifth and six episodes of the first season of Veronica Mars.*
Since I started this project, people have been telling me how terrific Veronica Mars is as a depiction of a relationship between parents and children. As someone who followed in my father’s footsteps in a general way professionally, I’ve enjoyed watching Keith and Veronica banter about, but what finally made that section of the show work for me was a scenario where Keith had to be more of a parent to Veronica than a partner, and where Veronica was hurt enough to act more like the teenager that she is than an adult in cargo pants and pigtails. What made this pair of episodes particularly powerful is the examples of bad parenting the tension between Keith and Veronica are juxtaposed against, both of which stem out of the kind of privilege that marks Neptune. Wealth may buy nice cars and gated mansions. But it doesn’t seem particularly capable of purchasing values or emotional connection.
Veronica and Keith run into trouble when both of them overestimate her maturity. Veronica, after hearing Rebecca James, her guidance counselor, leave a voicemail for Keith that makes it clear that the two of them are dating, tries to convince herself that she’s cool with what’s happening. “Next time, could you shoot for an actual teacher, because this has no impact on my grade-point average,” Veronica jokes with her dad. But her feelings about her mother, and the possibility of her mother’s return, remain entirely unresolved. Veronica’s still mailing burners to her mother’s friends, trying to figure out why she was drinking so heavily and acting so terrified. And because her father has treated her more like a partner than a parent, Veronica acts on her conflict in a way that reflects her confusion about their respective roles—by investigating Rebecca.
What made the confrontation between Veronica and Keith so painful was that it was a necessary readjustment for them after eight months of seemingly refusing to adapt to a new normal. “This is what we do,” Veronica told him when Keith reacted with fury to the news of her investigation. “This is how we survive. I was trying to protect you…You have let her into our life like it’s no big deal.” Acting like a private eye has made Veronica feel like she has the tools to handle her mother’s disappearance, and ideas like the burner phones certainly come from spending so much time with Keith. But sorting logistics isn’t the same way as resolving your feelings. And in this case, they’ve made Veronica’s confusion worse because of the contradiction between how hard Keith looks for other people, and how little he’s done to drag Veronica’s mother home for her. “You can find anybody. If she was a criminal, you’d make a couple of grand tracking her down, and you’d find her in a week,” Veronica sobs to her father in Kristen Bell’s most convincing bit of teenaged acting on the show.