This post discusses episodes 13 and 14 of the first season of Veronica Mars.
“I thought being a private eye was about shooting dudes and making out with sexy widows,” Wallace teases Veronica in “Lord of the Bling,” the thirteenth episode of the first season of Veronica Mars. “The widows come later,” Veronica promises him, but these two episodes of the show are about what happens when people refuse to conform to the tropes that they’ve been assigned to. First, there’s Bryce Hamilton, the son of Percy “Bone” Hamilton, a hip-hop producer, who sets up an elaborate scheme to prove to his father that being good at science doesn’t mean he’s “soft.” And in the second, there’s Carrie, “the gossip queen of Neptune High,” who uses her acute understanding of the high school rumor mill to take the brunt of a student-teacher relationship scandal for the girl who really got pregnant, an act of courage that demonstrates how Veronica, who normally keeps her detective’s toolkit sharp and clean, succumbs to bias when her own social milieu is the subject of an investigation that rubs up against her own sore spots.
“Lord of the Bling” traffics fairly heavily in stereotypes, but it gets away with its cliches with some deft attention to the extent to which stereotypes are useful to the people that embody them and to code-switching, and by making those stereotypes the subjects of the case itself. “You know that boy could stand to get hit in the head with a dodge ball or two. Toughen him up,” sighs Percy when we first meet him, signing a waiver that will let Bryce get out of physical education so he can pursue an independent study in science. “How did a man like me end up with National Black Velvet and Urkel?” Percy’s identity, as we’ll learn throughout the episode, is a creation rather than a natural outgrowth of his personality. “He didn’t advertise the fact that much of his success was due to his comfortably upper-middle-class Jewish attorney,” Mr. Bloom tells Keith Mars. Later, Yolanda, Percy’s daughter, whose disappearance is what prompts Percy to seek Keith out to look for her, explains that she’s disgusted by the way her father treated the drive-by shooting that left Mr. Bloom using a wheelchair. “You let everyone believe you ordered it because it gave you cred,” she tells him, after running off with Mr. Bloom’s son. His wife even teases him in the opening about his insistence that Bryce isn’t tough enough. “And the street was tough and you lost a lot of homies. But this is Neptune,” she tells her husband, suggesting that Percy is clinging to a trope that may have outlived its usefulness for his family.
But clearly, Percy’s attachment to that stereotype has done real damage to Percy’s family. Bryce—though he turns out to be the architect of the ransom demand for Yolanda—is bitter that his father is resorting to a private detective, rather than calling the police, a gesture he believes is meant to protect Percy’s reputation as not cooperating with the cops, rather than to expedite the search for Yolanda. “He’s been in jail a third of my life, but I’m the embarrassment? State science fair winner three years in a row but I’m the one that’s soft,” he tells Veronica, in what turns out to be the motivation for his hoax. When Veronica and Keith catch Bryce and march him back to his father to explain, Bryce tells Percy, “You can be mad, Dad. But you can’t call me soft.”