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You asked for it! We're now covering ''Veronica Mars'' -- here's why we love the show, including this week's twisty babynapping

DUNCAN'S ''DONUT RUN'' Protecting his baby is no easy task
Image credit: Veronica Mars: Patrick Ecclesine
DUNCAN'S ''DONUT RUN'' Protecting his baby is no easy task

''Veronica Mars'': Her plan tricks dad, and us

Greetings and salutations, fellow Veronica Martians. Welcome to EW's first ever TV Watch devoted to pop culture's savviest, sassiest, kick-assiest teenage detective. I'm Jeff Jensen, a/k/a ''The guy with the nutty Lost theories,'' but I'm stepping out on Matthew Fox and his Twilight Zone isle friends to give Kristen Bell and her Neptune crew a little love. (Though it appears Lost intends to haunt me like Hurley's accursed numbers — did anyone else catch those infamous digits on Veronica's fortune cookie in the final scene last night?)

Let me establish my fanboy bona fides. First of all, I'm a sucker for the very thing that turns off many people about Veronica: the premise. Detractors gripe about the implausibility of our neo-Nancy Drew's decidedly adult P.I. adventures. To these people, I raise my fist and force upon them the following sputtery blather: VM's conceit channels the acute adolescent condition of being a preemie adult — of knowing more than you should, and wanting to know it all NOW, damn the consequences. Perhaps this isn't such a bad thing: In Veronica's world, innocence isn't bliss — it's downright dangerous when you're being raised in a fish bowl dirty with corruption and exploitation.

But beyond the Big Themes, and beyond its assorted little virtues — you know, itty-bitty things, like the sensational acting, writing, and distinctive mood and offbeat look (call it aquamarine noir) — I dig VM for doing the season-long-mystery-arc high-wire act better than any other series. I love how each episode moves the saga forward, be it an inch, yard, or mile; how it twists and turns without ever jerking us around; how every installment is crammed with a staggering amount of story. Clearly, creator Rob Thomas must be a tenured professor at the Syriana School of ''Juggle As Many Balls As You Can'' Screenwriting.

VM's January 25 episode, ''Donut Run,'' was, as usual, chockablock with plot, though I have to admit, the long layoff between new episodes hindered my enjoyment: I found myself struggling to remember some of the previous beats that were essential to a full appreciation of the high-stakes scam Veronica and Duncan were trying to pull off. For example, it might have been a twist-too-far miscalculation to have both sleazeball private dick Vinnie Van Lowe (nice to see him back) AND Celeste Kane's twenty-something personal assistant Astrid (that WAS her at the end in the truck, right?) play crucial roles in helping Duncan run away with Meg's baby, considering I only remember Astrid from a single scene two episodes ago — which, in the real world, was almost two months and too many drunken holiday parties ago. I must have left my memory of Astrid in all the brain cells I lost during the boozy holiday party season.

But I'm getting ahead of myself: ''Donut Run,'' written and directed by Thomas, began with Veronica and Duncan breaking up during a very public quarrel at Neptune High. (Is it just me, or does Duncan resemble a cartoon character from Charles Burns' graphic novel Black Hole?) (Yeah, it's just me, isn't it?) See, Veronica got irked when she went over to her boyfriend's penthouse and discovered curvy golddigger Kendall toweling off from a steamy shower. (As far as Kanye West nightmares go, Charisma Carpenter is darn dreamy.) Later, we would learn this break-up was a set-up for Veronica and Duncan's kidnapping scheme. I shouldn't have fallen for it — the conspicuous absence of Veronica's trademark narration should have been a telltale sign that the episode was (literally) not telling us something. But I got suckered just like dear old Dad by Veronica's post-split mope-fest (set to The Virgin Suicides soundtrack, no less). When Keith later uncovered the deception, he was devastated, and told his daughter that while he loved her he didn't know if he could trust her anymore — a development that introduces an intriguing friction to their rosy relationship.

The break-up smokescreen was the crux of a fiendishly complex scheme to make sure that the lovechild born of the season one Duncan/Meg coupling would not be raised by Meg's domineering, abusive parents. After the Veronica/Duncan break-up, Duncan disappeared. Then, so did his baby. Veronica was quickly arrested by Sheriff Lamb for being an accomplice to the presumed kidnapping, but the intricate scheme cooked up by these devious teens was not only loaded with misdirection designed to obfuscate Duncan's whereabouts, but included convoluted provisions that exonerated Veronica. I'd take you through the master plan step by step, but your computer lacks the requisite processing power the run the diagrammatic chart I devised to explain it. Okay, I'll admit it: I was completely lost. (Who pressed play on the tape recorder at Big Bear? Who launched the sailboat that was found off the coast of Mexico? Astrid? Vinnie? Even if you tell me it all makes sense, I still think it was a little too hazy to be satisfying.)

Still, the scam allowed for a cheeky turn by Lucy Lawless (does Lucy Lawless do anything else BUT cheeky turns?), finally doing something more respectable than fighting vampire bats in silly CBS movies, here playing an FBI agent investigating the babynapping. She was at her best busting on Lamb and squashing his dreams of becoming FBI himself. (When she asked if he spoke any foreign languages, Lamb responded that he spoke some ''Mexican'' — a laugh line that was cleverly trumped by the episode's second-best subtle sight-gag after the Lost numbers fortune cookie: the ''We Speak American'' sign hanging on the south-of-the-border motel Lamb visited while hunting for Duncan.) Given Lawless' parting shot at Veronica — about how kidnapping cases don't just go away — I suspect we haven't seen the last of Xena, Warrior Agent.

There were other subplots, too: Logan (crazy-funny with the double entendres last night) and Weevil teamed up to smoke out a turncoat in Weevil's gang who may hold clues to the identity of Felix's murderer. Meanwhile, we learned that during his sabbatical in Chicago, Wallace was a passenger in a hit-and-run that left a homeless man paralyzed; now, a Windy City reporter has swept into Neptune to get the story. I have a feeling that in coming weeks, we'll be talking more about these developing storylines and that Veronica will have something to say about their resolution.

But the lasting contribution of ''Donut Run'' to Mars lore appears to be Duncan's exit from the show. Will we see him again? Probably. Will we miss him? This may be fighting words to some of you, but my answer is No. I like the character, like the actor, but it seemed to me his story had run its course, especially with Meg now dead. To whatever degree Duncan is beloved, I think it's because we all want to see Veronica fall in love with a guy who's worthy of her, and next to Wallace (and PLEASE, let's hope Wallace and Veronica keep it platonic, lest they ruin the best friendship on television) and Daddy Mars (and PLEASE, let's hope... okay, I'll stop myself), Duncan was the closest thing to a ''nice guy'' Veronica has in her life. Which is not to say I'm a Veronica/Logan shipper, either: I like the boy's wit (and the actor's charisma) and his wicked-sardonic worldview, but sorry, he's damaged and toxic, and like Duncan, doesn't deserve our heroine. Besides, I worry for Veronica every time she gets near that kid: One day, one of his patented gesticulations is going to put her eye out, I just know it.

Anyway, I look forward to taking the Martian journey with you. In the meantime, would love to hear your thoughts on the episode. Are you sad to see Duncan go? Are choppy waters ahead for Veronica and Keith? What happened to Wallace's Dad? And what's your theory on the school bus crash? C'mon, now sugar — let's be friends! Bring the Talkback.

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Originally posted Jan 26, 2006
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