”Veronica Mars”: The case of the cash box
Here’s a funny little story. When I was in eighth grade, my class was supposed to go on a trip to a water park — Ragin’ Rivers or something like that — to celebrate our junior high graduation. But we didn’t. See, we got it taken away from us because a few bad apples in my class did something rude — but only mildly rude, like whispering or something — and the teacher, like, totally overreacted, and yelled at us and stuff, and actually burst into tears and stormed out the room, calling us ”a bunch of animals!” as he went. Next thing we know, our homeroom teach came in, said something like ”Boy, you guys really messed up this time” and then began systematically handing back the money she had collected from each of us for our trip — she was canceling it, as punishment. (I should note, in all fairness, that we had been getting in a lot of trouble all year and had been warned if we messed up one more time…) Anyhoo, wouldn’t you know, the offended teacher came back the next day and apologized for overreacting (he said he was going through some personal life stuff) — but our homeroom teacher refused to reinstate the class trip! Guess she didn’t want to look weak or something. Doesn’t that just totally blow?
Now, I say all this as preface to my review of last night’s Veronica Mars — which, I know, is set in high school, not junior high — because I am obligated to fill this space with a certain amount of Veronica-related verbiage, and while I must emphatically stress that I love this series, I’m not certain the episode in question is worth that much discussion. A (rare) misstep, in my opinion. A sluggishly paced story anchored by a mystery-lite mystery about a stolen cash box at a class-trip fund-raiser carnival, ”Ain’t No Magic Mountain High Enough” had little going for it besides the punny title.
The cash-box caper seemed intended to be a nice, breezy change-of-pace plot after two straight weeks of dense twist-o-ramas. But my problem with ”Magic Mountain” was that it went too far; I guessed the Weevil fake-out from a mile away, not because I’m some Sherlock but because the episode made the mistake of either not developing the other suspects well enough or making them so wretched as to be totally obvious. The early part of the show tried really hard to methodically establish who was where and when at the time of the crime, and I thought for sure the show was laying the groundwork for some kind of interesting Rashomon structure — you know, where a deliberately paced set-up precedes a series of scenes in which we see the action from varying POVs and we realize that we really didn’t see everything that we thought we saw. Anyway, never happened. Consequently, the first act set the tone for the whole episode: slow and cute, zero urgency. What’s more, any episode in which the wrong-headed powers that be think that Veronica is the culprit is going to be inherently uninteresting, because we know she’s not going to be the culprit. There’s no genuine tension.
Still, some entertainment was had along the way, particularly in some killer lines — the ”white goo” joke and Dick’s quip about Beaver’s girlfriend being ”that girl from Ghost World” — and in Kristen Bell’s gleefully impish performance as she pieced the mystery together for everyone. (But that scene also served to accentuate just how much of a nonfactor Veronica was in this episode, even though she had her usual amount of screen time). It was fun seeing Logan be Prince Charming instead of Prince of Darkness as he squired around cute frosh Hannah — and then downright great at the end when it was revealed that he was being Prince of Darkness after all, as Hannah turned out to be the daughter of the guy who fingered him to the police for Felix’s murder. The ”gotcha!” smile he flashed the guy was priceless.
As for the stuff with Beaver and Mac getting back at Dick by setting him up with a prostitute who turned out to be not quite all that she appeared, whatever. Kinda tasteless, if you ask me. But I guess they’re trying to set up some tension ‘tween the cleverly named lads. Mission accomplished, but I’m taking off style points.
Much better were the scenes between P.I. Daddy Mars — P.I. Diddy, as the kids on the street (in my head) are calling him — and baseball star Terence Cook, which pushed the bus-crash mystery a few more feet down the road: It turns out that Cook, now under suspicion for the crash (Sheriff Lamb’s explosive-baseball theory was a little far-fetched — typical Lamb, I guess), was having a Fatal Attraction-type relationship with the teacher who died on the bus. Worse, he owed the mob some big-time money on bad gambling bets, which he paid off by throwing a game in the American League Championship Series. Keith’s reaction to this confession of betrayal from his baseball idol was touching; kudos to Enrico Colantoni for selling this without overselling it. One thing worries me about the bus-crash mystery, however. The story line has been back-burnered for so long in favor of the Duncan-Meg-baby business that I don’t feel very invested in it at the moment. Perhaps what’s bugging me is that the series hasn’t done a good enough job of resetting the stage. What happened again? Who’s involved? What do Dick and Beaver and Curly the Beached Mechanic and Mayor McGute and Say-It-Ain’t-So Terence have to do with it? Last year’s mega-mystery seemed so much easier to follow, because it wasn’t concurrently competing with so many other ongoing arcs. Maybe, in time, the ”Duncan’s Baby” and ”Who Killed Felix?” arcs will both dovetail into the ”What Happened to the Bus?” arc. But as it stands right now, a show praised for its complexity might be a little too complex for its own good.
Overall, ”Magic Mountain” was a running-in-place episode, committing the worst TV-show sin: It was kinda dull. I look forward to seeing the series return to form next week — ideally, with an episode that provides the reinvigorating reboot the bus-crash mystery needs as we head into the season’s homestretch.
What do you think? How long did it take you to figure out whodunit? Did you care? And who is behind the bus crash?