On ''Veronica Mars,'' our heroine tracks down a dog killer and helps break up a high-school drug ring
Credit: Veronica Mars: Greg Schwartz

”Veronica Mars”: Pet detective

If I were a guy looking to score with Veronica Mars, I would do two things. First, I would buy a dog. Veronica seems to have a real soft spot for man’s best friend, as evidenced by last night’s ingeniously titled episode, ”Never Mind the Buttocks” (a play on the title of the famous Sex Pistols album). It was at least the second episode in VM‘s not-quite-two seasons on the air that involved our neo-Nancy Drew taking on a canine-related case, and this time it seemed she did so out of puppy love, so to speak.

The other thing I would do is practice my hangdog, lost-puppy facial expressions, because Veronica never fails to fall for loser lugs with sad eyes. Not that Veronica had a crush on hulking Harry, who hired the Neptune High PI to find the Barracuda-driving rat who ran over his beloved pooch. But she couldn’t resist him, either, and ultimately learned that her client was no lovable ”Pet the rabbits” lunk but just your average suburban psychopath in training, an archery enthusiast who spends his free time filing deadly points on his arrows and then shooting them into fake deer with such single-minded relish (and bull’s-eye-perfect precision) that Veronica was certain that Harry was harboring some deep-seated anti-Bambi issues.

”NMTB” reminded me a lot of VM‘s sublime first season, and not just because it played the dog card again. Lately, I have been sweating VM‘s deep dive into brain-crushing plot density, particularly last week’s dream episode, ”I Am God,” which was heavy enough to have satellites orbiting it. I say ”sweating” because, as I blathered in my somewhat hysterical but not completely unwarranted recap, density is the enemy of weekly TV watching, especially in an age where DVDs and TiVo make it much too tempting to say, ”I’ll watch it later when I have more time to devote to it.” Yet given VM‘s pint-size ratings, I worry the show might not have enough time. Hence, my sweating.

But as I said, ”NMTB” was a throwback to ”vintage” VM, because while it was as twisty and busy as usual, it wasn’t hyperactively so. Like most of last year’s episodes, ”NMTB” was a package of plots within plots but anchored by a central mystery that was relatively easy to follow without being anything less than smart. In fact, it turned downright brilliant in the last act when it organically connected with another subplot that set up one of the best endings in VM history. It was a clean, compelling, character-based mystery, and as with last season, I felt like I was keeping pace with its developments instead of playing catch-up. Which is a good thing, because otherwise I might not have been as affected as I was by the final scene. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

First, let’s touch upon some of these subplots. Easy ones first: Jackie got a job at the coffee house, mostly to keep busy and have some semblance of a social life instead of keeping company with the lawyers and creditors surrounding her father, the accused murderer and disgraced baseball star. (What happened to Daddy, anyway? His story line could use some care and feeding, don’t you think?) Jackie also got into the Sorbonne in Paris, and she’ll be winging away from Neptune right after graduation, which is the main reason, it seems, that she has resisted rekindling her relationship with Wallace, who remained undeterred in his Jackie quest even when presented with the irresistible allure of doomed young love — a springtime summer romance and a classic case of senior-year emotional nuttiness. (”I’m graduating, my life is changing, I’m feeling deeply unsettled, I need something to hold on to, what should I do? I know! Let’s get my heart broken with a fleeting, ill-considered romance!”)

By the way: Anyone else have a nagging suspicion that Jackie still has a secret or two she’s keeping? Maybe something…bus-crashy? Or is it possible she’s the one responsible for framing her father?

Not that VM needs another scheming, plotting, and diabolical femme fatale. Kendall Casablancas made a wowza return, and no, I’m not referring to Charisma Carpenter’s cleavage. There were revelations galore about Dick and Beaver’s sinister, sex-pistol stepmother from film noir hell, all of them unearthed by Veronica’s flatfoot-supreme father, Keith. We learned that her real name is Priscilla Banks. [Thanks for the fact-check, readers!] We learned that the name Kendall belonged to a high school friend of hers who died in a car crash — in a car that Priscilla was driving. We learned that Priscilla’s mom recently died (a small beat in this episode that might loom large when we finally learn Kendall/Priscilla’s motivations). We learned that Kendall/Priscilla once pulled scams with Liam Fitzpatrick’s older brother Cormac and took the fall for Cormac in order to protect him from California’s ”three strikes” law. And finally, we learned that Kendall’s on-the-run hubby had set up a high-yield tax shelter with that multimillion-dollar insurance policy he secretly took out on Dick and Beaver. The main beneficiary: Kendall/Priscilla. In other words, Dad wasn’t the only one who would profit handsomely from Dick and Beaver’s death.

”Never Mind the Buttocks” worked overtime to properly establish that Kendall had ample motive — and mad mastermind skillz — to cause the bus crash. It also appears she is now partners in crime with Liam Fitzpatrick, who we learned was driving the Barracuda that ran over Harry’s dog — the same Barracuda that sped past Dick’s limo minutes before the bus crash. Which means that Liam could have been in position to detonate the C-4 when the bus turned the dead man’s curve. (Unless of course it was someone else who was driving the Barracuda; the person who spotted it, Mayor Goodman’s daughter, couldn’t see the driver’s face — just his mooning butt.) (Never mind the buttocks, indeed.)

All this attention lavished on Kendall/Priscilla as a prime suspect in the bus crash means only one thing: She probably didn’t do it. A bit of narrative misdirection here — not unlike the episode’s Weevil subplot, which first established a viable theory that the gangbanger with the Maybelline eyelashes had orchestrated the bus crash and then, just as quickly, totally debunked it. VM has this rich tradition of stories in which Weevil is set up to be this reallyreallyreally bad guy but then turns out to be only a reallyreally bad guy. So while Weevil might be the kind of person who would set up the treacherous Thumper to be murdered by the Fitzpatricks (how deliciously melodramatic was that whole business with feeding the rat to the snake, by the way?), he’s not so despicable that he would blow up a bus (or a limo — both the Kendall and Weevil theories state that the intended targets were Neptune High’s rich kids).

But the truly poignant and important business with Weevil in ”NMTB” concerned his relationship with the gang that disowned him. With Thumper dead and gone, the Fitzpatricks were now ruthlessly exploiting the PCHers, using them as ”slave labor” to peddle dope at Neptune High. Weevil’s former peeps begged him to intervene — no, shamelessly manipulated him into intervening — pushing his father-figure and loyalty buttons. And Weevil came to their rescue. He enlisted Veronica’s help to obtain Thumper’s list of Fitzpatrick drug clients, encoded on a paddle that had been confiscated at school in an earlier episode. (Luckily, Veronica had a Xerox copy of the paddle on file.) Weevil used the paddle as leverage against the Fitzpatricks and got them to back off — and just in time, too, since they were about to go Rocky Balboa on one of the PCHers, a little runt who just happened to be…dog-grieving Harry’s little brother. (In another nice link to the main plot, little bro knew Liam had killed the dog, but he didn’t want to further antagonize the leader of the Fitzpatrick gang by exposing him.)

And then, after delivering his gang from evil, Weevil ascended into heaven. Oops, sorry: Easter still on the brain. What I meant to say was that after fulfilling his obligation to his former gang, Weevil definitively declared his separation from them — kinda like the dumped boyfriend who wants to get back together with his girlfriend so he could be the one who dumps her. Actually, I think per Weevil’s code of ethics, he felt he couldn’t rejoin his gang after what he had done to Thumper. No matter how justified his actions, he had violated the sacred law: You don’t kill one of your own. I like the idea that somehow in all this, Weevil has purchased some kind of freedom from this dangerous life. He’s on his own now, and on his own terms. He has the chance to build a better life for himself. In many ways, with last night’s episode, Weevil’s character arc, as we know it, came to an end. Which can mean only one of two things:

1. Weevil’s gonna go to jail.

2. Weevil’s gonna die.

And now, for that moral quandary Veronica found herself in. Having cracked the case of Harry’s murdered pooch — remember, Liam did it — Veronica was begged by Harry’s brother (remember, the PCHer that the Fitzpatricks were using as a punching bag) not to tell him, because he knew Harry would take that big bad bow of his and put an arrow in Liam’s eye. As Veronica slowly walked up the stairs to talk with Harry, she realized that if psycho Harry went all Death Wish (Robin Hood style) on Liam, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. After all, her new working theory is that most likely Liam played a role in the bus crash. Siccing Harry on him would bring justice to all those murdered kids.

But she resisted. Maybe she recognized that if she let Harry kill Liam, that would make her no better than Weevil setting up Thumper to be killed by the Fitzpatricks, even if Thumper ”deserved” it. (Ah, vigilante justice: so merciless, so…illegal.) Or maybe Veronica is a just plain old good person. One thing’s for certain: ”Never Mind the Buttocks” was a very good outing of Veronica Mars — and maybe the best titled episode ever.

But what did you think? Is Kendall/Priscilla the evil mastermind behind the bus crash? Is Jackie hiding something? And do you think that small bit of ”cell-phone interceptor” business with Mac that I didn’t have time to recap is laying the groundwork for an important future development? (”Mac Attack! What’s the haps?” = my fave line of the night.) Talk back, peeps!

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