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It would not be an exaggeration to say that I'd been dreading the season premiere of Veronica Mars as much as I'd been looking forward to it.

Spoilers below, obviously.

'Normal is the Watchword'
Written by Rob Thomas
Directed by John Kretchmer

Sequels are almost never as good as the originals, and season one worked so well as a complete, coherent story that season two very definitely feels like a sequel. It was hard to believe Rob Thomas and his writers could come up with a central mystery as iconic and as important to Veronica as the murder of Lilly Kane; it was hard to believe that they could come up with a context for their story as engaging as Veronica-the-outsider, a context that would feel like something more than just ringing the changes. And there was the question of who was at the door of Veronica's apartment, a question to which all the likely answers seemed bad.

At first, 'Normal is the Watchword' lived down to every one of my expectations. The teaser was clumsy, overlong and exposition-heavy. The flashbacks immediately felt more awkward than they did last season, probably because they were made to carry more narrative weight (there's even a flashback within a flashback, at one point), and they are more interesting than the present-day segments. The balance is off; the Logan-Veronica-Duncan triangle is given too much weight, and the case of the week too little.

And of course, Logan was at the door. I suppose the vehemence with which I felt that Logan and Veronica was wrong is some sort of testament, but it made watching the first half of the episode extremely unpleasant. It looked as though Veronica had given up all her independence of thought and all her principles for the sake of some nookie--and worse, it looked as though we weren't meant to notice. But of course, Rob Thomas is Smarter Than Me, and we were, and roundabout the half-way mark we get something approaching the full story, and Veronica turns back into the girl we recognise from last season.

So I enjoyed the second half of the episode, albeit more for what was being set up than what was actually happening or how it was happening. The increased tensions in Neptune were nicely set up, and nicely played (and good to see that the adults are as corrupt as ever); having set up a romantic status quo we can hopefully get back to having actual stories, at least until sweeps; Wallace and Keith were as good value as ever ("Where's my chicken pot pie, woman!"); Charisma Carpenter might just have found another role that suits her (ok, she didn't get to do much more than be eye candy this week, and ok, that role seems to be 'the Cordelia who didn't start working for Angel', but I thought she did well with the few lines she had); and the final scene is both different enough to Lilly's murder and important enough to Veronica (who wants to bet that it might have been someone trying to get at her?) to persuade me that the season might just work out after all. Between 'you have to choose a side' and 'It's not about protection, it's about pride' ... yeah, there's room for a story there.

Roll on episode two.

Soundtrack notes:
I do like the fact that this show is basically soundtracked by my music collection. This week: 'Long Time Coming' by Delays (over the Veronica/Duncan 'shipping) and 'Ashes' by Embrace (over the final sequence).

Other takes:
coffeeandink here.
oyceter here.
vonnie_k here.
Gwenda Bond's VM discussion here.
bluehyacinth here.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The flashbacks were a tad heavy, though I always like a Flashback wihtin a Flashback) but I thought the story was interesting enough. Having gone to the High School that Veronica Mars seems to be attending (OK, that's not true, Santa Clara High isn't that bad, but it's close) there was a lot that rang true. I did like the way they presented the initial mystery.
Chris
Yes, Neptune High still seemed convincing. I think a lot of my reaction is down to the weight of expectation the episode was carrying (both optimism and pessimism)--to a certain extent, I don't think I'll be able to judge it fairly until I come back and watch it again in a few months.
I caught up on this episode this morning after an ill-advised nap during the nominal broadcast slot, and I was pretty pleased. My one gripe right now is that I haven't had a chance to go back and figure out the passenger manifest, which is sure to be important.

My romantic affiliations with VM seem opposite to yours, I find Duncan a personality-free zone. Sure, Logan may be in need of some heavy therapy, but at least he comes by his nature via humanity, and not cyborg hyper-wealth expectations.
My romantic affiliations with VM seem opposite to yours, I find Duncan a personality-free zone.

So does almost everyone else. I'm the one out on a limb here, don't worry. [g] To a certain extent I think it's not fair to compare Logan and Duncan, since we've seen much, much more of Logan, and Duncan was drugged to the eyeballs for most of last season. And I liked the more relaxed Duncan we got in this episode, whereas it only reinforced my impression that Logan is seriously unstable.
Veronica/Duncan worked much better here than it ever did in the flashbacks last season.

And clearly Logan is seriously unstable, I don't think anyone is claiming otherwise. But there lies the dramatic potential. :)
You haven't spent much time reading around VM fandom, have you? [g]
Not a great deal no. I don't actually see how you can argue that point, although clearly you can argue about whether or not that makes him suitable to be Veronica's boyfriend. :)
here:
I knew it couldn't just be nice, simple LoVe all the time. So I'm not too disappointed that in the very first episode of the new season, we saw Veronica break up with Logan and get back together with Duncan. To me, what this means is that Duncan will function temporarily as the thing that comes between Veronica and Logan, but in time Logan will straighten himself out, show Veronica what a great guy he can be, and LoVe will be on again, on a firmer basis. Duncan isn't the long-haul guy. I know it, even if the characters don't know it!
'LoVe' is even worse than 'Spuffy', isn't it?
I think comice's post is also interesting, although I disagree with several parts of it.

I'm trying to formulate my response to a number of discussions I've seen, and I ... eh, I think I need not to read people not on my flist, the shipping distracts me. While Veronica's relationship with Duncan seems to me clearly painted as regressive, I'm distressed by the fannish counter-narrative in favor of the Logan/Veronica ship, as it isn't healthy for either of them. Breaking up with Logan isn't refusing to accept the changes in her life; breaking up with Logan is realizing sex alone can't create a healthy relationship and that a damaged boy with a history of violence and no ethic beyond loyalty to his inner circle is not a good relationship prospect.
And I completely forgot to say that I don't like the way Veronica keeps being read in terms of romantic relationships, as if her only form of self-definition is which boy she chooses.
Agreed, but I don't think that can be blamed entirely on the viewers; this episode was markedly more 'shippy than almost anything from last season. I would like her either to be in a stable relationship or not in a relationship, and for the focus of the show to then be on other things, but somehow I don't think that's what we're going to get.
I agree with almost all of that. I'm not sure the episode was markedly more shippy than anything from last season; I will have to think about it. I've been mostly comparing it to the pilot, mentally, where the focus was on Veronica being outcast--forced out of relationships and roles--whereas here the focus is on Veronica casting people out, trying to define herself and her relationships to the people around her. That sounds more negative and judgmental than I mean it to be -- I like Veronica, and I like this as a depiction of reaction to trauma. And I like that it's all being set up as precarious and unworkable and is falling apart even in the first episode. Right now the Veronica/Duncan breakup is so predictable I'm looking forward to finding out how they're going to surprise me.
damaged boy with a history of violence and no ethic beyond loyalty to his inner circle

President Echolls!
The balance is off; the Logan-Veronica-Duncan triangle is given too much weight, and the case of the week too little.

I couldn't put a finger on what felt off about the ep, but I think that's it. Also, the case of the week didn't tie in thematically with the current events, not like in past eps.

I'm excited over what could be a double mystery arc of who stabbed Felix (and setting off class tensions), and who was responsible for the bus crash. That would be like last season's double mystery of who killed Lilly, and who raped Veronica.
Also, the case of the week didn't tie in thematically with the current events, not like in past eps.

The rich kids' parents fixing the drugs tests didn't tie in thematically? I think you were seeing different themes to me. :)
I knew I should have rewatched the ep again. I picked up class conflict (Felix's stabbing polarizing the town, the football player's accusation to Veronica, Weevil's accusations, the swimming pools). The drug test didn't twig me as class conflict, because Meg and one other 09er was implicated (the girl whose parents were being sued).

But I suppose the big theme could be corruption, which falls in with the film noir aspects of the show, and the political stuff (which I also didn't pick up on). That is the reason why the non-09ers dislike the 09ers, that they use their privilege to get away with things. And the upper class' corruption and sense of entitlement could also cause them to turn on their own. Hm... I definitely have to rewatch the ep.

What themes did you see?
Yes, Meg was implicated. She was also on the bus. Nothing that happens in Neptune is a coincidence. ;)

Other than that you've pretty much covered it. The thematic links weren't perfect, but I do think they were there to a certain extent.
What is up with creepy Leo fondling Veronica when he comes to arrest Logan? (totally disturbing)

Also, I thought the drug testing storyline was rather lame and didn't seem very plausible, so I am glad they didn't spend a whole lot of time on it.
I must be your Bizzaro-world twin, because I thought Leo was the best choice of the guys she dated (smart, armed and highly unlikely to be a killer). I also wanted more of the mystery, and felt a little cheated when it was solved around minute 40.

I felt sorry for the actress who played Meg. I can just picture her calling her parents, telling them how happy she was to be asked back for another season. Maybe she'll get to be a ghost, too.

And if I was Veronica, I'd do pretty much whatever my ghosts told me to do. Lily hasn't steered her wrong yet.
I would also support a reunion with Leo. But I have long since accepted that heroines in TV shows will never go for the stable relationships, because most viewers think that's boring ... ;)
not boring, creepy - I bet he's a stalker by the middle of the season. :P
Logan's appeal has always been a mystery to me. Duncan is a fine boyfriend for someone else, but the actor doesn't have the charisma to be The Boyfriend (tm).

What mystifies me, and always will mystify me, is how we're supposed to believe that Veronica and Wallace have a purely platonic relationship. They don't even pretend there's a little tension there. It's a dead spot on the show.
"are Dick and Beaver coming out to play"

Oh, puhlease!
Worst seduction line evah.
And yet kinda funny.

Long version coming up, right after I've pretended to be a responsible adult and been to meet with a client.
I felt disappointed by the Veronica/Logan split, not because I'm into the shipping thing, but because
(a) I can't stand Duncan - he's so mind-numbingly dull - and I'd like to see less of him
(b) it seemed like we were being set up all over again for hating Logan and thinking he's a selfish amoral git, only to rediscover that he's a troubled kid with some endearing moments. That was cool first time, but it won't work a second time. Hopefully Rob Thomas is also Smarter Than I Am.

I can't stand Veronica in the flashbacks. Any time she has 09er hair, I find myself hating her, even though I really like her the rest of the time. I'm not sure if this is just me, or whether they want me to feel that way. Also, she looks about 10 years older with the 09er hair.

I didn't feel that there were any more flashbacks than before - they have always annoyed me and felt Too Much, but that may be because I so dislike VM in them.

With the stabbing and the swimming pool and then the bus it all seemed a little OTT - shades of John Wells - but I'm hoping that's just 1st episode of the season syndrome.


am proud of self for finally catching up with all this 21st century technology, despite being an Old Fart
With the stabbing and the swimming pool and then the bus it all seemed a little OTT - shades of John Wells - but I'm hoping that's just 1st episode of the season syndrome.

You could easily say the same about the first season though, in fact I'm sure people did. Best friend murdered and apparently raped and her mother having run off then mysteriously meeting Jake Kane at the motel.

It is OTT, but setting up so many threads to have running throughout the season paid off there so I'm willing to let them try the same trick again. :)

It is OTT, but setting up so many threads to have running throughout the season paid off there so I'm willing to let them try the same trick again. :)


Oh me too. And you're right about the 1st season being just as OTT, but somehow I suspended disbelief more willingly then. Could be a factor of watching the entire 1st season in just a week which always makes for a different experience.
I can't stand Veronica in the flashbacks. Any time she has 09er hair, I find myself hating her, even though I really like her the rest of the time.

Can't say I noticed the hair. I mean, I noticed itlast season, and it was bad, but if there was a change in hairstyle over the summer it passed me by.

I didn't feel that there were any more flashbacks than before

I don't think there were more, but the balance was wrong. The flashbacks in this episode were giving us what we waited all summer to find out--who was at the door, what happened to Logan, etc. To all intents and purposes, they were the A-plot, whereas before they've always been the B-plot, flashes of colour.

am proud of self for finally catching up with all this 21st century technology, despite being an Old Fart

DRUSILLA: The moon showed me. It told me to come into the twentieth century.
ANGEL: It's the twenty-first century, Dru.
DRUSILLA: Hmm. I'm still lagging.
You know, that's the first time the random logging-out thing has happened to me.
I don't think comparing this episode to other mid-season episodes from last year is particularly fair. It's far more appropriate to compare it to the pilot, which also had huge amounts of info dump conveyed through voice over and flashback and an 'A-plot' which was pretty irrelevant.

Clearly it didn't pull that off as well as the pilot, but I think most people would have been dissatisfied if the focus had been on the drug tests and we hadn't had all the exposition and setup.
Actually, in my head I was comparing it to the pilot, precisely because that managed to have a present-day plot that was relevant and interesting and well-developed, while still giving us large amounts of backstory.

The pilot had an advantage, in a sense, because the audience didn't come to it being more interested in one thread than the other. But that's not a valid excuse for why the episode didn't work; it's a reason to not use the same structure as the pilot.

I'm not saying it would have solved everything to focus more on the drugs plot, either; it would have been better to have had an interesting and relevant A-plot, or simply to have picked up where 1x22 left off.
Always happy to be compared with Dru. Though with finding that River is my 'sci-fi alter ego' as well, I'm beginning to wonder about the insanity theme.

You may be right about the flashback balance, I didn't analyse it that far because I was too busy groaning 'not another flashback'.
It was a turkey pot pie.
Dang, so it was. Thanks for the correction.
NEW DEFAULT ICON!

I like it
GOOD!

I will finish Spooks by this time next week if it kills me
YES!

Highly doubt it. And where's my Angel S4 DVDS? I've just started on S5 and I dunno what is going on - i've jumped from "Tomorrow" to "Just Rewards" and I'm all OMG!WTF?!

Like dude!
I thought it was excellent overall.

The first half was certainly Infodump Central, but the layered flashbacks lent it a level of twistiness that it simply wouldn't have had if seen in chronological order. (I suppose you could call it the Sorkin approach, but it's not new for VM.) If I have a criticism it's that the structure makes the episode denser than it actually needs to be, but I prefer that approach to having everything laid out on a plate.

I realised that the writing was being deliberately ambiguous as to the identity of Veronica's boyfriend, but they fooled me with the apparent Logan reveal. There's also the question of whether Veronica actually means Duncan when she says "I was hoping it would be you", since she seems surprised when it turns out to be Logan. Or does she just sense that something is wrong?

Overall the episode neatly sets up a new status quo and a minor mystery, then unravels it into a different status quo, and finally drops a massive mystery into the mix. Nicely done. From a place where the central characters' stories seemed to have been wrapped up, there are lots of new tensions and possibilities.

Now as Janet sits, twitching, demanding the next nine eisodes, I just have to get used to watching this show one week at a time.
(I suppose you could call it the Sorkin approach, but it's not new for VM.)

But the Sorkin approach supplies information without necessarily offering the context until later in the episode. This--certainly the 'my boyfriend' stuff--was transparently witholding information to create suspense. Not as effective, IMO.

From a place where the central characters' stories seemed to have been wrapped up, there are lots of new tensions and possibilities.

Yes, where we are now is interesting; I just wish getting there could have been a bit smoother. Especially since this was apparently the most-watched VM episode ever...
There's also the question of whether Veronica actually means Duncan when she says "I was hoping it would be you", since she seems surprised when it turns out to be Logan. Or does she just sense that something is wrong?


Hey Iain. It's the latter. Rob Thomas has confirmed it.

Debra
I was in many ways dreading it too, though became intrigued by the multiple good reviews that came ahead of time. In the end I think it achieved what it primarily had to do - setting up an intriguing mystery for the season - while not neccesarily showing any signs of improvement on the first. Duncan and, in my somewhat more contraversial opinion, Logan are still fairly flat characters. Course, if all we end up is a season as good as the last one I won't exactly be complaining, but it'd be nice if we could see more complex sides to them.

I don't have a great problem with the idea of flashbacks, and thought the way they played with the triangle was fun - but I still really, REALLY, hate the way they play with the colour of the picture. It looks cheap and ugly to me, and normally manages to at least partially ruin every single flashback scene they do. Ah well - I'm guessing there's going to be a lot less in the season coming up? Nothing much more of the past they really need to show us.

So, I guess in summary, I'm cautiously optimistic, but feel there's some room for improvement. And for all my complaints its still probably the best show on American TV that I watch, though Lost is giving it some good competition.
but I still really, REALLY, hate the way they play with the colour of the picture. It looks cheap and ugly to me,

Ha. I really like that. :) I think it emphasises the way they're memories, not absolute reconstructions--that what we're seeing is the result of someone's perceptions, not a Truth.

I don't know how much there'll be in the way of flashbacks in the rest of the season. It'll be interesting to see. Part of me suspects they're going to mine the summer for all it's worth.

And for all my complaints its still probably the best show on American TV that I watch, though Lost is giving it some good competition.

Sure. Apart from the bit where Lost is complete nonsense. ;-)
I will hopefully post something in my journal soon, but for the moment :) will suffice.

Is anyone else having trouble finding ep2 though, should be online by now.
I'm nearly caught up! It's very exciting.

This episode was a bit meh. I didn't like all the flashbacks but now that the status quo seems to be reached (for now) I'm quite happy. Despite my Logan love, if they were going to have a relationship like they had in the flashbacks which appeared to be based mostly on snogging and Veronica being wet then I'm glad it's not continuing, and Duncan was way more appealing in this episode than in his S1 sedated state. Plus, there's more chance that Veronica/Duncan can be low-key and not the focus of episodes than Veronica/Logan.

<3 Keith.

Buffy alumni number 2 appears and mostly wears no clothes, so I will withold judgement for now. I hope she acts better than she did in S4 of Angel, anyway.

The credits tell me the baseball team owner guy was Steve Gutenberg. He looks old. Then OMG BUS CRASH! Shame, I liked Meg. I have high hopes that the 09er/other people tension will be a good central plot for the episode. Besides, it's senior year - maybe they can blow up the school or something.

Finally: If Lilly is a ghost who appears to save Veronica when she's in danger, does that mean that VM is now genre, and could be reviewed for an online magazine of some kind?
There may be hope for your rightheadedness after all.

Finally: If Lilly is a ghost who appears to save Veronica when she's in danger, does that mean that VM is now genre, and could be reviewed for an online magazine of some kind?

Did you think of this independently, or is it something you picked up from following the links above? I'm curious.

But yes, mattia and I have developed a plan to account for this possibility. We reckon three sightings of Lilly acting in a clearly ghost-like manner is enough to make it count. :)